The Brooklyn deli owner winning TikTok’s heart – one ‘Ocky’ recipe

the deli at 603 clinton street in new york city is pretty straightforward. Located between a Baptist church and some auto repair shops, it operates seven days a week on the edge of Red Hook, a Brooklyn neighborhood surrounded by shipping yards and Civil War-era warehouses.

For most customers, new and old, there are two ways to identify the deli. one is because of the big white banner that hangs over the windows covered with cigarette ads and fliers featuring neighborhood events. “red hook food corp,” reads the banner in bold red and black letters.

the other way is through the constant happy cacophony that comes from inside the deli: a mix of squeaky spatulas and the occasional “of course, of course!” and “never again!”, voiced by rahim mohamed, the 33-year-old Yemeni-American owner of the deli and one of the most unlikely tik tok stars in the world.

Well known online as General Ock (an anglicization of “akhi,” the Arabic word for “brother”) for his wild sandwich creations, Mohamed draws customers from across the country and around the world, each hoping to place an order. “the ocky way” and take a picture with Mohamed himself.

As Mohamed whips up fun creations like bacon, egg and cheese stuffed between red velvet pancakes, he donates a portion of his proceeds to his family in Yemen, which has been locked in civil war for the past eight years.

in the neighborhood, mohamed is a beloved member of the red hook community. To his worldwide internet fans, Mohamed is the New York deli guy with wacky recipes. Amassing millions of social media followers for his creations, Mohamed has come to reaffirm how New York’s immigrant-run wineries serve more than just their local communities.

brooklyn was not always the home of mohamed. for the first 10 years of his life, mohamed lived in taiz, the third largest city in yemen, located at the southern end of the red sea. at one time, taiz was the cultural capital of yemen, known for its production of mocha coffee, white mosques, and jabal sable, one of the highest mountains in the country, with a peak of 3,000 meters (10,000 feet) above sea level sea.

in 1999, mohamed and his brother, sister, and mother moved to the united states to join their stepfather, initially settling at nostrand and atlantic avenue in north brooklyn. With his sister, he soon began spending weekends working at a deli his uncle had owned since the 1980s.

from red hook, mohamed could easily see the world trade center. the towers stood over the five districts until one day they no longer did.

A week before the attacks, Mohamed’s family was supposed to visit the towers, one of which had an observation deck that attracted 1.8 million visitors a year. “It was going to be my second visit but it never happened. we were at school when [the attacks] happened, that was the worst. and then I had a dream about it. I dreamed that I fell from the twin towers. I was on a bunk and I fell to the ground,” said Mohamed, shaking his head.

After the attacks, police officers stood guard outside New York’s many immigrant-run bodegas, including Mohamed’s uncle’s, as hate crimes against Arabs and Muslims soared in the city. “People would just walk in and violate things and do all kinds of crazy things, but god is good, luckily nothing happened [at our deli],” he said.

in 2007, mohamed and his brother took over their uncle’s deli, which moved to the 603 clinton street address. inside, a set menu hangs over an array of boar’s-head charcuterie and cheeses. a butter bagel sells for $1.50. for $12, patrons can get a hot meal of lamb and chicken with rice. throughout the 50-square-foot kitchen are shelves packed to the brim with household items, adult diapers, and assorted beverages.

it was not until the pandemic that mohamed became known as general ock, thanks to his younger brother.

“It was a Sunday [in July]. sunday mornings are always dead, we don’t start picking up until after 11 am because then people come from the church and football from the park”, recalled mohamed. “It was me and my little brother. he was on his phone, I think that’s when he started tiktok… I look at him and say, ‘yo, hang up the phone’. if there are no customers, do something, clean up,’” Mohamed told her.

His brother responded by asking for Mohamed’s phone number. “he took my phone and downloaded tiktok. he was like, ‘okay, go ahead and start recording. Record what you do in the deli,’” Mohamed recalled his brother telling him.

mohamed was taken by surprise. However, he listened to his brother and filmed his first video: a simple iPhone production featuring a deli plate of stir-fried vegetables, turkey bacon, and eggs.

Her brother edited the video and posted it to tiktok under the username @rah_money1. its appeal was modest, with about 500 views in the first few days. then he filmed a second video, this time with the delicatessen case that mohamed rearranged very well. he only got a few hits.

“what do you want me to do? there are no views, ”mohamed told his brother. A few days later, he thought of something that would eventually become his main recipe.

“I think people are sick and tired of regular bread. let’s do something new,’ so I asked my friend how he would like to make a video where I order a bacon, egg and cheese [sandwich] on a honey bun,” said mohamed, referring to a regular pastry from a convenience store filled with honey and cinnamon.

on july 1, 2020, mohamed uploaded the video to tiktok. likes started coming instantly. one user commented: “what? That seems valid.” someone else said, “wait, I really could have done something here.”

“I think my first day there was between 50,000 and 100,000 likes and I was like, you know what? I think I know what people want. I thought about what I could do with different ‘breads’ and how I could mix it into a pancake mix to make it taste like cakes,” said mohamed.

While Mohamed was experimenting with his recipes, he began asking customers if they would appear in his videos, offering to create their own creations as well. Over time, every interaction started with Mohamed enthusiastically saying, “yes sir/ma’am, how can I help you today?” and the client responding: “yo ock! can i get a…” while they list your order?

in two years, mohamed and his “weird” ways have amassed 3.4 million views on tiktok and almost 55 million likes. Some of his crazier creations include steak and cheese on chocolate chip pancakes and a classic New York shredded cheese sandwich with French toast and waffles.

Customers have asked him to “ockify” McDonald’s takeout, fresh lobster, and in one case, to make a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich stuffed with gummy worms. to each request, mohamed responds: “of course, of course”.

for the past two years, fans have flocked to red hook food corp and flooded mohamed’s social media inboxes on a daily basis. Customers file into the deli, perusing the shelves in hopes of finding the strangest combinations of ingredients for Mohamed to cook. as he clanks his spatulas behind the counter, he occasionally turns his head and asks his fans where they’re from.

“i see people from spain, london, germany, brazil, saudi arabia, dubai,” said mohamed, recalling a time when some princes from the gulf visited his delicatessen. “They came with bodyguards and cars that were black, black, black, nothing to see,” he said.

vloggers, musicians, and athletes often visit red hook food corp. Mohamed’s instagram inbox is filled with messages of appearance requests and thank yous from blue-tick accounts, including the Oklahoma City Thunder NBA basketball team, record producer Benny Blanco, and local rappers.

“they say, ‘i’m proud of you, we love what you do,’ and i thank them every day. when i see this, i cry, but this is all from [god],” mohamed said, looking up “He knows that I never hold anything in my heart against another person.”

As of 2018, Yemeni Americans like Mohamed ran more than 1,000 New York wineries. More than 7,000 miles from Yemen, many continue to mourn the devastating war that has killed an estimated 377,000 people since 2015.

“Every Yemeni American here [at the store] is, in one way or another, responsible for about 20 to 30 people behind them. people are really suffering in yemen because of the constant war we have been involved in. the strength of the Yemeni community is the people. people work hard and send money home,” said zaid nagi, vice president of the yemeni american businessmen association, a brooklyn-based nonprofit.

while mohamed suffers from the war, he continues to help in any way he can. he regularly sends a portion of his earnings to his family and community in yemen, where civilians face unprecedented levels of starvation.

“We help, you know, where we can. and as Muslims, we should never talk about it. that is the only thing that god teaches. whatever you donate, you must keep it between you and him.”

back at the store, more customers began to arrive. a tourist, an internal auditor from genoa, italy, told mohamed that he had seen it on tiktok. “can I take a picture with you? I’m a big fan!” the man asked timidly.

“of course!” Mohamed said as he wrapped his hand around the man’s shoulder, adding, “so sir, how can I help you today?”

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