Where can you find tech startups, senior and youth programming, an authentic Jamaican cafe, and racing turtles — all in one place? The answer is the Prime Produce on W54th Street in Hell’s Kitchen, a multidisciplinary space where creatives, community leaders, educators and entrepreneurs come together to grow a New York City where passion projects and people thrive. A sprawling, three-story building that includes a performance space, recording studio, technology library, coding spaces, a beetle sanctuary, rooftop garden and conference rooms, Prime Produce is a membership-based grassroots co-working collective as well as a 501(c)3 nonprofit incubator for many member-led projects such as PreProbono, a fellowship program for underrepresented students interested in going to law school, Emergent Works, an organization providing digital literacy and technical education to justice-impacted communities, Seeds to Soil, an urban ecology collective and GROW Externships, a community committed to creating greater accessibility in environmental science careers. For collective members, the shared space fosters collaboration between organizations, and sometimes even new initiatives and projects born out of the relational community, said Jerone Hsu, one of Prime Produce's founding constituents. The collective’s ethos is to take care of its members, organizations and collaborations like a living, breathing thing, he added, referencing the values in Prime Produce Limited’s mission statement: “Love demonstrated through action; not only organically cultivated (like produce), but achieved at the pinnacle of (prime) and simultaneously discovered at the root of (primary) human experience. The nourishment and stewardship of our communities through practices of intentional service. ” “We’re all on the same team, ” said Jerone as he showed us around the collective’s range of multi-use spaces. “A lot of very interesting collaborations come out of being here. What happens when you have a librarian that is helping out at the turtle race? Or a video media artist engaging with someone that they might not otherwise have met on the nonprofit side? We’re all about the relational approach to supporting projects. ” It’s a collision of collaborations that Jerone didn’t expect when he filed the original nonprofit paperwork for Prime Produce from his Columbia University dorm room in 2007. At that point, Jerone, his brother Percy, and a group of friends were looking for ways to “create opportunities to get people to engage and make tomorrow arguably less shitty, ” said Jerone. The first answer? “We were offering whatever we knew how to do — which was mostly throwing parties, ” he laughed. The group organized open benefits — a turnkey event service to fundraise for a wide variety of organizations. “We’d have a couple hundred people all come out for a huge party, and every organization that participated got 100% of the proceeds from the tickets that were sold in that organization's name, ” said Jerone. The model worked so well that the group eventually decided to look for a space of their own, where they could expand their event reach as well as work on new projects together. After breaking ground on the space at W54th Street in 2013 and a long renovation process, they opened their doors in 2018. “We had a couple of good years, ” said Jerone. Then the pandemic shut down in-person collaboration. Prime Produce prevailed however, maintaining a remote community with initiatives like distributing 1x1 foot garden box plots to members. As New York began to reopen, so too did other new relationships. “Chef Nicola [of the collective’s in-house public restaurant and caterer, Cafe 424] was in our GROW Externships program — that’s how we got to know her and decided to work together, ” said Jerone. While some members relocated during the pandemic, new members have also joined. “A lot of the other social-impact co-working spaces had to shutter, ” he added, “if you're looking for a co-working space that is social impact focused and cooperatively governed, this is one of the few games left in town. ” Despite the challenges of the pandemic, the collective is busier than ever, hosting everything from semi-regular noodle dinners to comedy shows, senior-focused concerts and yes, turtle races. They hope to grow the garden of community and collaboration that is Prime Produce. “We don’t treat it as an industrial thing, ” said Jerone as we walked through a senior-caregiver Rodgers and Hammerstein concert. “We care for this collective like a living thing. ”
Opened in 1992 and originally located on the Upper East Side, Oceana moved to 49th Street in 2009. The Livanos family sowed the seeds for the glorious Oceana long ago when they ran a diner and realized their ambitions to develop it into something more. Having worked hard to make their dreams a reality, Oceana continues to pride itself on the freshness of its food and makes a point to have direct relationships with the fish mongers and farmers. Although some have called Oceana the Mecca of seafood, the restaurant's menu is notably diverse. The executive chef, Ben Pollinger, takes to the broad reaches of American cuisine and mixes elements of different dishes together, often in an unexpected way. The Manhattan Sideways team eagerly sampled a few of the marvelous dishes, including the Copper River Sockeye Salmon Crudo, featuring pickled ramps, parsley oil, and Amagansett sea salt, and the Sea Scallops Ceviche that is topped with peaches, ginger, and cinnamon basil. I was pleasantly surprised by the incredible vegetarian dish that the chef also prepared - Summer Squash & Cranberry Bean Salad, consisting of zucchini, gold bar and pattypan squash, pignoli, purslane and drizzled in lemon vinaigrette. Absolutely delicious. The last member of the Oceana team that we were introduced to was their wine director, Pedro Goncalves. Pedro, who began working at Oceana in 2001, makes a concerted effort to develop drink pairings to accompany the delectable food menu. Standing near the white marble bar, he proudly told us that Oceana has 1100 wine listings and 600 spirits. He went on to report that with forty-seven different gins, Oceana has one of the largest selections of in the city. "There is something to fit every personality, " Pedro said.
If the sight of a regular lunch rush doesn’t convince you to try La Bellezza Pizzeria, then their pitch-perfect, classic New York slices will. After a trip in to try their signature pepperoni and tomato slices (a well-seasoned combination of cheesy, crunchy and savory, the Bellezza team has mastered the elusive sauce-to-cheese ratio), we got a chance to check in with the Dedvukaj family who have operated the East Midtown pizza joint for the past 23 years. Founded by Bronx-based Marko Dedvukaj, son Frank Dedvukaj — who started slinging slices in the shop at just 20 years old — took over the business so that, as Marko put it, “I can focus on the most important job of all — spoiling my grandkids, ” he told us, surrounded by visiting family members, some of whom also used to work at La Bellezza. As groups of grateful office workers filed in and out of the intimate storefront for a slice of pizza or La Bellezza’s famous chicken parmigiano hero — “at one point we were voted the #1 Chicken Parm on Yelp” Frank told us, he added that the biggest change he’s seen in business is a post-COVID slowdown of daytime visitors to the block. “The area is quieter, ” said Frank, noting that they still maintain a set of loyal regulars. “We’re still here! ”