PLG cafe celebrates third anniversary with Afro-Latino fiesta

Ciao Bella enthusiasts gathered in the small PLG cafe to celebrate the shop's third anniversary.
Ciao Bella enthusiasts gathered in the small PLG cafe to celebrate the shop’s third anniversary.
Photo by Jada Camille

Ciao Bella, a Prospect Lefferts Garden hidden gem, celebrated their third anniversary with a late night fiesta in their Italian cafe on March 11.

The shop isn’t your average place of business — as they offer relaxing study vibes by day, but hosts community events by night. On the weekends you can catch owners hosting everything from comedy shows and salsa nights to movie screenings and open mics.

Marco Mento and Jessica Michel, the husband and wife behind the shop, opened the place in March 2020 — just two weeks before COVID-19 washed over the shores of the Big Apple. 

The front of Ciao Bella.
The front of Ciao Bella.Photo by Jada Camille

But, their love for coffee, culture and people prevailed over the economic and health challenges, as they kept their dream alive to build a PLG staple. 

The throng of cafe enthusiasts gathered over the weekend was a testament to the shop’s fame. Customers old and new stood shoulder to shoulder, dancing to old school hip-hop and enjoying house-made rum punch. 

Later in the evening, Afro Dominicano, a Latin band where Mento plays as the drummer, had the floors bouncing to Caribbean beats.

Michel, a Haitian-American Brooklynite, says starting their first business venture was equal parts exciting and intimidating. 

“It’s been a crazy, amazing rollercoaster.It’s been an amazing ride,” Michel told Brooklyn Paper.“It just feels great. It’s a little surreal. I can’t believe we’re still doing this. It’s not easy. We’re still learning as we go and rolling with the punches.”

The Crown Heights native takes pride in opening a space that people from all walks of live can indulge in. Whether they’re meeting up with friends or grabbing coffee with coworkers, Michel says Ciao Bella serves as an all-inclusive stop for the neighborhood.

“For me being a native New Yorker, it’s been really great being a part of creating spaces for the community that I was raised in and brought me up,” she said.“I really do feel firmly rooted in this community with our customers and consumers and the people around us. We’ve definitely created a family.”

Mento, a Swiss Italian, says he grew up always being around coffee. When he moved to the states, one of his first jobs was working as a barista in Manhattan. It was there where he got the idea to own his own business one day.

After extensive research and visiting over 20 locations, Mento found the 284 Clarkson Ave. building. From there, he recruited friends to help renovate the place as he began building his brand. He considers having to learn the ins and outs of owning a small business one of the most rewarding parts of opening the cafe. 

The inside of Ciao Bella.
The inside of Ciao Bella.Photo by Jada Camille

“You have to learn everything in terms of when you start. You’re making coffee, cleaning, accounting, marketing. You do everything. That was a very exciting part personally to improve myself and learn stuff I’d never heard about,” he said.

He also worked with local artists to bring a Brooklyn feel to the cafe. One local designer made a piece that now stands as a unique back wall in the cafe’s small but inviting space.

“I deal with people that work here and people that live here and it’s beautiful. You start to know each customer individually, personally. Some become your friends,” Mento told Brooklyn Paper. “I don’t like when business owners say ‘I’m building community.’ I’m not building community. I’m building customers, and the community was already here.”

According to CJ Woodruff, a barista at the coffeehouse, nights like this past Saturday are what make Ciao Bello so special.

“The events are super fun. I think it’s just about community. Bringing people together and I like being a part of it. I think that at Ciao that’s what we focus on – bringing people together, she said. “Our main focus is opening up spaces for people to have fun and just enjoy the space.”