On This Stretch of 10th Ave., It’s Always ‘Sonny’ in Hell’s Kitchen

Sonel “Sonny” Ramirez smiles with an employee at one of his two 10th Ave. businesses. | Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic

BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC | Longtime Hell’s Kitchen business owner Sonel “Sonny” Ramirez is a man of few words.

“I’m a quiet guy,” he told this publication last week at one of his two businesses on a stretch of 10th Ave. between W. 51st and 52nd Sts.

Ramirez, 72, settled in Hell’s Kitchen when he was young — around five or so — after his family immigrated from Puerto Rico.

“43rd and Ninth — been all my life at that corner,” he said. “I still live there.”

After high school, Ramirez started his first business, a grocery store at 751 10th Ave., in 1965.

“I always wanted to do this,” he said.

At the time, his grocery store was one of the few on 10th Ave.

Around six years later, the city relocated his store — Sonny’s Grocery — to its current spot at 767 10th Ave.

In 1991, he explained, he bought the meat market — now Sonny’s 10th Ave. Meat Market — across the street from the grocery store, at 758 10th Ave.

On 10th Ave. between W. 51st and 52nd Sts., Ramirez owns a meat market, a grocery store, and a corner building. | Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic

A regular comes into the meat market — where cuts of meat, slices of cheese, Goya products, and panettone are tightly packed — and Ramirez immediately knows his name and says hello. The customer, who declined to be named, called Ramirez the best and said everyone loves him.

Classic pop music softly played while meat was loudly pounded, and Ramirez said the neighborhood has gone through changes — once gang territory and rife with drugs and prostitution.

Both 10th and 11th Avenues have seen development with “all new buildings coming up,” he noted, where there once used to be parking garages and lots. (Ramirez also said that he owns the building at the corner of W. 52nd and 10th Ave., which currently houses a restaurant on the ground floor.)

“The city chased them out, bought ’em out, relocated them,” he said.

Ramirez said he was happy about the population influx and more customers.

There is, however, more competition as well.

“Now, there’s more competition plenty — they’re open 24 hours a day, they stay open. But I’m not 24 hours,” he said, noting the grocery store is open 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

For over 50 years, Sonel “Sonny” Ramirez has run a grocery store in Hell’s Kitchen. | File photo by Scott Stiffler

Ramirez’s sister, Penny Troyano, helps out running the store, and his brother also helps out occasionally.

“We change — sometimes I go there, sometimes she comes here,” he said, saying he needed to wrap up the interview to get to the bodega.

Sonny’s Grocery was recently featured in season two of the Netflix series “Jessica Jones.” The shelves — filled with standard bodega fare like chips, water and beer, are also stocked with more unusual goods such as a wide variety of beans and mix to make flan — were emptied, stored, and replaced with bottles of alcohol, transforming the grocery into a liquor store.

Ramirez told this publication in March that it was not the first time his store had been used for a production, noting that one of the “Spider-Man” movies also filmed there.

When asked what’s the secret to his business’ longevity — over 50 years — Ramirez, who stopped the interview to do inventory at the grocery store, said, “Just keep it. Just keep it going, running.”

Ramirez bought the meat market in 1991. | Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic

“Jessica Jones” and one of the “Spider-Man” movies have filmed at Sonny’s Grocery. | Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic

Seasonings, slabs of meat, cooking bases, and cheese are for sale at Sonny’s 10th Ave. Meat Market. | Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic

Plantains, flan mix, numerous types of beans as well as drinks and chips are sold at the grocery store. | Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic

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