Atop One of Brooklyn’s Most Beautiful (Secret) Rooftop Gardens

On a quiet block in Red Hook, across the street from a weedy lot and a willow tree, Duke the Cat is keeping watch over his townhouse, which he shares with JoJo Demirel and her husband, Baris. These days Duke has more company at home, since JoJo has been taking time of from work to begin plans on a soup shop she hopes to open in Red Hook the near future. On the last day of July, I was lucky enough to have a quick tour of her four-terraced tomato heaven and enjoy a cold glass of cucumber water.

How great to be taking time off in such an awesome house…

Yeah, but I want to get back to work because I plan to open up my own soup shop here in Red Hook. A really small neighborhood place. There’s a lot of housing around here and people just need a lunch spot to go to.

What kind of soups would you make?

I just finished prepping a vat of gazpacho with all of the overripe tomatoes and peppers we have. And chilled cucumber soup with yogurt and garlic is always nice. But I love a good french onion soup, and bean soups tend to be favorites, too…. rosemary and white bean, bean and bacon, lentil and sausage. But then again, any mexican tortilla soup with some lime and avocado does it for me, too. I guess my house specialty would have to be yota, which is a Croatian favorite: sauerkraut, potatoes, hamhock, beans… It was my favorite growing up when my mom would make it, and it’s so healthy and I could eat it for days.

[music on television gets loud for a second]

Sorry—I was watching The Other Boleyn Girl.

How was it?

Oh, it’s one of those dramatic things you just watch when you’re home by yourself. It’s good.

I really love all the art in here.

Thanks. I did a lot of the photography. I shot this girl [points to photo of girl in skirt on bike] on the Lower East Side. It was a really lucky shot.

This one was a wedding gift to us. [points to the graffiti-painting of little boy.] That one I shot in Vietnam. The photos are mostly mine and the artwork is mostly done by friends. Those photos over there [black and whites of the punk-looking guy and girl] are old roommate and ex-boyfriend of mine from Detroit.

And Patti Smith?

That’s the only one I didn’t shoot.

How long have you been in New York?

Going on twenty years. I grew up in Detroit and was born in Croatia.

So you’ve been a photographer for a while?

Yeah, my dad was a photographer and had a printing company, so I grew up in Croatia around that. I was always around cameras and he taught me how to work in the dark room in the basement.

Did you come to New York for photography?

Sort of, I came to study at FIT and now I just do it on my own.

So, tell me about this building.

It’s a brand new building. Five units—they’re called carriage houses. When we moved in it was a lot more industrial and we made some changes. We put the teak floor in and gutted the kitchen. The kitchen was really dark and so we opened it up. That’s like my baby. We love to cook. We also re-did the bathroom over here. It was really crappy—even through the building was new. We put in the glass and re-tiled it. We designed how we wanted it to look and we have some friends who are contractors. [Pointing to photo of cat in cast above the toilet.] That’s Duke when he had a broken leg.

Aww… he looks pathetic.

I wonder where Claudia went…. she’s our other cat.


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