Ebisu, named for the Japanese god of fishermen and fortune, is a small wonderland filled with Japanese toys, gadgets, and mementos. For anyone familiar with anime, Miyazaki, or Japanese culture, there are countless familiar faces, such as the characters Totoro, Pusheen, and Hello Kitty. The types of items vary from cute portable bento boxes to animatronic piggy banks. Everything comes straight from Japan.
I spoke to the owner, Ely Wami, who told me about her inspiration to open the store. She arrived in the United States in the year 2000 and owned a Japanese restaurant called Inase on the Upper East Side for many years before opening Ebisu in 2014. Her decision to open came from her observation that high quality Japanese toys were difficult to find in New York City. “I like cute stuff - I love Hello Kitty,” she giggled. She started importing items from Japan, including Spirited Away merchandise, Japanese stationery, and other traditional Japanese toys. “Not many stores have these items.” Because she sells goods that are rare in the United States, customers visit her from far and wide – she mentioned that she has a contingency of people who regularly visit her from Washington, DC. Additionally, Japanese expats know they can visit Ebisu for items that they would otherwise only find in their home country.
Ely put a lot of thought into every aspect of her business. She chose her location carefully: not only is there a large Japanese population living on the Upper East Side, but she also found a spot that is perfectly situated with regards to her apartment. “I live half a block away from the restaurant and half a block away from the store,” she said. She is hoping, however, to add a new location of Ebisu in the near future, possibly in the East Village. As for the name, it took her a while to think of the perfect title for her shop. She wanted a word that was very common in Japan (many Japanese restaurants and stores are called “Ebisu”) and something that would be easy for Americans to say. She told me that the name “Ebisu” eventually came to her in a dream. It was perfect – “’Ebisu’ almost sounds like ‘ABC’,” Ely pointed out, enthusiastically.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral is led by a man who shares a name with the church’s own saint: Volodymyr. Pastor Volodymyr Muzychka greeted us at the door to the church, tucked underneath the façade’s wide balcony, dressed in religious robes that gave him an air of beneficence. Despite the language barrier, the pastor could not have been more charming as he led us through the halls of this magnificent church.Volodymyr came to New York from the Ukraine in 2011 and lives within the walls of the cathedral with his family. He told us that he only allows the heat to be on during the winter months for a half an hour in the morning and again at night, despite the frigid temperatures. Smiling, he said that he likes it this way.Since there were no services on the day that we visited, the cathedral building was cool, dark, and serene. We first stopped in to look at a large party room. The hallway leading to it was lined with portraits of influential religious Ukrainian figures. Next, Volodymyr took us up to the sanctuary in an elevator dating back to 1937. The smell of incense greeted us as we stepped into the sanctuary, lined with stained glass. Volodymyr explained that the building was first constructed in 1894-96 to be a synagogue by noted New York architect Arnold W. Brunner and became a church in 1958. We walked up the stairs to the choir loft, which gave an even grander view of the space.I have met many warm and fascinating leaders of both churches and synagogues over the past several years walking on the side streets of Manhattan. Pastor Muzychka touched my heart in a way that no other has, thus far.
The story, or shall I say, the saga, for Gerald and his wife, Peggy, might be the most moving one that I have heard from business owners on the side streets of Manhattan. Enduring multiple setbacks and disappointments - both in New York and Paris - the loving couple nevertheless pursued their ultimate dream of opening a pastry shop. Through determination, separation, and very hard work, in 2017, the two have finally opened their doors to the Upper East Side bakery, Miss Madeleine.Gerald and Peggy Hudeau left Guadeloupe in 2012 with the goal of coming to the United States to begin a new life by opening their own company. With five children in tow, they were forced to stop in Paris to obtain their visas. It took over one year to receive this visa, however, it was only granted to Gerald. He chose to come to New York, on his own, in the hopes of filing the necessary paperwork and getting a license to open a food business. Knowing absolutely no one in New York, and having little money, Gerald found some odd jobs and continued with his efforts to secure a space for the bakery and to do whatever was necessary to bring his family here.After three denials from the US Embassy in Paris, while continuing to pay rent on a potential property in East Harlem, Gerald decided to "fight" on his own, without the help of a lawyer. He filed all of the necessary paperwork again and went for another appointment at the Embassy in Paris. "My God, this time I got the visa, but for only six months." He, once again, had to leave his wife and kids in Paris because the immigration agent told him that he had to prove that he could provide for everyone before they would be allowed to enter the United States.Arriving back in New York, he found an apartment, took classes to get a food protection certificate, and prepared the necessary licenses for the bakery. Returning to Paris he received the visa as an investor for five years. He made the return trip alone, yet again, to New York.As Gerald related to me, "When I got here, I was obliged to close the store that I had rented in East Harlem, and terminate the contract of very good employees. I was crying in my apartment with only a sofa to sleep, without TV and something to eat. I tried to stay strong by working for another business to get some funds and to get my wife and one daughter in New York first."Here comes the good news, Gerald said to me, "I was able to have the visa for my wife and my daughter. With my wonderful wife, we tried to open again La Mulatresse Corp - the company that we had begun back in 2012 in Guadeloupe. Both from white and black parents, we created La Mulatresse Corporation, but we closed the property after an explosion of the building's boiler in my basement."Gerald immediately looked for work. He found this in a large American company, where first he was a laborer, then a shift leader, then an assistant manager and, ultimately, the General Manager. "One of the best days was when all of my kids arrived in New York - in 2015 - and Madisson, my daughter, was again with her brothers and sister." Gerald went on to say, "We spent a long time with dark days, wondering if it was a good idea, thinking about the kids and their future while fighting with the bills and debt."Peggy was able to find a job at Canele by Celine, the former bakery here on East 82nd Street. Gerald shared, "When Celine saw the magic in the kitchen, she decided to make a business with us by buying some of our products and asked me to be her General Manager."This is the point in the story when I had the extreme pleasure of meeting this outstanding man and his wife. We organized several events together, and I was most impressed by how professional Gerald was in representing Canele by Celine, and how kindly he treated his staff and each of the guests. What was overwhelmingly acknowledged by everyone was the exquisite French pastries being served.After one year of working very hard in the small kitchen turning out wondrous creations, Celine decided that it was time for her to turn over the operations to Gerald and Peggy to fulfill their own personal dream. It was a long and difficult road to travel, but the beautiful couple has finally found their destiny. Miss Madeleine has opened its doors to their loyal neighbors, who have returned to support them and to eat their variety of delectable sweet and savory food. "We hope to continue to show people the best of French pastries in an authentic French setting."
This shop grabbed my attention the second I stepped inside the door and smelled the scent of fresh sawdust. As he guided me through the expansive workshop, John Wolf stated, “We’re the secret that’s not a secret,” adding, “Everything is custom: I never make the same piece twice.”John is a seventh generation woodworker. The family business began in the 1800s near Munich, Germany and remained in Europe until John’s father came to the United States in 1956 with a set of carpentry knives. John vividly remembers coming into work with his father as a child and being delegated the glamorous jobs of sweeping and cleaning the toilet. He knew from a young age that he would be the one to take over the family business. As he told me, “I am the hands of the family and my brother is the brains.” His first proper job at his father’s company was as a truck driver, which he thoroughly enjoyed. He soon worked his way up to installer and foreman. He did not want to go to college, preferring to work, but in hindsight, he is glad that his father insisted that he go to Parsons School of Design. John eventually took over from his father in the late 1970s.With such a substantial amount of history in the neighborhood, it is no surprise that Little Wolf has become a household name. “We’re already doing kids’ kids’ kids’ kids’ rooms,” he said, counting out the four generations that have passed through his doors. He mentioned that he loves working on children’s rooms, because they always know exactly what they want and have big dreams about how things should look. He often has customers who come by and tell him “I still have my room that your father made for me in 1973.” The family business’s longevity is partly thanks to good policies: John does not use any formaldehyde or MDF and gets most of his wood from Canada. All of the painting is done on site, once a piece has been custom fitted.Guiding me through the first of four main spaces, John showed me a painting on the wall done by the artist Peter Max. It depicted John’s father in the workshop, surrounded by swaths of color. Between John and his father, the Wolfs have done a wide variety of jobs throughout the city. “I haven’t seen everything, but I’ve seen a lot.” When he was first starting out in the business, John would make “show-off” pieces when he did not have too many orders. He called these experimental sessions “play time.” Though he wishes he had more “play time,” he is happy to be so busy and enjoys the projects that come his way. Quoting the Navy slogan, John said, “It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure.”I asked John why the business was called “Little” Wolf. He smiled and answered, “It’s basically named after me.” He went on to explain that when his mother was pregnant with him, friends of his father said, “Here comes another Little Wolf.” Even after having been part of the business since (literally) birth, it was clear to me that John still loves what he does. I was curious to know if the family business would continue into the next generation. John has two young daughters, but says that he will not push them. “They have to want it.” He feels very strongly about family-owned businesses, however, saying, “You can’t buy anything with real value if it doesn’t come from a family. A family really cares.”
I had been told about Salon Riz by several people who live on the Upper West Side. They raved about Mike Riz’s space and told me that it cultivated a comfortable, relaxing environment unlike any other - "a visceral experience" is how Lisa, at the nearby women's boutique, Pachute, describes her time spent here. Still, I was surprised by the warm, rustic salon that greeted me when I came through the door. It felt more like a garden patio with its little mossy birdhouses and strings of postcards decorated with grasses. Flowers and botanicals met my eye wherever I looked and a central table was filled with treats including fresh brewed tea with honey, cookies, crackers, and pretzels. Examining the offerings more closely, I spotted a bottle of Disarono and removed the lid of a plate holding healthy, gluten-free “Aussie bites.”Mike’s story of immigration to Manhattan is fascinating (and an example of why I so love to walk and meet the people on the side streets). Growing up in Beirut, Lebanon, he originally wanted to be a jewelry designer, but did not have enough money for materials. Instead, he turned to hairstyling. He swept the floors in a Beirut hair salon for the equivalent of $3 per week and miraculously managed to save enough money to pay half the tuition to go to beauty school. The school wanted to refuse him admittance because of his lack of funds, but Mike persuaded them to let him work as a janitor at night in order to pay off the rest. He graduated and started making a name for himself as a hair stylist, catching the attention of Lebanese celebrities. He moved to New York in 2004, but is still sought out by old Lebanese clients traveling in the area.Mike worked on the Upper West Side for ten years before realizing his dream. Today, he has some college age clients who have been coming to him since they were children. I, too, have become an immediate fan. I walked out of the salon after my first visit knowing that I would not be going anywhere else again. In addition to brightening up my color and giving me an outstanding haircut, I was totally taken by the ease with which Mike and his team work and the speed that he gets his clients in and out without making them feel rushed. I loved the intimacy of Salon Riz best of all.Katherine is the manager of the salon and her loyalty to Mike was apparent from our first conversation. She met him while they were both working at Extreme Color and then followed him when he opened on the West Side. In speaking about the decor, she commented, “Even the tiniest detail Mike picked out." She pointed to a picture frame, showing that the angle at which it hung, forming an asymmetrical diamond, was specifically chosen by Mike. He is constantly adding to his cozy home and changing it for the seasons. “Every time I come, something is different or added,” Katherine said. When I visited, it was late January, and some small flowers had already been hung from the lights in anticipation of Valentine’s Day. Katherine shared that on February 14th, everyone who walks into the salon leaves with a rose. Katherine went on to say that in the springtime, Mike hangs butterflies on the ceiling, giving clients something pretty to look up at while getting their hair washed.Mike told me that the space used to be the rubbish room for the building. He picked up the little sign ("RUBBISH") that he had saved and decorated as a remembrance. The renovation understandably took a long time, and when he opened in June of 2014, he had only just finished construction. He is now very pleased with the place he has carved out for himself a year and a half later, calling it “rustic chic.” “This is a space for the community,” he told me. He hosts various events in his salon, including a comedy show featuring Danny Cohen of Comedy Central along with five other comics and a holiday bazaar through the month of December. Mike either shares the space for special events, as was the case when shop owners took over the treats table during the winter holidays, or he completely reconfigures the interior for shows, using salon chairs as additional seating. Sometimes the events are directly tied to enhancing the experience of his customers, such as when he brought live music into the salon during New Year’s Eve to entertain the clients having their hair done.Katherine shared some of the other unique concepts that Mike has instituted to enhance everyone's experience. For his frequent customers, he has special alerts next to their name in the computer system, such as, “This customer likes Tina Turner and white wine.” Because of the personal attention and the warm relationship that Mike has developed with customers, they often wander in just to say “hi” and to grab a cup of coffee. “I always encourage people to come in and say hello, even if they’re not getting their haircut,” Mike said. Though he gets a lot of people who live and work in the neighborhood, he is also sought out by many men and women throughout the city.On the day that we stopped in to take some photos, Olivia, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, shyly asked if Mike might have a second to trim her bangs. She was so pleased to be attended to by this gifted artist and loved the way that he styled her beautiful long head of red hair. She paid particular attention to the product that he used - Mike told us that Label M, designed by hair stylists, was a London Fashion Show sponsor. He went on to say that he always tries to stay on top of the newest and best hair products. Cost is not an issue; quality is what matters to him. I believe that Mike has gained not only me as a new customer, but Olivia as well. Upon leaving Salon Riz, Olivia declared that the journey from Brooklyn will certainly be worth the trek.