The Davenport Sisters Are The Founders Of The First Black Food Bookstore

Clay Williams

When Gabrielle Davenport was in grade school, she developed a love of deviled eggs, which began in her paternal grandmother’s kitchen. “We’d make deviled eggs almost every time we saw each other,” she says. “It was a great bonding experience for us.”

What made cooking with her grandmother so special was the opportunity to learn from her and work together. It involved carefully following steps in a process, and adding unique ingredients, like capers, pimento, and even cayenne pepper, to individualize an otherwise simple, straightforward family recipe.

Moments like these in her grandmother’s home shaped Gabrielle, and her older sister Danielle’s childhood. Rooted in shared family experiences, in addition to food, the sisters also gained an early appreciation for storytelling.

“My grandmother’s bookshelves were filled with children’s literature. She was also really into books on tape,” Danielle says. “Whenever we would visit, it felt like we were in the library.”

The Davenport sisters, who share a seven-year age gap, noticed that as they got older and life pulled them in different directions with new interests, one, or two things actually, remained constant: their love of food and books. That love became a passion project, a goal to celebrate literature about Black foodways (meaning the culinary traditions and practices of a certain people, place or period).

So, in January of 2021, the Davenport sisters launched BEM books & more, a bookstore that does just that. They started online with the intention of later expanding to a traditional brick and mortar, and while building, embraced a pop-up shop experience to reach the masses in the borough. While conceptualizing the bookstore, the connection they’ve been able to make with the community has been nourishing—and it has also strengthened the Davenport sisters’ bond.

The Davenport Sisters Are The Founders Of The First Black Food Bookstore
New York, NY – May 1, 2023: Marketing and Promotional photos for BEM Books with owners Danielle and Gabrielle Davenport at its current pop-up location at BRIC House in Fort Greene.

© Clay Williams /

“We’ve gotten to know each other a bit more,” Gabrielle says. “It is an outgrowing of our relationship and the things that are important to us.”

“Family legacy has everything to do with what we’re doing,” Danielle adds of BEM, the name of the store a combination of their grandmothers’ names. “Our family has such a spirit of generosity and to be able to take that beautiful energy of sharing, cooking, telling stories, and loving one another to others in the community is truly life changing.”

Works available through their online store include cookbooks like Ghetto Gastro’s Black Power Kitchen, food fiction including Charmaine Wilkerson’s Black Cake, and nonfiction works like the classic High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America by Jessica B. Harris. Children’s books are also for sale. A forthcoming children’s picture book, Peaches, by Connecticut-based children’s author Gabriele Davis, will soon be available through BEM books & more. The work celebrates her own family’s food traditions surrounding peaches.

The Davenport sisters and Davis believe that amplifying stories for children about our food traditions offers an opportunity for intergenerational bonding. It’s the same kind of moment Gabrielle and Daniel relished in their grandmother’s kitchen as young girls.

“When we celebrate our food, we create a welcoming atmosphere. We feel loved and nourished,” Davis shares. “Cooking, eating, laughing, and sharing stories puts us at ease and allows for meaningful conversation, strengthening our sense of kinship, shared history, cultural identity and community.”

The Davenport Sisters Are The Founders Of The First Black Food Bookstore
New York, NY – April 30, 2023: Marketing and Promotional photos for BEM Books with owners Danielle and Gabrielle Davenport at its current pop-up location at BRIC House in Fort Greene.

© Clay Williams /

In March, the Davenports accomplished a major milestone in raising enough funds (through Kickstarter) to sign a lease for their Brooklyn storefront, which they plan to open the doors to by the end of 2024.

“We received such a strong outpouring of love from the community, Black women, in particular, in the food space,” says Gabrielle of the financial support. Davis says that people know the important place an establishment like BEM holds in the community.

“Modern food culture, with its emphasis on convenience, threatens to erode our sacred food traditions. Spaces like BEM books & more help us to reclaim them and the intellectual, emotional, and physical nourishment they provide,” Davis emphasizes.

Bookstores are also sites of community care, especially for Black women. They have served as safe places to convene, learn something new, and engage with familiar and unfamiliar worlds.

“It’s wonderful that we are among a cohort of individuals across the country who are starting new ventures at the intersection of food and books. It really feels like spirit work…the different ways that folks are building businesses around an ecosystem of supporting one another,” Danielle says. “There’s something really special about how we’re able to shape this as entrepreneurs enmeshed in a beautiful sense of community.”

“The feeding of this country has been Black women’s work from the very start, and unfortunately, we are the ones who have gotten the least recognition for that. But it feels really special to recenter the idea that the ways Americans eat from coast to coast has truly been defined by Black women,” Gabrielle adds. “We all we got. Being in community with the people you are supporting and the people supporting you is an indescribable love. Black women are what have made all of this possible…and [my sister and I] are truly grateful.”

Tonya Abari is an independent journalist, author, book reviewer, homeschooling mama, and foodie. You can find her hanging out on Instagram @iamtabari.

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