While viewing the surrealist cult film in a small arthouse cinema in the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina, Bianca Sanon and Brian Wright, two of the five founding members of the one-year-old Paradis Books & Bread in North Miami, began planting the seeds of what paradise could mean for them and those living in Miami's tropically blessed environment. Playing not only on the idea of a utopia, Paradis also reflects North Miami's multiculturalism.
From Spanish to Creole, what does paradise mean to you?
For the founding collective at Paradis Books & Bread, the experience of living in New York City contributed significantly to an understanding of the many iterations and forms an establishment could exist going from day to night or week to week. Spots like Spotty Dog Books and Ale, a bookstore with a vast beer selection in Hudson, New York; Brooklyn coffeeshop TransAm, which would turn into a music venue, Trans-Pecos, at night; and Bushwich pizzeria Ops, with a built-in bar that stood right down the street from Molasses Books, a bookstore with a proper divey selection of drinks, all served as inspiration for the project.
"I was a self-proclaimed 'never-leaving' transplanted New Yorker," Sanon says. "Living in New York and falling in love with what it has to offer, on top of traveling, I began to think, Miami deserves something cool as well. That's the beginning of 'why Miami.' We lived in New York for a while, but three of us are from South Florida — even my parents still live in the same house I grew up in as a kid. All of us wanted to bring our experiences from studying and working outside of Miami and filter it into this neighborhood spot and collectively built-business."
Each member of the team plays a hand in curating the overall package, from Sanon's wine selections for the monthly "Soft and Serious" wine clubs, Brian's sourdough bread and assistance with the book displays, Audrey's book-buying eye and green thumb in the food garden located in the periphery of the outdoor mingling area, and Chesson's cooking and always-on-rotation station in the kitchen. (Yen, the fifth partner in the project, is no longer involved with Paradis.) Past the repurposed library cart with free books on display outside for pedestrians to take and exchange, the radically organized categories of bookshelves that line more than half of the space beam of literary hearts beating forward critical and crucial texts related to different fields and identities.
Audrey and Brian also assisted in shaping Paradis' library.
"We wanted to flush out different sections: queer studies, feminism, international struggle, labor history, history of capitalism," Audrey explains. "It was definitely helpful to have worked at Bluestockings Bookstore in NYC because I found out about a lot of books that way. AK Press, PM Press, Duke University Press —you can score their catalogues [and] read blurbs, especially for nonfiction. For fiction and poetry, it was more books we had read and loved. I'm always looking through catalogues and for different presses."
Members of the internal team often discuss upcoming events with regulars and the local community, something that is important to the founding members.
"I'm excited for what other people want to do here, which is how we've been curating our programming, how they want to use the space and especially in a political vein, like radical poetry," Brian says. "It's fun to see it go from day to night. In the early evening, you'll see the outside turn more into a wine bar with folks mingling and regrouping to meet together but then have people inside quietly focused on playing chess late into the night."
From holiday markets in the winter and fall barbecues to collaborative events organized with O, Miami and Oolite Arts in the spring, the neighborhood spot has become a space for anybody and everybody to partake in their shared vision of utopia while maintaining a balanced view of rest and relaxation. Following Paradis' first anniversary party in July, the team closed the space for a "collective nap" as a moment of recharge from the first foundational year of existence.
Amidst 305-proud features in Bon Appétit's "50 Best Restaurants 2022" and Esquire's "The Best Bars in America 2022," the folks at Paradis Books & Bread believe there's nothing better than the homey, homegrown authenticity of a locally led environment where the staff remembers your face, maybe even your name, and gifts you the last cheesecake slice of the night.
"Being around my friends at this rate, we live together and we work together, and we still push each other and inspire one another," Chesson adds. "This place brings out the best in all of us. I want us to continue to grow as a place where people can come and gather [and] feel at home. It seems like it's on track, and it just pushes us to do better all the time."
- Audrey Wright: "El Rebozo is a really rebellious press with publications on consignment with us. They started as a Spanish-only guerrilla press, and now they have their own printer, different translations, and radical texts."
- Bianca Sanon: "I recommend anything by Octavia Butler. I also gravitate toward poetry and one of our dear friends who lives in Miami named Zaina Alsous, a Palestinian writer who wrote A Theory of Birds. One of our absolute close friends who is brilliant and what I'd recommend."
- Brian Wright: "I have a more niche philosophy background, mainly French philosophy, especially 20th century. Foucault is way better than Derrida. Anti-Oedipus is a book I would recommend."
- Joseph "Sef" Chesson: "In New York, I was in farm school and focused on social injustice issues, teaching the community about resilience and how to farm, making my favorite texts in the library about land justice movements, freedom farmers, tons of zines, Black theory, etc."