Rokeya Chowdury, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Rokeya Chowdury
Boston, Massachusetts, USA


“It’s so important for communities to have places to gather,” says Rokeya Chowdury. “That’s what we hoped Dudley Cafe would be when we set it up in 2015, and it lifts my heart today to see friends and family coming together there, and casual meetings between local small business owners.”

Purveyor of toothsome and healthy breakfasts and lunches, Dudley Café is the newest addition to Royeka and her husband Solmon’s group of Boston neighbourhood restaurants which includes three branches of the much-loved Indian cuisine Shanti. It’s also one of many landmark businesses and community hubs which have contributed in recent years to the revitalisation of Roxbury, for many decades the nexus of African-American culture in the city. Bangladesh-born, Rokeya has lived here, on the border with neighbouring Dorchester, for 15 years, and has also noted a trend for visitors to Boston taking an interest in its neighbourhoods, seeking more authentic glimpses of the city’s life. “And gathering spaces, as I’ve learned on my own travels, are great places to catch a snapshot of a destination’s lived culture.”

Centred around the recently renamed Nubian Square area, Roxbury is currently shrugging off decades of disinvestment and inequity with dynamism and creativity. Local arts festivals and established cultural centres have done much to grow and promote the wealth and diversity of local talent, while recent and in-the-works organisations and spaces include a construction developer, a biotech centre, a theatre and an incubator for entrepreneurs – all run by and designed to support local people of colour.

It’s a mission Rokeya continues to support in her latest venture, based in upscale Back Bay, Boston’s swishiest shopping and hotel district. Opened in December 2022, Rooted In is a cannabis dispensary based on swishy Newbury St, its business model and aesthetic carefully tailored to the street’s aspirational retail vibe. Its storefront looks like that of a day spa, its customer service is polished, and it offers a private room for yoga and meditation classes and VIP shopping. Yet its focus on uplifting less privileged communities could hardly be clearer (and not just in the store’s ‘Impact Wall’, showcasing infused wares from black-, female- and LGBTQ+-owned producers). Smashing industry precedents, Rokeya and her partners took on high Back Bay start-up costs specifically to allow 60-plus Roxbury and Dorchester residents to become investors – with stakes starting at just $1,200. “The area has the highest retail footfall in New England,” says Rokeya, “So it makes sense to generate revenue for our investors in wealthy Back Bay to be a vehicle of change for their communities.” |

Photography courtesy of Rokeya Chowdury

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