I know how difficult it is for a family business to stay afloat in Midtown, and so I was deeply impressed and pleased to find Henry Cowit, Inc., a full-service furrier that has been owned by the same family for three generations. I met brothers Larry and Steve, the grandsons of the original owner, who gave me a tour of the whole space. Not only are the brothers very good at what they do, but they are also amazing New York characters who are experts on the pulse of the neighborhood. Their father moved into a building on 29th Street on 1973, where the company stayed until July of 2015, when the brothers relocated to 27th Street. From their new home, the brothers have continued serving the neighborhood by selling, finishing, lining, storing, and cleaning fur coats.Along with caring for skins and selling second-hand furs, Henry Cowit recycles fur coats, which I found fascinating. Larry and Steve showed me a set of throw pillows that they had made for a girl who wanted to keep her grandmother’s coat for sentimental reasons, but who had no cause to wear the coat herself. Larry and Steve told me that they get many similar requests, especially in the past two years. More and more young girls are getting fur items on Ebay or at flea markets, and bring them to Henry Cowit to be altered into new garments. The brothers love the new demographic and the fun recycling projects that it brings to their business.When a family works in the fur industry as long as the Cowits have, it is bound to encounter some interesting clients. When I asked Larry and Steve about their most interesting project, they said that one customer asked for the swish logo on his Nike sneakers to be covered in mink to match his blue-grey mink jacket. “We get a lot of musical artists,” Larry and Steve explained. They also get clients from the film industry. For example, Cate Blanchett is wearing a Cowit coat in the movie Carol, which made the brothers very excited, since the costume designer is an Oscar winner. The coats are also featured in many TV shows. Their fur rentals are not only for the performing arts - the brothers also rent furs for special events, especially weddings. The furriers get their customers via word of mouth. “They know they can come to us,” Larry proudly said.Larry also described to me a couple of the latest ideas that he is developing. One is a men’s line of normal-sized coats made of all types of fur. He explained that many masculine fur coats are enormous, to cater to the music and sports industries, but that he wants to reach a new demographic with this unique line. Larry is enthusiastic about an additional project that he is working on with an up-and-coming designer to turn old, used coats into new garments. “We take a used coat and make it look hip,” he explained. “After all, I want to make sure my daughters still think their dad is fun!”
Hailing from a family of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu royalty, Renzo Gracie is not a good man with whom to make trouble. He is, however, a good man to train with, carrying several blackbelts and fight records, including bouts against past world champions. In 1995, while still an active (young) fighter, Gracie moved to New York and opened Renzo Gracie in midtown Manhattan, a few blocks north of its current location. Since then, the gym has moved south, added Muay Thai to its training acumen (as well as comprehensive MMA and boxing programs), and seen more than one world champion come to train.
Arriving from South Africa, Albertus Swanepoel attended the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York, which led him to an apprenticeship and ultimately his own glove-making business. The appeal of gloves, however, was “incredibly limited,” as most people wear them only seasonally. So, renaissance man that he is, Albertus switched gears and slid seamlessly into the world of hats. Now he is firmly entrenched in his new niche, and has been producing haute couture headwear since the 1990s. Grounding his practice in old-fashioned millinery traditions, but using techniques from multiple fashion disciplines, he is able to approach hats creatively and expertly. This is a must for a bold garment that can fall flat if not done stylishly. “I try to make things that people wear everyday and look cool but not nostalgic,” Swanepoel explained. And New Yorkers are wearing his high-end hats across the city. Albertus has a very optimistic take on his environment: “I think that’s the great thing about Manhattan. There are so many people living here that you can almost do anything and people will want it.”
“We wanted to be that diamond in the rough,” explained Ashley, the co-owner of Blank Slate. When Ashley and Zach, spouses and co-owners, were searching for a location for their restaurant, they wanted to find a neighborhood with a large crowd but not a lot of quality spots to eat. Blank Slate is successfully that hidden gem located in NoMad, one of Manhattan’s up and coming neighborhoods. Blank Slate attracts a crowd full of young, creative professionals who are quickly changing the area.Ashley and Zach established Blank Slate, which opened in November of 2015, in an effort to create the first coffee-shop-restaurant hybrid in New York City. Ashley explains that they were tired of going to places that provided quality coffee but low quality food. She wanted a place that offered superb grab-n-go coffee as well as more formal dining where friends could meet for a long meal.Ashley and Zach’s vision has been realized. Blank Slate serves killer coffee as well as an impressive assortment of salads, sandwiches and even gourmet desserts. Their coffee is proudly served from farm to cup in close to 20 days. They have a sign at the cash register indicating the green date and roast date of the coffee being served that day. My intern, Emily, hesitantly tried their brussels sprout Caesar salad and only had positive things to say about it, even though she usually does not enjoy Brussels sprouts. Blank Slate also has a small but wonderfully curated market located inside the restaurant, which offers primarily locally sourced products such as cookie dough, yoghurts, pickles and a host of beverages.In addition to serving excellent coffee and food, Blank Slate has a fun, creative atmosphere. Ashley and Zach chose Blank Slate’s name because they wanted to convey the idea that people can make or create everything here. While customers wait in line for coffee, for example, there are etch-a-sketches on which to play. They even have Instagram competitions that reward one talented etch-a-sketcher with a free meal. Ashley hopes that Blank Slate can be a space for people to create. She explained that the etch-a-sketch sends a message: the “possibility of everything."
In the race among Manhattan restaurants to attract customers, simplicity is sometimes lost. But not so in the Mason Jar, a restaurant and bar that keeps it old school with good vibes and great tastes. The southern, barbecue-heavy menu and extensive list of craft beers and bourbons speak for themselves, complete with suggested pairings. Each month, a new craft beer is featured in an effort to support small breweries. If these beers attract a following, they are added to the full-time roster.While visiting with some Sideways members, I had a lively conversation with chef about the different styles of barbecue - our North Carolinian team member swears by vinegar sauce and appreciated Mason Jar’s variety. The food is fresh and not overdone, but at the same time the Chef “puts love into it.” The high quality meat is treated seriously - specialty ribs are coated with a dry rub, smoked using apple and hickory wood, braised, and mopped with a tomato-based Kansas City-style sauce. Then grilled. The brisket and boneless pork butts are given no less attention.Replete with wood, American Flags, and comfortable seating, Mason Jar also achieves a homey feel to match its Southern style. Many of the University of South Carolina alumni in Manhattan choose this spot as the venue to catch the Cocks football games, and Villanova basketball fans flock here for their games, as well. With the hearty food, good beers, and down-home feel, it is easy to understand why. To put it plainly and simply, Mason Jar was a good find.