It's her first venture in Manhattan and she's had to pick up some new skills along the way too, but hospitality veteran Nicola Campbell is feeling right at home in Hell's Kitchen as she opens brand-new Jamaican eatery Cafe 424 on W54th Street between 9th and 10th Avenue. Currently in soft-launch mode and open from Wednesday to Saturday 10am to 7pm, the team at Cafe 424 are planning a grand opening September 15 to 17, after which they will operate from 8am to 10pm Wednesday through Saturday, serving Jamaican-themed pastries, coffee, lunch and dinner. Nicola, known as “Chef Mom” grew up in Willowdene Estates in the parish of St Catherine, Jamaica, where she learned to cook alongside her grandmother. “I used to be in the kitchen with my grandma all the time, ” said Nicola. “Back then I didn’t love it — it felt like punishment, but as I got older I realized that I had natural talent. ”She moved to New York City in 1999, opening several Caribbean restaurants in Queens and earning a degree from the prestigious Institute of Culinary Education. “I started using the skill sets that I got from my grandmother, ” said Nicola. “I decided to go to culinary school to sharpen those skills, and the rest is history. ” Her professional nickname “came from culinary school and when I was graduated — my kids said, ‘What should we call you now? ’” All of her children have helped with the business through the years, including daughter Zhana Clacken, who works as her partner and technology expert at Cafe 424. After closing one restaurant in Long Island City due to damage from Hurricane Sandy and selling another establishment in Jamaica, Queens in 2016, “I swore that I would never do this again, ” said Nicola. But when she got the chance to collaborate with non-profit co-op Prime Produce, an organization dedicated to supporting entrepreneurs and artists with their multi-use space on W54th Street, Nicola decided to take the leap. “I met these fabulous people from Prime Produce who want to do good in the world, ” said Nicola. “Why wouldn’t I want to be a part of it? ”After signing on as the organization’s in-house concession provider and operator of the public-facing café, the next challenge for Nicola was to build the kind of environment that she hoped would attract regular neighborhood patrons. “We wanted to create a homey, relaxed vibe, ” she said. “We want you to stay — we offer free WiFi so that you can come on down and chill with us. ”Used to commercial kitchens, she was happy to find a convection oven to fit the smaller space, allowing her to develop a full menu of breakfast, lunch and dinner options cooked onsite. “I'm used to a full kitchen, ” said Nicola. “But from experience working in colleges and hotels, restaurants and catering, I've had to pull all those things together. ”Nicola and her team are happy to be able to offer freshly-baked, in-house seasonal pastries, including treats like apple pies, bread pudding and, come holiday time, a rum raisin fruit cake featuring raisins that Nicola has been lovingly tending to and soaking for five years. For lunch and dinner, she’s developed a small, constantly rotating seasonal menu with Jamaican classics like jerk chicken, oxtails, curry goat, seafood and jerk fried rice. Everything is cooked to order and they offer vegan options in their lunch, dinner and dessert menus. The process has allowed Nicola to experiment with Jamaican fusion cuisine, she added. “I try to mix up my Jamaican side and my culinary-training side and bring a little bit of French and a little bit of Italian-style to different dishes — oxtail cooked French-style and combinations like that. ” But when it came to creating the café’s beverage program, Nicola had a lot to learn. “I was challenged because I've never actually done a coffee shop before, ” she said. She got to work researching the coffee brewing process, and landed on using premium Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee for the café’s offerings. “I wanted specifically to stay true to my heritage, and Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee is what I was raised on — growing up back home in Jamaica with my grandmother, that's all we used to have, ” she said. “I wanted to go back to that tradition, so I went to a company called Jamrock Coffee to work with them and try different roasts. We’re offering dark roast because that's where the flavors were the most intense. ” Working with head barista Dovi Akouete, Nicola trained herself on the art of brewing, and proudly declares that while “it used to just be coffee to me, I learned so much about the beans and the roasting process and making these drinks that now I really know the difference between a Macchiato and a Cappuccino. ”Nicola is so well-versed that she’s proud to offer fully-customizable drinks (and dishes) based on a customer’s needs. “If you’re hungry or thirsty for something, we’ll make you a drink or dish especially for you, ” she added. “We don’t want to be cookie-cutter and we consider ourselves a boutique, niche café. ” Keeping in the spirit of experimentation, Nicola hopes to implement a private chef’s table tasting menu every Sunday starting in October, featuring a four-course, prix fixe menu perfect for group gatherings and special events. Nicola is excited for the road ahead, and bolstered by the amount of community support already shown to the café. “People are super excited we’re here, ” she said, just as several Hell’s Kitchen residents walked by and shouted “We can’t wait to come by! Welcome! ”. Reception from the local business community has also been warm, added Nicola — they’ve already connected with the owners of Jaz Indian Cuisine and Mamasita. “It’s on our list to circle all of the nearby businesses, ” she added. “It’s all about unity — we can’t do this alone, and that’s our model with Prime Produce too. We are a strong team, not just as a café, but as a community and a co-op. It’s all about team members. ” For now, Chef Mom is focusing on the lead up to their official opening weekend, and taking in the joyful, fast-paced energy of all it entails. “It’s a lovely space, with great people and a great mission, ” she said. “I’ve never operated in Manhattan, and this is a lovely neighborhood, so I was open to taking on the challenge, and as they would say, ‘jumping off the cliff! ’” This story originally appeared on W42ST. nyc as "Enjoy a Flavor of Jamaican Cuisine and Hospitality as Cafe 424 Opens in Hell's Kitchen" in August 2022.
Before discussing anything about Arno with the Manhattan Sideways team in the summer of 2017, the manager, Carlos Pereira, spoke like a true local. He lamented the state of New York’s transportation infrastructure, insurance, taxes, and cleanliness, only to then reveal that he commutes each day from his home in New Jersey. After receiving our education on the state of 38th Street, we learned a bit about this extraordinary man's career. Born in Portugal, where he was a bartender at age sixteen, he traveled to New York in 1989. He scored a position at the legendary Le Cirque (in its original location) - ”I received the best culinary education in America by owner Sirio Maccioni" - before becoming the manager of Arno in 2007. Carlos had plenty to share with us about Arno, which he did over meticulously prepared dishes, including a rare treat of risotto with shaved truffles. It was like a bowl of diamonds being set down before us. As we savored every single bite, Carlos gave us a lesson on the world of black and white truffles. The story of Arno traces back to Florence, near the Arno River from which the restaurant draws its name. There, the two founders met and discovered a mutual ambition. Managing partners Milan Licul and Branko Turcinovic emigrated to the U. S. as waiters, but soon opened a restaurant called Morano in 1984. Morano was later renamed Delmonico’s Kitchen, and was followed only a year later by Arno. While Delmonico’s Kitchen specializes in meats and steaks, Arno is known for its old-school, classic Italian cuisine. There were many challenges in the years between 1984 and the present that could not be shrugged off by restaurants in the Garment District. Carlos related that this particular swath of New York has seen countless restaurants come and go, and yet the owners held fast to Arno. Even in the 1980s, when the area was bad enough that Arno often had to close by 7pm, the restaurant remained "a true testament to who they were, " Carlos proudly stated. The staff wear the neighborhood as a badge of honor, subtly adorning the restaurant with buttons and thread inset into tables, a wall of colorful fabrics, fashion photos - "This is what keeps us sexy, " according to Carlos - and various other garment motifs. So how has Arno endured the trials of time? Carlos believes it is “because we treat clients like family. ” This approach certainly cultivates a comfortable atmosphere, as Carlos claimed that ninety percent of their dedicated clientele are regular customers. In addition to the lengthy list of fashion designers and celebrities that Carlos recited, he told us that many come into the city for Knicks games and other events at Madison Square Garden, and stop by Arno for a familiar meal of traditional homemade pastas, eggplant rollatini, grilled zucchini, tomato, mozzarella and peppers, veal parmigiana, numerous seafood options, and, of course, the Delmonico classic steak. Carlos even shared that they have over 150 "house accounts, " a rarity in the present day. What struck a particular chord with me was the dessert cart that strolls through the restaurant at every meal, as I have fond memories of this practice from when I dined out as a child. It is filled with some of the best classic desserts prepared by their French pastry chef and, like the restaurant itself, is animated by the spirit of the old country, but seasoned with the flavor of New York.
"The Two Faces of Italian Food" is the tagline at this restaurant and wine bar. The perfect blend they are referring to is tradition and innovation. The menu boasts homemade and traditional options - the wine list is not limited to Italian varieties, though the beer is. We stopped in briefly and relaxed with a glass of wine in their quiet back garden and spoke with one of the restaurant's partners as waiters set up for that evening's meal. When we asked him to describe the food that Giano served in a short sentence he told us humbly: "Italian food. No big deal. " Can't wait to try it!
The ice cream at Alphabet Scoop is refreshing in more ways than one: Managed by Robbie Vedral, Alphabet Scoop is an extension of Father’s Heart Ministry, which has been focused on empowering the neighborhood youth in the Lower East Side since 2005. Robbie, for his part, has always believed that if you take care of your employees, your employees will take care of you—in this case, those employees just so happen to be high schoolers from the East Village. Under the wishes of his parents, who are still pastors of the church next door, Robbie has taken it upon himself to hold Alphabet Scoop to an uncompromising standard, always ensuring that things are done right. From a background of 25 years in retail, Robbie has found that he can learn from anyone’s mistakes - including his own. He has, in this vein, adjusted the shop’s schedule to keep it open all year; previously it was just a summer stop, but Robbie found that being a seasonal location made it more difficult for customers to anticipate when Alphabet Scoop would be in business. So, now, rather than seasonal hours, Alphabet Scoop boasts seasonal flavors. Pistachio flavor, a summer 2019 special, comes highly recommended by the Manhattan Sideways team. Alphabet Scoop is also constantly experimenting with new flavors suggested to them by customers, so if you’ve been saving up that million-dollar ice cream flavor idea, Alphabet Scoop might just be the place to make it a reality. The “sweet n’ salty” flavor is proof of the potential here, as it was suggested by one of the shop’s younger customers. While the spritely New Yorkers that work in the shop are paid for their work, Alphabet Scoop is also a non-profit. The mission, transparently, is as stated on the walls: “Justice & Sprinkles for all. ” The kids, typically between the ages of 14 and 16, learn all aspects of the business, from hands on skills such as making ice cream to managerial skills like taking inventory. The goal of Alphabet Scoop is to encourage maximum involvement from its employees, so they are invited to help make decisions about the business. Robbie told us a story of a young woman, for example, who has worked in the shop for close to two years, and who was initially quite difficult to work with - but with patience and persistence from Robbie and other employees, the young woman grew to better understand the mission of Alphabet Scoop, and now even has keys to the shop. Robbie’s work at Alphabet Scoop shows the importance of creating strong foundations for young people, as well as how truly influential small businesses can be in their communities. Stop by the shop - any time of year - to help Robbie make his impact.
Alessandra and Mario De Benedetti had never been in the restaurant business. She was a law professor and he was in finance - both living in Italy. When a passion burns inside you, however, and a desire to live in NYC is so strong, why not change careers and pursue your dream? This is exactly what the dynamic duo chose to do. Working alongside Elizabeth Roberts, architect extraordinaire, the team created a space built for dramatic floral arrangements and an enchanting atmosphere for dining. Alessandra combined her love of flowers by integrating them into the restaurant's splendid cocktails, specialty dishes and magnificent displays. In 2019, their dream finally became a reality as they opened the doors of Il Florista on West 26th Street.
Aldo Sohm Wine Bar, which opened in the late summer of 2014, pairs ease with elegance as a welcome addition to 51st Street. “We live in a very fast-paced world. ” In midtown Manhattan, these words resonate. But spoken by Aldo Sohm, seated at a table in his eponymous wine bar, they seem incongruous. “The idea is basically that when you walk in here, you walk into my living room. To me, it’s always important that you be in a place where you feel comfortable. ”Sohm continues his role as wine director at Le Bernardin, the four-star restaurant located across the 6½ Avenue pedestrian plaza. At the wine bar, however, he and Le Bernardin’s co-owners, Maguy Le Coze and Eric Ripert, have created a setting distinct from the formal restaurants in Manhattan, in its simplicity and lack of pretense. To be clear, it shares the elegance and attention to quality of its neighbors. But upon entering, an open arrangement of sofas beckons patrons to sit down. Sohm has noticed guests who arrived separately conversing across tables - sometimes even discussing their choice in wine. And wine is the focus at Aldo Sohm. Eric Ripert, Le Bernardin’s acclaimed chef, oversees the food menu; so, whether wine accompanies lunch, dinner, or a snack, it promises to impress. Guests can order bites to complement a glass of wine, like a grilled foie gras “lollipop” or a warm skewer of baby beets. Shareables include a whole baked cauliflower and a plate of Murray’s cheese with a Maison Kayser baguette. Sohm emphasizes the flexibility of the experience. If not in the lounge area, there are tall square tables for seating. The thick oak “sommelier table” incorporated into the bar seats guests on both sides, ensuring that no one is excluded from conversation. Sohm chose these arrangements intentionally. The wine bar endeavors to be unpretentious, relaxing and fun. Evoking this sensation, the architectural firm Bentel & Bentel incorporated clean lines and bold color in designing the interior. Sohm and his co-owners deliberated considerably in choosing the art in their “living room. ” Ample shelves extend to the double height ceiling, featuring artifacts meaningful to Sohm. Having grown up in Austria, Sohm points out, “I like things very very clean, very European. I like colors on top of it. ” A stack of Interior Design magazines becomes a design object itself as a cube of rainbow spines. The curves of miniature Panton S-chairs, each a different color, mirror the charred wood molds of the delicately hand-blown Zalto glasses in which each wine is served. Sohm is the brand ambassador for Zalto, an Austrian-based glassware manufacturer. To learn more about the varied wine offerings, visitors can reserve the tasting room. Aerial photographs of wine growing regions flank the eight-person table, allowing the sommelier to incorporate a visual element and story of provenance to the tasting. Sohm - once designated the “Best World Sommelier” by the Worldwide Sommelier Association - maintains humility despite his accomplishments. He wants the wine bar to be just as down to earth; an antidote to a demanding day, it exudes precision and sophistication.
I can attest to the immediate success of Carmine's on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in the early nineties as my family and friends stood on the lines to get in on a number of occasions. Owner Artie Cutler's concept of serving large, family-style portions to guests, in a warm, friendly atmosphere connected with diners immediately. It did not take Mr. Cutler long to realize that he had a success on his hands and that it was time for expansion. In 1992, the theater district had another hit in Times Square, in the form of a grand, traditional Italian restaurant.
Reed Adelson, owner of the American restaurant Virginia’s, was trained by the best in the industry. He learned about wine at Bern’s Steak House in Tampa, interned at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago, then returned to his Manhattan roots to work under Jean-Georges to open the Mark Hotel, and finally worked at Locanda Verde. Riding in a car with industry legends Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller, he was presented with the answer to his doubts about working in the restaurant business, "If this is what you’re passionate about, there is nothing else you can do. It’s more of a vocation than a job choice. "Reed brought all of this expertise to open his first restaurant in 2015. Named for his mom, Virginia’s has become known for its burger, with bone marrow aioli, cabot cheddar, and house-made pickles, but there are more sophisticated dishes that deserve equal praise including the wild king salmon with red cabbage slaw and golden beet puree. Reed focuses on consistency for his menu, with a few seasonal dishes, such as the corn ravioli with fontina cheese and crispy shallots. With his eye on the future, Reed is contemplating moving a little closer to the city’s center, while admitting, "there’s something romantic about the side streets. "
The warmly painted walls inside Veselka envelop the room in folky florals and traditional Ukrainian symbols. Hanging from the ceiling are glowing milk glass globes that seem to replace the sun or moon depending on the time of day — and it could be any time at all, as Veselka is open for twenty-four hours, seven days a week, serving a smorgasbord of pierogis, bowls of borscht, and other expertly prepared comfort foods — Ukrainian and otherwise. Wlodymyr Darmochwal planted roots for Veselka when, as one of the founders of the neighborhood Plast organization (akin to the Ukrainian boy scouts, teaching survival skills and Ukrainian language), he was asked to create a weekend study program for the boys. In response, he opened a five-and-dime style counter at the corner of East 9th Street and Second Avenue where the boys could buy paper clips, cigarettes, lighters, and, notably, bowls of borscht and other basic Ukrainian foods. The business expanded into another storefront on East 9th Street a decade later. After Wlodymyr’s passing in 1972, it was taken over by his stepson, Tom Birchard, who was later joined by his son, Jason. Today, having worked at the restaurant since he was a teenager, Jason has “done every single job possible here except cook the borscht. ”When Jason joined the team, one of his first projects was to find out, “How late can we stay open? ” It turns out the answer was “all night. ” As Tom and Jason once again prepare to expand the restaurant into an adjoining storefront on 9th Street, they are eager to continue serving the next generation the kind of traditional Ukrainian food that Wlodymyr would have had at his counter more than sixty years ago.
Manuel Uzhca's story reads like a fairytale. He came to New York from Ecuador when he was seventeen with absolutely nothing to his name and spent time as a dishwasher in a number of restaurants. He met Jean-Claude Baker when both were working at Pronto, an Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side. In 2011, Jean-Claude offered Manuel the position of manager at Chez Josephine — little did Manuel know that only four years later, the restaurant would belong to him. Manuel still recalls the day that Jean-Claude asked him to bring in his passport. Confused by his request, Manuel chose not to comply. Jean-Claude teased Manuel by saying, “If you don't bring your passport, that means you don't want my restaurant. ” The next day, still perplexed, Manuel presented his passport. Jean-Claude marched the two of them to the bank and added Manuel's name to his account, giving him permission to sign checks for the restaurant. Shortly after, Jean-Claude announced that he was retiring, but Manuel did not take him seriously. Jean-Claude then told him that he was leaving and insisted, “I won't be back. ” Jean-Claude proceeded to his attorney's office, changed his will, and went off to the Hamptons. He called Manuel to make sure that everything was in order at the restaurant, and then, very sadly, Jean-Claude took his own life. “I did not believe I owned the place, not even when they showed me the will, ” Manuel declared. Jean-Claude was the last of the children adopted into singer-dancer Josephine Baker’s “Rainbow Tribe, ” created with a mission of racial harmony. He lived and performed with her for a time before making his way to New York and eventually opening this restaurant. It quickly became a haven for Broadway clientele, known for its charming and colorful ambiance as much as its haute cuisine. Since taking over in 2015, Manuel has continued running this famed French restaurant exactly how Jean-Claude left it — paying homage to Josephine Baker, who captured the Parisian imagination in the 1920s and did not let go for decades.