Owner, Natty Garden, Natty Pet Shop, Mahfood Market
Jun 16, 2022
Joel Mahfood has lived in New York for less than a decade but has managed to make a major mark on Brooklyn. As the owner of four businesses — two Natty Garden plant stores, Natty Pet Shop and Mahfood Market — he has created a mini empire that nourishes body, soul and community.
Mahfood, 40, grew up in Jamaica but traveled to New York to spend summers with his mother. At the height of the financial crisis in 2008, Mahfood decided he wanted to work for himself and opened a small plant shop on Washington Avenue and Dean Street in Prospect Heights, despite having no formal horticultural training. He called the store Natty Garden — an homage to his Caribbean roots and Rastafarian beliefs — and cultivated a welcoming, well-priced and joyful atmosphere.
He started growing his locs out, and people began referring to Mahfood as Natty. “Natty is just a term for freedom,” Mahfood told the blog Shades of Commerce. “He’s a little different. So Natty Garden is where Natty Dread hang around. We try to bring that vibe, ya know.”
In the years since, Natty Garden has expanded its footprint and product offerings, even hosting the occasional reggae party in its outdoor garden space (Mahfood is a percussionist and Natty Garden parties often feature living legends such as percussionist Larry McDonald and singer Milton Henry). Mahfood opened a second location on Marcus Garvey Blvd. in Bed-Stuy in 2019, a move he described as “like being a part of history.”
“I’m also extremely proud of the community that has formed around Natty Garden. My customers know me by name and have supported me through the pandemic, and we’ve grown together through our love of plants,” he told the blog Triple Mint. “And that’s the beauty of Prospect Heights and Marcus Garvey, it’s a community that will support you, through the good times and the bad.”
Ever industrious, Mahfood branched out from plants and opened Natty Pet Shop just around the corner from his Prospect Heights shop.
He dedicated it to his dog Russian, whose likeness adorns the shop’s sign. Mahfood wrote that he hopes “to gain knowledge from being around different pet products and brands” and aspires to trade “knowledge so our pets can live happy and healthy lives.”
In November 2020, Mahfood opened Mahfood Market, a natural foods grocery next door to the original Natty Garden. “As a Rastafarian, you want to live a healthier lifestyle,” he told the New York Daily News. “Just like we’re in touch with Earth in our garden, we want to continue that same movement with Mahfood Market.”