SW/EATS! Pongo Power and Companion Cafe

Pongo Power

It felt appropriate to begin my journey through North Flatbush’s fitness offerings by diving into Pongo Power, North Flatbush’s only exclusively personal training studio. While messaging frequently heard in fitness is “work harder, push harder,” Pongo Power aims to accompany that message with the idea that working smarter can sometimes be more effective, and caters to the unique strengths and challenges of every body that walks through their door.

Elizabeth Pongo, Pongo Power’s founder and CEO, started the business 12 years ago, after recognizing a need for health and wellness, without the gym. Her business model is inspired by her life’s journey as an athlete, and overcoming physical and mental challenges in order to achieve harmony and wellbeing through movement. Pongo also has another location on 5th street in Park Slope, but has called North Flatbush home for five years now.

Every new client at Pongo Power starts out with a fitness assessment. The first step of the assessment is an extensive questionnaire about the client’s health history, addressing injuries, disease, family history, current fitness routine, and health and wellness goals. I worked with trainer Ben, who reviewed my information, asked many relevant questions, and then lead me through a series of exercises to uncover any weaknesses that needed to be addressed. Brian then passed my information along to trainer Brie, who used Ben’s assessment to construct a personalized workout, designed to target my areas of weakness and cater to my specific fitness goals.

Brie’s workout focused on activating core muscles to better support auxiliary muscles, and emphasized alignment and control. A question frequently asked was “where do you feel this?” The one-on-one training required intense focus on making sure I was targeting the “correct” muscles (the ones that needed strengthening).

In addition to creating custom workouts, Pongo focuses on developing a routine that is sustainable for clients. A major conversation is accountability: can I hold myself responsible for practicing the exercises at home? Or do I know that I need to workout with a trainer in order to do my exercises? The answer to this question will determine the client’s workout schedule (knowing myself, I knew that I’d need the accountability of working out with a trainer. I never was much of a fan of homework).

Every single body is unique, shaped by genetics, history of movement patterns, past injuries, emotional trauma, and more. The most effective workout meets a body where it’s at, focusing on proper alignment and injury prevention. Pongo Power sees a wide variety of clients, from seasoned athletes looking to improve their performance to everyday people looking to recover from an injury or safely get back to a regular fitness routine.

Pongo Power works with clients who have a variety of fitness goals, including increasing strength, eliminating pain, losing weight, or training for a specific fitness event. The focus is generally on incorporating fitness into one’s lifestyle in a healthy, sustainable way, rather than on fitness as a means to achieving a specific external image. Pongo’s approach to fitness is deeply rooted in research, science, and intimate knowledge of how bodies work.

In additional to personal training, Pongo Power also offers coaching programs and info sessions, and maintains a regular blog that shares fitness tips.

Pongo Power wants to show the world how fitness can be an essential tool to help guide us all toward living healthier, happier, longer lives. Says Elizabeth Pongo: “At Pongo Power, we have created a culture in which we can help each and every person who walks through the door, through neurolinguistics, education, and attention to detail. We are committed to ending the obesity epidemic, helping others beat their eating disorders, and sharing our love of movement with the world.”

Companion Cafe/ Shaka Shaka Tiki

Won’t you be my neighbor? Or my Companion for lunch… 

As Theo and I embark on our journey of Sw/EATS, I applaud her willingness to test out all the district’s fitness options. I, on the other hand, will be sharing my personal discoveries of North Flatbush food (mmmmm), and hopefully with a lens of healthy, lesser-known options.

First Up, Companion Cafe/Shaka Shaka Tiki. Located at 64 6th Avenue. This coffee shop cum cocktail lounge is right across the street from Brooklyn 99….uuuhhh, I mean the NYPD 78th Precinct at Bergen Street. Sidebar: did you know the exterior of the 78th precinct is used for the shots in the popular Brooklyn 99 television series? Ok. Back on track…

Kai and his business partner, Garrett, met working at an East Village coffee shop. Recognizing Garrett is the calm, collected counter to the chaos starting a new business invokes, Kai realized that Garrett’s vision of opening a tiki bar would be great synergy for his idea to provide healthy food options in a communally-minded small business. The idea for Companion was circulating in Kai’s mind for 10 years and his entrepreneurial spirit, with years of savings from a slew of jobs and gigs since he was a teen working with his grandfather’s masonry outfit, made it happen. Facing challenges with opening a NYC retail location is not lost on many business operators. But, a costly mix of building issues, city agencies, engineers, architects and contractors only held the team back for six months.

Companion Cafe, the daytime identity of this location, is tucked away, around a corner. But, the guys also chose the quaint location because it is steps away from where “a bunch of buildings go up in the next decade”. And there “aren’t any tiki bars close, and few community feeling spaces that are casual and chill and don’t cost a fortune”, says Kai.  A self-taught cook, Kai is almost exclusively vegetarian and doesn’t mind cooking vegetables for his neighbor New Yorkers. Cafe, barista and catering experience taught him lots of tricks, but a huge influence on his cooking came from an eight-hour cooking class with his sister and a woman named Shashi in Udaipur, northern India.

Companion’s unique selection of hot and cold beverages includes house-roasted coffee (Kai personally does the roasting), select teas, and fresh juices. And a rotating cast of vegetable-forward food options are divided into two categories–On Toast or In a Bowl. The toasts are the perfect vehicle for options like house-made nut butter, the ubiquitous avocado, herb roasted mushrooms with gooey raclette cheese, or the recently added Gobi Chana (roasted cauliflower and chickpea puree seasoned with warm, aromatic spices).  Bowls provide a more substantial option with the likes of smoked salmon and quinoa, or homemade yogurt, fruit, and nut butter, but the star is the Daily Mush–a portion of quinoa topped with gobi chana mash, purple kraut, herbed tomatoes and the daily fresh-roasted vegetables–on my recent visit, sweet potatoes, cauliflower and brussels sprout. Tip: add avocado for a creamy contrast to all the crunchy yum!

Enjoy your selection in a cheerful tree-house vibe room that is colorful and bright–you’ll be surrounded by oxygen-producing plants suspended from the ceiling in macrame hangers, a soothing atmospheric playlist, and a collection of visitors stopping by for a specialty beverage or bite to eat. Garrett led the design aesthetic after they chose the recycled-glass and concrete service station cum bartop. As the day progresses, Garrett takes control of the bar–Shaka Shaka Tiki, whipping up some adult libations to satisfy your evening palette. Relatively new to the mixologist world, Garrett has assembled some delightful quaffs that can accompany Companion foods or take the edge off your earlier-in-the-morning work-out woes. “I hope that we’re best serving the community here by offering healthy and homemade food options during the day, along with freshly roasted coffee and friendly vibes,” Kai adds, “We both believe strongly in the power of a cafe/bar to provide a gathering place where conversations between neighbors can take place and you can feel at home and comfortable enough to engage with a stranger.” Check them out before your next Barclays event as they are around the corner from the lesser-known Dean Street Entrance at Barclays Center–you’ll feel like a true North Flatbush insider.