Keeping the City that Never Sleeps Caffeinated
Benjamin Wright Coleman is a connoisseur of coffee but not a coffee snob. The 29-year-old Ost Café barista thinks dark roasted coffee is trying to hide something, and after thirteen years of handling coffee, it’s hard not to take is word.
Located in Alphabet City, Ost Café sets itself apart from other coffee shops in the area by creating a European vibe. After 5 p.m., WIFI is turned off, laptops are closed and patrons sip wine and espresso over flickering candles.
Coleman has been working here since he first moved to New York City two years ago. The Colorado native had been working at a coffee shop, but was itching for a change of scenery. “I moved for probably the same reason everyone moves here,” Coleman says, “The experience and for all its opportunities.”
Ost has given Coleman more than just coffee knowledge. It has given him a chance to showcase his passion: art.
It all started with a love for comic books and cartoons. Coleman began drawing as a child, and after a small speed bump in third grade when a rivalry began with a fellow classmate who drew muscle men and airplanes, Coleman decided that this was what he wanted to do with his life. He went on to receive his Bachelors of Fine Arts from Metropolitan State University of Denver, graduating in 2008.
His artwork mostly consists of illustrations. Derived from his appreciation of comic books, the figures are lifelike with selected exaggerations and blank spaces filled in with patterns. He has shown his work at Café Grumpy in both the Chelsea and Park Slope. Over the last few years, he has been working on a project called “daily drawing” in which he sketches something each day on a Post-It note.
Some of his work now hangs in café. Owner Aaron Hagedorn enjoys promoting Coleman’s artistic career. “Ben’s talent as an artist demonstrated an attention to detail, which is very important to a barista,” Hagedorn says. “We also recognize that the barista position is most likely a temporary position for most of our employees. That is why we support Ben by allowing him to hang his art in the café.”
But Coleman admits that since moving to New York, he has not spent as much time on his art. He hopes to eventually sell his drawings for a living. “I just want to make fine art for fine arts sake,” Coleman said. “It’s my dream to get paid to draw all day.”
The people of the East Village need caffeine in the morning, and Coleman is there to brew it up for them. He wakes up in his Lower East Side apartment at 6 a.m., navigates the city streets on his bike. Sun beams through the café’s floor to ceiling windows as Coleman turns on the silver La Marzocco espresso machine. It begins to gently buzz as he pulls a couple shots of espresso to ensure that the machine is warmed up and ready to go.
And suddenly it is 7:30 a.m. Time to open the shop.
Coleman has been working with coffee for thirteen years. He picked up what he calls “bad coffee habits” at a popular chain in Colorado. While attending college in Denver, he began working at critically acclaimed NOVO coffee. It was there that Coleman learned the art of making espresso: using the machine properly, making latte art in foam and even cupping, a process similar to wine tasting in which one slurps then spits coffee in order to taste its flavor, body, acidity and aroma. That morning cup of joe was no longer a simple pick me up, but a beverage worth appreciating.
The morning rush at Ost begins at 8 a.m. Patrons choose from a short list of drinks handwritten on a chalkboard above the register. Sugary syrups and blended coffee drinks are not to be found here. The menu is simple: coffee, espresso, americano, cortado, cappuccino, macchiato, mocha.
Most of the customers who come in are regulars. They order their coffee and update Coleman on their lives and make plans to meet up later in the week outside of work. “I’ve found New York to be community centric,” Coleman says. “It’s a big city of lonely people away from their families, so everyone wants a friendly environment - Ost is that place for a lot of people.”
By 1 p.m. Coleman has survived two rushes of customers. During slow time, entertainment comes in the form of a game. Coleman and fellow barista Alec Head try to figure out the lives of people that come in.
“Was that that guy’s girlfriend or his mom?” Coleman asks.
“Oh no, that was his mom, dude! His girlfriend is this tall, severe blonde girl,” Head says.
“Well, he must be a bassist, I mean, he seems troubled.”
Coleman says that the people he works with have become some of his best friends. He recently moved into an apartment with a friend and fellow coworker. He even met his girlfriend, Madeleine Aronson, through work. She started working at Ost after Coleman and admired his personality and the way he treats customers. “He eases social tension and is just a breath of fresh, dreamy air to speak to in that he isn’t too perky and optimistic and is able to relate to everyone’s everyday cynicism.”
Coleman and Aronson have been dating for over a year. Aronson now works at a multimedia art space but makes time to visit Ost whenever she can.
By 3 p.m., the third and final rush of the day has begun. Though the orders keep on coming, Coleman takes time to create the perfect latte, a process that he claims is less learned than it is mastered through practice.
So why are patrons willing to wait longer and pay more for a latte at Ost? Coleman says it has to do with an appreciation for the coffee shop experience and the effort put into making the drink.
“Good coffee takes people giving a shit about it all the way from the farmer,” Coleman says. “Good beans handled well by the farmer, roasted to their potential by the roaster and prepared carefully by the barista.”
And with that he hands over the customer’s latte. She admires the rosetta he’s created in the drink’s foam then heads out into the sunny day. If she’s like many of those before her, she’ll be back soon — and Coleman will be there to keep her caffeinated.
Drawing courtesy of Benjamin Wright Coleman
4:47 pm • 16 April 2013
Pounding the Pavement with “On the Racks” Fashion Blogger
Laura Ellner is a typical 25 year old. She has a 9-to-5 job, a budget, a dog and a posse of trendy friends. However, when Ellner gets dressed every day she shares her outfits with fans — thousands of them — who follow her blog “On the Racks.”
Two years ago, Ellner was living in San Francisco working for a Shop It To Me, a start up that brands itself an “online personal shopping assistant.” The fashion forward twenty something was looking for a creative outlet outside of work, and a personal style blog seemed to be the perfect route. And so On the Racks was born. The name is an ode to two of Ellner’s favorite things: fashion and drinks served on the rocks.
But on this mid-March night at the trendy Brooklyn bar Bas’ik, Ellner is drinking draft beer. The high side pony she is sporting looks fashionable and cool, not messy and outdated as it might on others. Dressed in a jeans and silky blue shirt with her beloved coat hanger tattoo peeking out on her inner arm, Ellner looks fashionably pulled together without trying too hard.
Since it’s creation, On the Racks has garnered an impressive following. Ellner boasts over six thousand Twitter followers, four thousand Facebook fans and six thousand Instagram followers. The fashionista has achieved an almost celebrity status in the blogosphere. She has been invited to New York fashion week, featured in the Style section of the New York Times, collaborated with brands such as Scoop and Stylecaster and attended South by Southwest, sponsored by Fohr Card, a blogger directory.
The fashion blog community is constantly expanding, and big name fashion companies have begun to recognize a new means of getting their products out there. “Bloggers are really influential right now,” Ellner said. “From a marketing perspective, designers are smart to invite bloggers to their shows because blog readers can directly click a link and buy whatever the blogger is wearing. It’s easier than looking at a piece in a magazine and then having to pull up the website and find the product.”
Ellner has managed to stand out among those droves of fashion bloggers by donning affordable clothing that looks high fashion. It also helps that her lifestyle borders on every girls’ fantasy: living in New York City, working as the social media coordinator for fashion brand Alice and Olivia, drinking cocktails at the latest hotspot, hanging out with other high profile bloggers.
But becoming the influential fashion blogger that gets invited to fashion week is not as simple as throwing on a pair of designer shoes with the perfect vintage sundress and snapping a photo. Each week, Ellner meets with a photographer to take photos in various places she has scouted out across the city. “I try to pick places that coordinate well with whatever outfit I have planned,” Ellner said. One week found her in Williamsburg wearing a BCBG patchwork blouse and cobalt blue Blank NYC corduroy pants. Another found her at Lincoln Center rocking a Rebecca Taylor jumpsuit and green Topshop coat. “I still get self conscious when taking outfit photos,” Ellner said. “People will walk by and be like ‘Who does she think she is - a model?’ It will always be awkward.”
Posting those photos on the blog is only the first step of building a brand. Next is Twitter, Instagram and other social media outlets. A glass of champagne at The Crosby Bar is Instagrammed, thoughts on what to order for take-out are tweeted, inspiring outfits are pinned and new blog photos are Facebooked.
“Without social media, I don’t think I’d have half the following that I currently have” Ellner said. “It’s casual and interactive, so I can connect with readers while promoting my blog and personal brand.”
Ellner grew up in Orange County. In 2005, she moved six hours north of her sunny hometown to earn a communications degree from the University of San Francisco.
Though California will always have a place in her heart, after over two decades in sunshine state, Ellner knew where she really wanted to be: New York City. So, she packed up her bags and made the big move without a concrete plan. The backdrop of her blog posts shifted from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Brooklyn Bridge. Though moving cross-country can be a difficult change, the blogging community eased her into it.
“I’ve met some of my best friends through blogging,” Ellner said. “I moved to New York and didn’t know people, but I already had this automatic community.”
One of those friends is fellow fashion blogger Jessie Artigue of Style and Pepper. “Laura is definitely one of my favorite fellow style bloggers and a real sweetheart of a friend,” Artigue said. “She has an incredible personal aesthetic, and I always love being inspired by her quirky mix of laid-back trends and ladylike separates. It is always a delight to get a warm hug from her at industry events, and I’m so thankful that I’ve gotten to know her in the past few years.”
It did not take long for Ellner to find a job in the city. With a hip fashion blog on the resume, she was a shoe-in for a social media position at fashion company Pour La Victoire.
But her first year in New York was not exactly the dream she expected it would be. Shortly after moving into their Chelsea apartment, Ellner and her boyfriend of six years broke up. In a hurry to move out, Ellner signed the lease on an apartment in the Lower East Side, an area known for its loud nightlife. Her sleep schedule went from six hours a night to four, so when the opportunity to live with her best friend in Brooklyn arose, she pounced.
All of this has in some small way been documented in On the Racks. “I try to be honest,” Ellner said. “My life isn’t perfect. We all have our struggles. I know it would have been helpful for me if someone had told me just how hard this move would be.”
Don’t get the wrong idea. Ellner still loves New York, and she doesn’t regret making the move. She’s not done pounding her heels on the pavement of the Empire State. “When I used to visit New York, I’d get off the plane and feel so inspired. That feeling hasn’t gone away, and I don’t think it ever will.”
Photo Credit: Lydia Hudgens
4:46 pm • 9 April 2013 • 1 note
In Alphabet City, a Girdle Guru Boost Lingerie as Way to Healthier Life
“The better you take care of your breasts, the less stress and more confidence you will have,” promises Pearl Chan.
Ms. Chan, a self-proclaimed “body-slimming lingerie specialist,” opened Healthier Life to help put some pride in the chests of East Village women. The rail-thin Fashion Institute of Technology grad isn’t shy when talking about the beauty of brassieres: a recent interview turned into an episode of “Shopkeepers Gone Wild” when she lifted up her shirt to show how well her own bra fit.
“See, no double boob!” she proclaimed, referring to the fold of fat that forms between the breast and armpit due to an ill-fitting bra.
You may or may not have noticed Ms. Chan’s shop, a sparse cinder-block space tucked just below street level at 291 East Fourth Street. “Lose 10 lbs in 5 days” promises a sign outside of the brassiere bunker.
The sign actually promotes Nutrimeal, a meal replacement. But when women are enticed into the shop, Ms. Chan, a rail-thin Fashion Institute of Technology grad, swoops in to help them pick out the perfect bra for their body size.
The mass-market bras most women wear are unhealthy because they promote poor posture and are made of low-quality fabrics, said Ms. Chan. On the other hand, “these bras give immediate gratification because they increase cleavage and are made of a light, breathable material,” she said.
For those with a smaller chest, Ms. Chan suggests a bra with silicon inserts that doubles cup size. And for the well endowed, she has a bra with five hooks in the back to ensure full support.
“We have to fight gravity to enhance confidence,” she exclaimed.
The shop also stocks a girdle that the shopkeeper claims slims the body down two dress sizes by containing belly fat. This may sound restrictive, but Ms. Chan insists the mesh material is breathable and comfortable.
The underground location between Avenues B and C may seem odd for a lingerie shop, but Ms. Chan hopes to eventually relocate to an area with more foot traffic.
Until then, you can schedule a consultation with her by calling 917-806-5587. Just don’t be surprised if she demonstrates a bra’s merits by jumping up and down.
Photo Credit: Daniel Maurer
Published March 21 in The Local New York Times Blog
6:08 pm • 26 March 2013
Transplanted Texan Discovers Breakfast Tacos in New York City
While many New Yorkers are in my old hometown of Austinfor South by Southwest enjoying the hippest hipster scene outside of Brooklyn, I’ve discovered the most important thing they’ll want to know when they get home: Where can they service that newly acquired breakfast taco addiction once they’re back in the Big Apple?
When I moved to the East Village six months ago, I knew I’d be leaving a lot of things behind, and I thought breakfast tacos would be one of them. But after a bit of searching, I found this was not the case at all. I enlisted my born-and-raised Austin boyfriend to trek with me through the city on a hunt for the breakfast taco that most reminded us of home. If anyone knows what makes a good breakfast taco, it’s this guy.
My journey started in Brooklyn. BrisketTown is located right on the uber hipster Bedford Avenue. I had heard through the grapevine that the joint has recently started serving breakfast tacos with Brussels sprouts in them. As a Brussels sprout fanatic, I had high hopes that this taco would transport me to breakfast heaven. And it did. Even my carnivore of a boyfriend agreed. Austin, take note. Roasted Brussels sprouts and were meant to commingle with taco fillings in a flour tortilla.
We also gave their brisket taco a try because brisket is what BrisketTown is known for, but as I expected, the flavor of the brisket was much too overpowering. Don’t get me wrong, I love barbeque (I’m from Texas after all!), but in my opinion, brisket was never meant to be eaten in a breakfast taco. Let’s save that for warm summer nights in the Texas Hill Country, accompanied by an ice-cold beer.
The Brussels sprout taco put me in a good mood, so Whirlybird a couple blocks away was really going to have to wow me to get my attention. The small café has only one breakfast taco on the menu. It boasts a hodgepodge of ingredients such as chorizo, jalapeño potato chips, Oaxaca cheese, and homemade salsa. And while it was certainly unique, Whirlybird’s take on the Austin classic just didn’t do it for me. The jalapeño potato chips felt like they were added on purely for the sake of originality.
A quick hop onto the J train brought us back to Manhattan. Essex Street Market, a small but lovely indoor market, houses Brooklyn Taco Co. Why Brooklyn Taco Co. is in Manhattan I have no idea, but I had little time to mull that over. Another breakfast taco was calling my name. Like Whirlybird, they only have one breakfast taco, but this one was divine.
Their version is simple: a corn tortilla is filled with egg, chorizo, cheese, potatoes, and poblano peppers, topped with crema. As I took my first bite, I almost felt like I was back in Austin. The ingredients were fresh, and though the taco was definitely one of the simplest ones I had, it did not skimp on flavor. Plus, the two men working that day were extremely friendly - a trait that seems to be a rarity in New York City.
My last stop was Downtown Bakery in the East Village. Though this bakery may not be the most attractive to look at, it certainly houses some pretty amazing Mexican food. Each order comes with two tacos. Filled with egg, spinach, onion, jack cheese, and refried black beans, the white corn tortillas that housed my veggie breakfast taco tasted exactly like what I’ve had at TacoDeli back home in the ATX. I looked up at my boyfriend and smiled, I had found exactly what I was looking for, a breakfast taco that reminded me of home, and who would have thought that it would be right there in my new neighborhood? Whenever I’m feeling homesick, look no further than Downtown Bakery to find me.
359 Bedford Ave, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
254 South 2nd Street, Brooklyn
Brooklyn Taco Co.
120 Essex St, New York, NY
69 1st Ave New York, NY
Printed Sunday March 17 in the Austin Chronicle
10:38 am • 19 March 2013
Q&A with Jessie of Style and Pepper
Jessie Artigue isn’t afraid to get a little crazy when it comes to fashion. The blogger behind Style and Pepper loves mixing prints, wearing bold colors and putting the latest trend to the test. But becoming an “it” fashion blogger in an age where everyone seems to be a blogger didn’t come easy.
And her life isn’t just taking photos of herself in pretty outfits for the blog. She is also a creative consultant, personal stylist and on-air personality. She blogs fitness, health and food and fashion
Along the way, Artigue faced a lot of ethical and personal challenges. She talked to me from her home in Hoboken. N.J. about how her blog came to be, dealing with advertisers and learning to say no.
Jessica Lee (JL): You started out as a street style blogger in Kansas City, MO. Now you are working as a full-time blogger, creative consultant and stylist right outside of New York City. How did you make that leap?
Jessie Artigue (JA): When I started my site, I knew stylists existed, but I don’t think I ever knew there was such a thing as a full-time blogger. Street style was kind of a newer concept, so going full time with it was definitely never the intent.
Whether it be styling or consulting I’ve always known that I have an entrepreneurial spirit, so I knew working for myself in some capacity would happen down the road. At the time that I started, I didn’t have it mapped out.
JL: Why did you start Style and Pepper?
JA: I started the blog as a creative outlet. I was just feeling under challenged and underutilized at my full-time marketing job that I was doing in the architecture industry. I was hired away from that position by J Crew who had found me via my blog, and they were interested in having me work for them. I was hired as the director of visuals and merchandising for the Midwestern region.
During that time, I realized that fashion was something that I always had a knack for so, I started to take on personal styling projects where I would go into people’s closets and help them put together outfits.
JL: What pushed you to work for yourself?
JA: I did it in stages. I had my blog for a decent amount of time before leaving my full time job to work exclusively for myself. Then there were a few opportunities that came my way that I felt would potentially be conflicts of interest for me while working for a large retailer. I had to start to assess how I was going to move forward. So, I quit my job. It was exhilarating and so, so scary at the same time.
JL: Do you find that working for yourself can at times be more stressful than a typical 9-to-5 job? Have you had to learn to say no to certain events, jobs?
JA: I’m a people pleaser in general. I’m a yes girl. One of my favorite things is collaborating especially with other creative individuals. I think that is one of the reasons why I’m a successful consultant.
What I have to teach myself is that it’s ok to say no.
I’ve had to create a criteria. It’s an unofficial one because I make exceptions, but it’s a checklist that I have to go through in my head. One of the first questions I ask myself is “Do I have the time?” The next question is “Is it a good fit from a brand perspective as far as aligning my own personal brand with someone else’s” And then if those two answers are yes then it’s “Is it a compensated project? Pro bono?”
JL: One great thing about your blog is it isn’t inundated with advertisements like a lot of other blogs out there. Instead, you let brands sponsor your posts. For example, Baileys recently sponsored a post in which you created cocktails inspired by Oscars dresses. Do you prefer sponsored ads over basic advertising?
JA: Personally, I know that the majority my audience reads my site via a reader or via mobile. I have brands approach me all the time about purchasing ad space on my sidebar.
One of the first things that I will respond with is that you’re welcome to pay me to put an ad in my sidebar, but A) it has to work aesthetically B) it should be a good brand fit and most importantly, C) I flat out say, I don’t think it’s in your best interest to go about advertising on my site with a button or side bar ad. I know I have an amazing click through rate with sponsored posts and in-content linkage. I will reverse pitch the person and say what I recommend is that we do something more interactive. Then I send them a menu of things we can do that cost different amounts so that they can choose based on their budget.
JL: Do you have any suggestions for people who want to start a blog as a creative outlet for themselves?
JA: My advice would be twofold. One is if you want to start a blog as a personal site and for a creative journal of your inspirations, I would say make sure that you stick to incorporating things that you really love. If you love it, that’s fine, post about it. But try to give it your own spin. If you’re really into polka dots, instead of posting a round up of all the bloggers who have been wearing polka dots recently, maybe try to put together a shopping round up of polka dots you’ve seen on unique Etsy sites.
Photo Credit: Jessie Artigue
5:07 pm • 8 March 2013 • 1 note
Restaurant Review: Kambi Ramen House and Momofuku Noodle Bar
After a long Friday of commuting through the bitter cold wind of winter storm Nemo, I wanted only one thing - a giant bowl of piping hot ramen. I’m not talking about the flash-fried, freeze-dried block of noodles that you zap in the microwave then cover in a neon yellow powder labeled “roasted chicken.” I mean real, authentic Japanese ramen.
And apparently I wasn’t the only New Yorker trekking through the snow because my stomach convinced me to. Kambi Ramen, a tiny easy-to-pass-up restaurant in the East Village, was surprisingly full of patrons. The sound of slurping would make Emily Post turn around in a huff and leave, but as a self-proclaimed ramen enthusiast, I know this is a sign of good food to come.
I immediately ordered kimchi, a Korean dish consisting of pickled cabbage in motley mixture of spices. Is it strange that Korea’s national dish is on the menu in a Japanese restaurant and actually executed well? No. This is New York City, a melting pot of ethnicities. The dish was not spicy as some chefs like it, but instead let the saltiness of the brine shine through. An excellent precursor for the ramen that awaits.
Preferring a little heat, I opted for the spicy basic ramen, which is described on the menu as salt and roast garlic flavor in a pork broth. A steaming bowl of ramen was placed before me ten minutes later. I could not see a single noodle because the top of soup was covered in pork, scallions, seaweed, boiled egg and mushrooms. I dipped my chopsticks in and pulled out a tangle of the thick noodles and twisted them like spaghetti on a fork. They tasted divine. The waitress had suggested thick noodles because they better absorb the flavors of the broth. She couldn’t have been more right. Ramen is one of those dishes that tastes better with each bite because the longer the noodles have to sit in the broth and absorb it, the more of its taste you get to experience.
At the table next to mine, a couple discussed their ordering options. They were both vegan. The waitress worked kindly with them to procure a dish that they could consume (though after she left, I overheard the couple say that they would still be cheating a bit on their vegan diet with the what the waitress had suggested. I’m assuming it has to do with egg generally being used in the making of the noodles). I am sure their dish was tasty, but ramen was never meant to satisfy the vegetarians and vegans of our time. Embrace the pork, the egg, the fish broth, and the chicken! All these elements work hard to create a dish that helps a Texas girl like me forget about the snowpocalypse going on outside.
A couple blocks up First Avenue sits Momofuku Noodle Bar. The hipster watering hole with its long wood paneled bar certainly has a cooler vibe than Kambi Ramen. Expect to wait at least 20 minutes (longer if you are with a party of more than three since the restaurant is quite small). The hostess wedges me into a spot at the bar where I can see the chefs hard at work. I look around and notice many of the restaurant’s patrons are drinking slushie type drinks. A glance at the menu reveals that these are actually Chef David Chang’s alcoholic versions of the childhood beverage.
But my frostbitten body is not prepared for an icy cold drink even if it does have liquor in it. I need ramen, and I need it fast. The menu at Momfuku is short and sweet. I decided for the sake of comparison to order to Momofuku Ramen, a pork based ramen, as it is the closest to the Kambi basic ramen on the menu.
While Kambi sticks to a more traditional style of ramen, Momofuku allows for a bit of experimentation. Rather than a boiled egg, the ramen at Momofuku features a runny poached egg. Locally sourced vegetables make an appearance in the soup, but sadly, the broth is much too salty, and the dish lacks adequate spice. I did not get a chance to taste Chung’s much-acclaimed pork buns or fried chicken, but I have been told those are the real gems of this East Village joint.
If you are looking for authentic ramen that will warm your blood and fill your stomach, go to Kambi. I have never had a ramen that I didn’t like there. If you are looking to impress friends with a really hip restaurant, take them to Momofuku Noodle Bar. Just don’t order the ramen, but if you absolutely have to, I suggest the vegetable ramen if it’s on the menu (the menu varies each night). And get dessert! All the desserts are from Momofuku Milk Bar, which is only a few blocks away. A cookie with pretzels and potato chips in it? Amazing. Soft serve that tastes like cereal milk? It induces instant Saturday-morning-watching-cartoons-on the-couch nostalgia.
Kambi Ramen House
351 E 14th St New York, NY 10003
Price: $12 ramen // cash only
Open everyday 11:30am-11pm
Momofuku Noodle Bar
171 1st Ave, New York, NY 10003
Price: $16 ramen // credit card accepted
Open: Sun-Th 12:00–4:30 pm, 5:30–11:00 pm
F-Sat 12:00–4:30 pm, 5:30 pm – 2:00 am
8:48 am • 28 February 2013
Q&A with Porchetta Owner about NYC Restaurant Grading System
The smell of roasted pork fills your nostrils immediately when you enter Porchetta. Cousins Matt Lindemulder and Sara Jenkins have been selling Italian street food from their cozy East Village shop since 2008. The freshly mopped black and white tiles and modern red bar stools create an inviting atmosphere perfect for delving into a warm roasted pork or fresh mozzarella sandwich.
But owning a restaurant in New York City certainly is not an easy task. Lindemulder sat down with me on a rainy February afternoon to discuss pros and cons of the New York restaurant grading system.
Jessica Lee (JL): What kind of effect does the New York restaurant grading system have on your business?
Matt Lindemulder (ML): Well, it’s expensive. The New York letter grading system is flawed.
JL: How so?
ML: The New York system is strictly designed as revenue generated. It’s essentially a tax on small businesses. It’s not like the fire department. If you have the fire department come and inspect you, and it finds something at fault, it gives you a certain amount of time to fix that. Then they come back and inspect that. If you don’t fix it, the second time they come back, then you’ll get a fine. In every other city where the letter grade system is in place, they’ll come and inspect you and tell you what’s wrong and then you’ll have a chance to fix it. Then they come back and resinspect you. If the problems remain, then you’re fined for that violation.
What they’ll do here is they’ll come and inspect you and give you a letter grade. If you want to keep that letter grade it’s going to be an A, a B, or a C. Or they can close you down. Then you get to choose whether you keep the letter grade or not. Of course, if it’s not an A, you want to be reinspected again. So then they’ll give you a week, and they will come back anytime after that.
It’s somewhat extortionist in the sense that they’ll fine you, and you have to pay the first round of fines. Then they’ll come back, and it will be a different inspector who will be looking for different things and won’t even address the specific problems that you were previously cited for. They can come and find other problems and never see that a problem was ever fixed or not fixed. There is no consistency with the inspectors. They have all their own ideas. We’ve had good inspectors and we’ve had awful inspectors.
If an inspector came in and gave you no points, the very next day that inspector’s boss would come in. So what they have to do is they come in and find something. If you get an A, you don’t have to pay a fine for those violations. If you get the B, and you get fined, you have to pay for those. Then you choose whether or not you want to get reinspected.
JL: Do you think that there should be a system that has B+, A-, A, so that you can better tell the difference between restaurants?
ML: The system that used to be in place before the letter grade system was a number grade system. They would come in and they would assign points for problems. There would be fines for certain problems but not every problem. They would post your grade, and it was easily accessible to anybody who was looking for it.
The letter grade system has an effect on business because the consumer doesn’t understand the difference between grades. Nobody knows why you get a B. It’s just ‘oh, they got a B, I’m not going to eat there.’
Any restaurant on any given day in this city, an inspector could walk in and give them a C if they wanted to. The more fines they collect, the more revenue the department gets. And it’s coming from small businesses that can’t afford that. People are going out of business not because they deserve to or because they are unclean but because of these taxes. It’s difficult; it’s like they want to make you to jump through hoops because they can.
JL: When you go out to eat now, do you pay attention to the grades?
ML: No, not really. I don’t pay attention because I know it doesn’t really matter. I know it’s a scam.
About 6-8 months ago, there was a public hearing, a forum for small businesses to testify to the inaccuracy and the unfairness of the grading system. One of the interesting things they had was a statistician from NYU, a doctoral candidate. He analyzed the other cities in the country that used the non-penal grading system. You could see on a graph how after the restaurants were inspected, cleanliness increased. And then he showed the New York grid. You would think it would be the same. It looked like a shotgun blast. There was no correlation between increased cleanliness and the inspections.
JL: What do you think needs to be done to fix the system?
ML: Possibly they should make the same inspector come in each round. Or have them specifically look for the things that needed to be changed. But like I said it should be like a fire marshal. He says what needs to be fixed and then you fix that. And they come back and see if it’s fixed.
9:52 pm • 27 February 2013
Finding love in (not so) unexpected places
In a crowded coffee shop in Austin, Texas, StorygirlATX began to feel butterflies in her stomach as she scanned the room looking for Animator512, a 3D designer who she had met through OKCupid, a free online dating website.
This first date got off to a bad start when Animator512 immediately called her out for being ten minutes late. StorygirlATX could not help but take notice of the fact that the long black hair he sported on his online profile photograph was in reality more along the lines of salt and pepper colored hair, extra emphasis on the salt.
When she joined OK Cupid, Olivia Watson, a 22-year-old sales associate, hoped to find a long-term partner, not just a causal hookup. More and more young people like Watson/StoryGirl ATX are using dating sites to find a mate. According to Quantcast, a website audience measurer, ten percent of the site’s users are under the age of 25.
It is not a surprise to some experts that GenY, who grew up on the Internet, is turning to the Internet for love, “There is a whole generation of people now that are getting into that period of life where they’re starting to think about settling down or finding a long term partner, and they grew up with online dating being a part of the social conversation,” said Dr. Timothy Loving, a University of Texas human ecology professor. “So, for them, there is no stigma associated with it.”
Loving believes that dating sites serve a valuable function as young adults go out into the work world where their social network tends to get smaller. “As a result we often need to do things to increase the size of our potential partners out there, and dating sites offer one pretty easy mechanism for doing that,” Loving said.
After three years of living in New York City, Maansi Johri, a 24-year-old financial associate, was frustrated with looking for love within her social circle. After hearing about a friend’s success with OkCupid, she decided to give it a shot. She has since gone a few dates and finds the site to be a good way to meet new people, with few expectations.
“It’s more fun and exciting than dating people my friends have set me up with because there are no strings attached,” Johri said. “I don’t have to call them after the date and tell them exactly how it went.”
OkCupid claims to have seven million active members on its site. According to Sam Yagan, the founder of OkCupid, the younger demographic on the site tends to be in search of a different type of relationship than the older demographic. In an interview with Big Think, an online knowledge forum, Yagan said that people over the age of 25 are more focused on marriage. “The younger you are, you just want to meet people,” Yagan said. “And so that may also impact how people use the site,”
Other major dating sites such as Match and EHarmony advertise the potential to meet people and form relationships that will eventually lead to marriage and tend to be used by an older demographic.
Online dating also appeals to those interested in same-sex relationships. Zwee Tran, a 21-year-old University of Texas student, found that it was hard to meet other gay men because he did not go out very often. Since joining OKCupid , he has been in two serious relationships, both of which spawned through the website.
“You get to encounter people who you would never meet in real life, and that can be exciting,” Tran said. One of the men Tran dated long term attended the University of Texas as well, but Tran’s likelihood of meeting him organically in a university with a student population of almost 40,000 was unlikely.
Tran’s experience was confirmed by a study headed by Northwestern social psychology professor Dr. Eli Finkel that found that online dating functions best as a means to meet people not normally encountered in day-to-day life. “As online dating evolves and matures, it seems likely that more and more of us will first encounter romantic partners online,” the study entitled “Online Dating: A critical analysis from the perspective of psychological science” said.
But online sites are no a cure-all for everyone’s dating dilemmas. After moving to New York with an undergraduate degree in journalism, Stephanie Kuo, 22, found that she was too busy working as an editorial assistant to go out and meet people. At a friend’s suggestion, Kuo signed up for OkCupid. But it only took a few dates for Kuo to realize that this was not the way she wanted to start a relationship. “Honestly, all the men I came across on the site have the same goal — getting you in bed. I think there is an organic process to dating that you can’t find online.”
After her bad date with the 3D animator, Watson was reluctant to go on another online matched date. Over the course of five months, she had received almost 400 personal messages from men on OkCupid, and while she didn’t date any of them, She found fun in categorizing the different types of men with nicknames: Mr. Marriage, Mr. Handsome, Mr. Intellectual.
After receiving a message from a Portland man who was looking for a friendly local to show him around Austin during South by Southwest, Watson decided to give the site another chance. The day ended up being much more relaxed than her coffee shop date and changed Watson’s perspective.
“I honestly think dating sites would be better for making friends if you’re a newcomer to a city,” Watson said. “That way there’s no awkward tension, nor are there any high expectations of thinking you have met the man of your dreams, then actually meeting him and realizing he used a picture with an exceptional angle and that he is most definitely not as charming in person as he is online.”
6:55 pm • 13 December 2012
While New York City sleeps, night court is in session
While the rest of New York is sleeping or partying it up at the new it-club on the Lower East Side, night court is in session. The glitterati of the city drinks the newest “it” drink while alleged criminals stand before a judge to plead guilty or not guilty.
Famous enough to boast itself the inspiration of a television show, night court began because of the high volume of arrests in New York City. State law mandates that defendants be brought before a judge of the criminal court 24 hours after arrest to be informed of the charges at an arraignment.
On a cold Wednesday evening in November, Judge Lynn Kotler is presiding over the arraignments, in Part I in the otherwise dark Criminal Courthouse on Centre Street Kotler has a stern face that is only further emphasized by her tight ponytail.
In front of Kotler’s wooden desk comes Corey Reed, dressed in low hanging dark wash jeans with embellished back pockets and a black puffy jacket, he stands quietly with his fingers interlocked behind his back. The 32 year old is here because he stole a phone, but this is not Reed’s first appearance in arraignment court. He has been arrested 37 times, according to the assistant district attorney reading the charges.
Reed’s lawyer explains to the judge that Reed is in the process of changing his ways. He has voluntarily signed himself up for a GED training course and is enrolled in a drug treatment program in Queens. His lawyer asks that Reed be placed in a day custody program, which would mean Reed would “attend” jail from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for an allotted amount of time.
“What makes you think this time is going to be different?” Kotler asked Reed.
In the end, Kotler decided to sentence Reed to five days in the day custody program. When asked if he had anything else to say, Reed thanked the judge. He turned around and walked out the courtroom with a smile on his face.
But others would not be as lucky. Night court lasts until 1 a.m. and before that time, Kolter would set high fines for some, make many clock in long hours of community service and send some to jail for months for breaking the law with crimes that ranged from assault to petty theft.
At 9 p.m., night court took a one-hour recess in which court officials grabbed a bite to eat or take some time to rest. Senior Court Clerk Robert Smith entered the courtroom in the search of important documents. Dressed in jeans and sneakers, Smith explained that he did not have enough time to put on the suit he usually wears.
Smith has been working here for 30 years. “I’ve seen it all,” Smith said. “People committing suicide in the holding cell, fist fights, and one guy literally shit his pants right in front of the judge.”
But tonight, Smith said things are moving slowly. Ever since Hurricane Sandy, there have been fewer arrests in New York City because police are more focused on areas that were devastated by the storm.
New York City night court sees about 130,000 cases a year and anywhere between 100 and 600 cases a night according to Smith. But these numbers do not make Smith pessimistic.
“Everything is fine as long as it doesn’t happen to you,” Smith said semi-jokingly. But he ends on a serious note. “Now, nothing would surprise me. This place makes you wiser.”
2:13 pm • 30 November 2012
Youth Vote 2012 Presidential Election
Election Night 2008 was cold at Grant Park, but Rachel Goldstein did not even notice. The excitement that boiled inside of her was hard to contain. Barack Obama was about to take the stage and announce his victory
Goldstein, a junior at Northwestern at the time, had just voted for the first time, casting her ballot for Obama because of his beliefs on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage.
And now, history was about to be made and Goldstein had helped to elect the first African-American president of the United States. Everyone at Grant Park was excited that night. A couple in front of Goldstein said that they had not voted for Obama, but both admitted that they were excited to mark the moment.
Four years later and that excitement and enthusiasm has dwindled. “I think people are disenchanted with Obama,” Goldstein said. “I wanted to believe it too — that he’s a politician that’s not going to lie. I think he did do a lot of great things, but we all had high hopes.” She expressed disenchantment with the president’s international policies in Israel, a country that Goldstein studied abroad in.
In 2007 election, the only age group that saw any significant increase in voting was 18-24 year olds, according to the U.S. Census. Forty-nine percent of young voters cast a ballot, a two percent increase from the 2004 election. But this year, the U.S. is facing a decline in youth registration rates as well as youth engagement, the Pew Institute reports. Fifty percent of voters under 30 say they are registered as compared to 61 percent in 2008.
There are 44 million eligible young voters according to Rock the Vote. The Pew Research Center reports that only half of adults under 30 are certain that they are registered to vote, but historically, voter registration rates rise near the end of the registration period.
Caitlin Maguire, marketing manager for youth voting rights group Rock the Vote, believes thatthe 2008 election was exciting because there were two new candidates with new platforms. She said that this year since we have a president running for a second term, the attitude tends to be more negative because voters tend to lose the hope they once had.
A study done by the Intelligence Report which surveyed over 900 Generation Y youth revealed that 73 percent of Gen Ys will base their vote in the 2012 election on who they think will make the world a better place rather than who they think will help them more personally.
Freshman college student Brook Blue, 18, plans to vote this year because she believes it is crucial for everyone to vote once they are eligible, but Blue is not excited about this election. “I was hoping that for my first election I’d strongly support a particular candidate,” Blue said. “However, I’m torn for this year’s election.”
Blue said that she is having trouble deciding who to vote for because it is hard to determine which candidate will be a best fit for the country overall, rather than focusing on specific issues. “It’s almost impossible to truly agree with everything one party or the other,” Blue said. “I try to keep an open mind to all issues before I make any assumptions.”
11:26 am • 13 November 2012
Community fights over whether new restaurant should get liquor license
After two hours of debate Tuesday night, the battle over whether a Latin restaurant on Rivington Street in the Lower East Side should have a full liquor license ended when Community Board 3 rejected the request. However the board did approve a beer and wine license and a midnight closing time on weekends for the restaurant
The vote ended a confrontation between two community groups. Members of The L.E.S. Dwellers have deemed the area between Houston St. and Delancy St. a “hell square” stating on their website that residents of the area are “under siege from the over-saturation of bars, clubs and nightlife-driven restaurants.” But over 60 proponents of the restaurant came out carrying signs that read, “We support 106 Rivington and YES we do live here.”
Some supporters of the restaurant allege racism against Latino business owners. But Diem Boyd, a resident of Rivington Street for 13 years and L.E.S. Dwellers member, insists that the business owners’ race is not the issue. “It’s not about where the applicants are from,” Boyd said. “These bars and clubs have significantly diminished our quality of life.”
Jose Rodriquez and Robert Payne plan to open their restaurant at 106 Rivington, an area known for its bars and nightlife. The multi-level restaurant will hold a capacity of 200 people. The owners claim that their business will fail without a full liquor license.
The dispute began when the location applied for a full liquor license.
In a 16-17 vote (two absentee ballots counted as no’s), the board recommended that the State Liquor Authority disapprove the liquor license application. The State Liquor Authority will make the final decision. In a second vote, the board approved a beer and wine license and a midnight closing hour for the restaurant. The restaurant had originally applied for a 2 a.m. closing time
4:54 pm • 4 November 2012
Beaumont woman disappointed she won’t run NYC marathon
After a summer of training and a Friday flight to New York City, Beaumont resident Paige Carpenter’s dream of running the New York City Marathon before she turned 40 was dashed upon arrival.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the decision Friday afternoon to cancel the race as the city continued its recovery from the damage caused by Superstorm Sandy.
Proponents of the race’s cancelation felt that the marathon would have been in bad taste in the wake of the storm that killed dozens and has left thousands still without power. This will be the first year the marathon has been canceled since it began in 1970.
“I felt all along that the marathon should have been canceled or postponed but since they didn’t, and we had already spent money to come, we went ahead with our plans,” Carpenter, 39, said. “This was a once-in-a-lifetime race for me. I have tried for years to get in.”
Carpenter said she feels for the East Coast and understands the destruction a hurricane can cause.
“We have been through several,” she said, referring to hurricanes Rita, Humberto and Ike.
She added, however, that Bloomberg “used poor judgment in canceling this late.”
New York was to be Carpenter’s second time to run a marathon. Her first was the 2007 in Houston.
Though she is upset that she will be unable to run the race she most looked forward to, Carpenter plans to make the best of her New York vacation.
“We are going to go on with our plans,” Carpenter said. “We have Broadway tickets that we will use.”
Photo Credit: Guiseppe Barranco
4:47 pm • 4 November 2012
Bus union asks for more safety features on MTA fleet
Following two separate assaults of bus drivers last week, Transport Workers Union Local 100 called for partitions and cameras to be installed in all MTA regulated buses.
According to the MTA, more than 600 buses are currently outfitted with surveillance cameras and 650 buses shields have been installed that partition the driver from customers. About 5,500 buses are currently in the MTA fleet.
But TWU Vice Chairman Whitfield Gibson said at a press conference on Monday that bus shields are not a common sight. “I haven’t seen them yet,” Gibson said. “Is this a phantom thing?”
On Monday Sept. 24, Mark Salandy, 30, was driving a B68 bus in Brooklyn when a passenger stabbed him in the shoulder with a syringe. Salandy claims that the attack could have been prevented had a bus shield been installed in the bus.
“We don’t ask for a lot,” Salandy said, “just for protection.”
There have been a total of 59 assaults on bus drivers reported this year. In an effort to prevent these assaults, MTA spokesperson Kevin Ortiz said that the MTA will double the number of members of Eagle teams, unarmed MTA employees who coordinate with police to patrol buses.
The union also criticized that spitting on a bus driver, one of the most common attacks, does not warrant arrest. It’s repulsive, but under state law, it’s not considered an assault,” Ortiz said in a statement Monday. “A hostile passenger recently spit on 62-year-old bus driver Ronnie Santobello. It was not until the passenger punched Santobello in the arm and broke the driver’s side window that the passenger could be arrested.
Salandy is hopeful that the union’s wants will soon be granted. “After what happened, it’s hard for me to even get on a bus,” Salandy said. “Hopefully, the people are hearing our voices and things are going to change.”
9:12 am • 5 October 2012 • 1 note
Stuyvesant chess creates small town feeling in the big city
On a mid-September evening, the glow from the setting sun casts a shadow over the chess tables around Stuyvesant Town’s fountain. As he does almost every evening, LeeRoy Gordan, 72, unfolds a green felt checkered mat and places his beloved chess pieces in their proper places.
As Gordan settles into his place, Eddie Dui arrives, and apologizes for his tardiness. Dressed in a tracksuit and mirrored aviator sunglasses, Dui looks more suited to play a game of poker in Las Vegas than chess in a New York park.
Without hesitation, Dui makes the first move. His white pawn advances forward two squares instigating a battle that dominates the next 45 minutes. The sounds of children playing around the fountain waft through as Gordan’s knight sacrifices its life in an effort to protect the king.
Stuyvesant Oval is a gathering place of chess lovers. Every night, a community of chess players gather to play with those who have the same passion for the game.
Chess tables are not new to New York City, but what sets the Stuyvesant Town players apart from many others is that there is no gambling involved. Several residents of the East Side housing complex formed Stuyvesant Town Chess Club in 1987, and now numbers about 50 players, ranging in age from eight years old and up. Originally there were three chess tables near the fountain. Eventually nine more tables were built to accommodate the growing number of chess players in the area.
Gordon didn’t learn to play chess until he was 30, after he returned from serving in the army and joined a social club in New York. And he’s never stopped.
“Now the first thing I do in the morning is play chess, and my wife hates it,” Gordan said. “I wake up and get on the computer to play a game. I even used to have one of those portable chess sets so I could play when I was sitting around waiting like at jury duty.”
One day when while walking through Stuyvesant Town to visit his sister-in-law who lives there, Gordan noticed a couple men playing his board game of choice. He hovered around for a bit watching their moves, and eventually, one of the men told him to stop watching and start playing.
So he did.
Gordan and Dui are 15 minutes into their game, and already three people have passed by to say hello. “Just checking out the most interesting guys in town,” one passerby said. But Dui and Gordan do not have time to chat. Any distractions could prove detrimental in a game that requires focus on all areas of the board.
“This is not a game you can really learn from a book,” Gordan said. “I mean you can learn the lingo like ‘openings’ and stuff like that, but you’ve just got to play and learn for yourself.”
Gordan begins to move his rook but hesitates. Was Dui’s last move a trap? He moves his rook with a sigh. Usually quick to make his move, Dui pauses for over a minute. “What is he looking for?” Gordan said. “Well, if I’ve got him thinking like that, then I’ve got him.”
That statement proves true. Two moves later, Dui is forced to lay down his king, a sign that Gordan has placed him in a checkmate. The two men clear the board and set up for another game.
“I’ll never get bored with chess,” Gordan said, “because it’s always a different game.”
The game not only provides endless diversion for Gordon and his fellow players, but also provides a small town feeling in the big city. Financial associate Maansi Johri, 24, walks the same path home from work everyday. “Something about seeing those men playing chess in the same place day in and day out really makes this place feel like home to me,” Johri said. “I’ve lived here for four years, and I still find myself smiling sometimes when I pass by them.”
2:36 pm • 28 September 2012
Fashion’s Night Out a party, not economy booster
As the sun began to descend upon SoHo Thursday, the fashion glitterati emerged in droves. Models dressed in studded stilettos strutted down the cobblestone runway. Teenagers scurried about following a Twitter-fueled scavenger hunt to track down the current Hollywood it-boy.
Four years ago, Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour created Fashion’s Night Out to help boost fashion sales, and . Retailers embraced the idea, enticing shoppers in with promises of free cocktails, grab bags and the chance to mingle with celebrities.
At Paige Denim boutique, fashion blogger Leandra Medine, the face behind the website “The Man Repeller,” struck her signature quirky poses with readers after unveiling a window display she created for the store. Medine is skeptical that the night serves its original purpose. “Does Fashion’s Night Out really help boost the economy? No,” Medine said. “Retailers pour money into this night, but it’s really just a glorified fashion week kick-off.”
The party was just getting started next door at Joe’s Jeans. The shop boasted free dumplings and ice cream sandwiches from food trucks parked outside the boutique. Inside, a disc jockey managed to turn a melancholy Adele song into a cheerful beat Yet, the cash registers were noticeably silent.
Among the sky-high piles of colorful denim, NYU studio art junior Hunter Abrams began to map out an itinerary of the stores he planned to visit on his second year Fashion’s Night Out. He did not plan to buy anything, “Honestly, I’m here to see people,” Abrams said. “I changed my shirt four times before I left because it’s a fashion show out there on the streets, and I don’t want to disappoint.”
Abrams’ white blazer and giant rhinestone cocktail ring would on an average day make him stand out, but on a night like this, he blended in with the rest of the fashionable crowd.
As the night wore on, the streets turned into a sea of leopard print and leather. Every couple of minutes another wave of fashion hopefuls emerged from the subway, wiping the sweat from their brows. Women teetered in their 5-inch heels as they attempted to navigate through the cobblestoned streets.
Medine rushed by off to her next stop of the night. The blogger played double duty hosting an event with cosmetic company Bobbi Brown at its Grand Central Station pop-up store where she showed off her favorite make-up colors of the season.
But the hot commodity of the night was not to be the perfect shade of red lipstick but rather a vacant taxi. Two women where viciously fought over a cab as if it were an exclusive pair of red soled Christian Louboutins.
3:50 pm • 14 September 2012