Established in 1874, Westpfal continues to provide premium knives and tools for leatherwork, as well as to sharpen high-end knives for restaurants across New York City. The leather tools available are of the same ilk as the 1930s tools available oh-so-many years ago and are used by fashion designers from Coach to Dooney & Burke. On any given day, one can stop by and find a regular New Yorker, or even folks from out of town, coming in to have their own knives and scissors sharpened by the highly regarded team of workers.
When the Manhattan Sideways stopped in for a visit during the summer of 2017, we had the pleasure of meeting Carmilla Wigman, who has been working at Henry Westpfal for over sixty-five years. She was kind enough to share some of the history of the shop. Carmilla pointed out a display board of vintage cutlery from 1931, which she referred to as “her pride and joy.” She also showed us a pair of scissors that was previously owned by John F. Kennedy Jr. and were used in the ribbon cutting ceremony for the reopening of Grand Central Station in 1998. Westpfal now rents these scissors out for similar ceremonies.
Unfortunately, one can no longer watch and wait as knives are put on the machines, as they have had to move their factory to New Jersey. It is an example of the age-old story: Rent became a factor on the side streets of Manhattan for Westpfal.
Who are their biggest clients almost 150 years later? The Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) is, as students majoring in leather purchase tools for crafting handbags, belts, and shoes, and numerous chefs who frequent Westpfal to have their personal knives sharpened.
When asked what cake means to her, Lisa Mansour did not hesitate for a second: “Cake is happiness! ” she exclaimed. An award-winning cake decorator and owner of NY Cake, Lisa has had a hand in shaping the baking industry, from judging competitions to creating new and innovative product lines. In addition, Lisa has been inducted into The Wilton Method Instructor Hall of Fame and has won several awards from the Societé Culinaire Philanthropique. Besides her own hard work and determination, Lisa attributes her many accomplishments to a long family tradition of dessert-loving. Her grandmother was a chocolatier and her mother, Joan, a cake decorator, who opened The Chocolate Gallery in the ’80s. In 1989, Lisa and Joan grew The Chocolate Gallery into a store and school that focused purely on cake decorating. Then, in 1992, the duo opened NY Cake & Baking Supply on West 22nd Street. The business boomed, and, in October 2018, moved into a new, larger space just down the street from their old location. NY Cake is a baker’s paradise. The new location includes a commercial kitchen, a café where customers can purchase baked goods and coffee, and an expanded school. And, of course, there is the sprawling retail section that first put NY Cake on the map. Here, one can buy every baking supply imaginable and then some: cake and pie pans in multiple shapes and sizes, cupcake wrappers, chocolate molds, cookie cutters, food coloring, rolling pins, and hundreds and hundreds of other items. It is overwhelming in the best sense, stacked ceiling high with everything needed to create that special dessert. The idea, according to Lisa, was to provide something for every sweet tooth. “If you like to bake yourself, you can get your supplies in the back. If you wanna learn how to do it, you can come and take a class. Or, if you have no desire to bake, you can just come in, sit, have a coffee and have a treat. ”The expansion has been stressful, to be sure (“I’ve never worked so hard, ” Lisa confessed), but the challenge is what makes it so exciting for her. With the extra space, they have been able to grow the NY Cake line of specialty baking products–designed to help bakers execute intricate cake designs, such as a Chanle-esque quilted bag–and have started selling a series of blinged-out cake stands that are sure to jazz up any dessert table. The larger school can accommodate twice as many students, and the industrial kitchen has allowed them to actually sell cakes, rather than just helping people make them. “It’s so fulfilling for me to teach, to take an order, ” Lisa said, “It makes me happy. ”In addition to professional customers from bakeries, wholesalers, and restaurants, NY Cake has carved out a market among amateur baking enthusiasts and counts many Chelsea and Flatiron locals among its regulars. That sense of community loyalty goes both ways: From baking competitions and events to the cake-pop class Lisa volunteered to teach at a center for the blind on 23rd Street, NY Cake is a true neighbor. This might stem in part from the fact that the store is as much family as business. Three generations of Mansours work at NY Cake (I met Lisa’s nephew, sister and mother during our interview), and even those who are not blood-related are part of their big, happy “cake family. ”
For someone like myself who loves to cook and whose adrenaline rises when I enter any kind of kitchen place, one can understand my enthusiasm when I walked into this restaurant supply shop. I loved browsing the short aisles that had pots and pans, all kinds of cooking utensils, copper bowls and dishes piled high to the ceiling. The best part, though, was discovering several items that I had not encountered before and so many others that I would have been thrilled to have taken home. Broadway Restaurant Supply was on East 17th Street near Union Square --- I, initially, thought that they had gone out of business, but was pleased to discover that they had not, in fact, closed, just had moved and changed their name to Manhattan Kitchen Supply. The owner explained that he could not afford the rent anymore on 17th, but is now happily situated on West 26th Street. Although primarily patronized by professionals, I believe that anyone wandering in will be amazed, and possibly enticed by the massive sizes of cookware and the diversity of products.
With all the centers we have discovered dedicated to children, pets, students, and shoppers, it was refreshing and intriguing to come upon Senior Planet – “the country’s first technology themed center for over-60s. ” The center offers courses, skill-shares, workshops, special events and lecture series that help senior citizens deal with the ever-changing technological world. 22 computers, 3 Skype stations, a gaming area, a projector, mobile devices and a lounge create a space that one might think is fit for a youngster, but is, in fact, the perfect space for the senior folks. “Aging with attitude” is their motto. Computer basics, advanced computing, introduction to the iPad, digital photography, social networking and more are all taught in a welcoming environment. What a brilliant concept!
A favorite of Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Sarah Jessica Parker, New York Vintage is what co-founder Shannon Hoey describes as “a leader in fashion. ” Shannon has spent the past twenty-three years amassing an extensive collection of vintage clothing, which includes a downstairs retail space open to the public and an upstairs industry archive open by appointment only. Over the years, Shannon has dressed red carpet actresses and world-famous singers, and has worked closely with costume designers on a range of films and TV series, including Boardwalk Empire and Mad Men. In 2010, First Lady Michelle Obama made a historic appearance in a New York Vintage Norman Norell dress, and since then, Shannon has dressed her on many occasions. When I first visited New York Vintage, I could not believe my eyes. The window display was stunning, as was the old-fashioned décor, complete with richly upholstered chairs, gilded mirrors, and ornate chandeliers. I was captivated by the wall of Vogue photographs, each one featuring a piece from Shannon’s collection, and of course, by the true treasure of New York Vintage: high-heeled shoes, flamboyant hats, and endless racks of beautiful dresses from designers around the world. Upstairs, the industry archive upstairs was filled with even more outrageous items, from a dress owned by Ulysses Grant’s wife to intricate McQueen headpieces. “Every piece here has historical significance, ” Shannon told me. “We’re an institution, a working museum archive. ” In fact, she added, many of the items at New York Vintage have been purchased from museums, and each piece is meticulously documented and entered into a database. Today, Shannon is one of New York’s foremost experts on fashion as an art form, so I was surprised to learn that she never set out to work with vintage clothing. “Fashion discovered me, ” she told me, explaining how her husband’s career in antiques first sparked her interest in vintage. It quickly became her passion, and within a few years, she and her husband co-founded New York Vintage. “He handles the business side of things, and I’m the creative director, ” Shannon explained. “So I get to do the fun part. ”But the vintage business can be difficult, too, and it took years of hard work for Shannon to build her collection. “The kind of fashion we seek is not easily found, ” she said. “It takes patience and capital, and you need to know what you’re looking for. ” In the early days, Shannon spent a lot of time searching for new pieces in Europe, but nowadays, with three young daughters, she travels much less. When I asked about her children, she said with a smile, “They spend a lot of time here with me, and they love playing dress-up. ”Shannon, unsurprisingly, also loves dressing up, and she told me that she has a lot of opportunities to wear items from her collection. “Halloween is my favorite holiday, ” she explained, “And last year I went to Allison Sarofim’s Italian futurism-themed party in a pink Mohawk and mod clothing. ” But Shannon’s favorite era is the 1920s. “I’m obsessed with all of it, ” she said. “The mindset, the freedom, the departure from women being bound and put in corsets. ”Still marveling over Shannon’s list of celebrity clients, which includes Julia Roberts and Beyonce, I asked if she ever gets starstruck. When celebrities first started flocking to the store, she told me, it was totally overwhelming, “like running from a tidal wave. ” But since then, the only time she has really been starstruck was her visit to the White House with the First Lady. “Some celebrities still catch me off-guard, ” she said, “Like the time Nicole Kidman showed up unannounced. But otherwise, I’m used to it. ”When I asked Shannon about the future of New York Vintage, she told me that they are hoping to expand overseas. “We want to open our doors to global clients, ” she told me, “maybe by opening an outpost in Europe. ” But until then, she told me, she will continue to do what she loves here in New York, working with designers, inspiring them and feeling inspired. For Shannon, the truly fulfilling part of her job is working with designers and models, creating with them and helping to communicate their vision. “I’m always inspired, ” she said with a smile. “I have the best job in the world. ”