Allan's Bakery is a Brooklyn institution nearly as old as the West Indian Day Parade. For many families in Brooklyn’s Little Caribbean (including mine), birthdays and special occasions always meant cakes from Allan's Bakery. I always imagine the white-frosted cake decorated, much like what you would find back home, adorned with golden flowers and flowing script just like Auntie’s handwriting.
Allan’s is a family-owned business that started in 1961, when Allan and Gloria Smith started selling freshly baked breads out of a station wagon. In the years that followed, the family sold hard dough bread at local cricket matches and Caribbean cultural celebrations, working their way into the hearts and parties of our neighborhood. When I asked them what they love most about the neighborhood, Gloria didn’t pause: “Well, the people. The people are out and about. They are happy and pleasant people.”
Even before they came to the neighborhood, people from Little Caribbean were coming to them. “They were happy that we had products they were used to eating but hadn’t had in a long time,” says Gloria. Sixty years later, this third-generation family-owned bakery has become a staple and household name for many West Indian immigrants in New York City and throughout the U.S.
Today, Allan’s is a full-service bakery, with everything from freshly baked breads, flaky coconut drops and rolls, fish balls, spiced fruit-filled rolls, savory patties, and those famous celebratory cakes that complete the table at christenings, birthdays, weddings, and other family celebrations. I asked Allan what his favorites are, and it was hard for him to pick. “If I am looking for something sweet, apple turnovers are what I go for. But if I’m making a sandwich, I love to use what we call hop’s bread. And fruit cake, I like.”
Not just sweet to us, but also enmeshed in our lives, Allan’s is an active member of the community. Allan and Gloria’s grandson, Christian Smith, along with his mom and aunties, runs the bakery now, and they participated in ongoing food giveaways and pantries during the pandemic, collaborating with grassroots community organizations and local elected officials to bring the familiar flavors and treats not only to our celebrations, but also to our hardest days. Every week Christian delivers to his grandmother, too. “I love what you always bring me every weekend, the doubles or roti!” says Gloria. They even sent me a double-layered traditional black cake for my birthday when I won the Community Leader Award from the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.
This venerable institution is a must-visit for Caribbean Americans and West Indians, so on weekends the line wraps around the block, an experience all its own. Allan recalls when they first came to Little Caribbean: “I’ll never forget that the business got so good that we had lines forming outside on weekends. That I will never forget and will cherish.”
You’ll find soca music blaring, party flyers, community newspapers, and trays of currants rolls — my personal favorite. Located on the corner of Nostrand and Maple in the Prospect Lefferts Gardens Historic District, Allan’s is right in the heart of our community. Look up on your way in, and you’ll see the “One Love, Little Caribbean” seasonal lighting and banners.
Busy planning your Saturday roti lunch, your favorite niece’s birthday, or brunch? We used to count on the long wait, but Christian recently partnered with DoorDash, so you can skip the lines and have these tasty treats delivered straight, as we say back home!
Shelley Worrell, based in Brooklyn’s Little Caribbean, founded I AM CaribBEING and writes about Caribbean food, culture, and lifestyle.