Suzanne Riva may co-own three other New York City restaurants, but she calls Follia her “baby.” Suzanne has spent her life in the restaurant business; she grew up working in restaurants, studied at the Cornell Hotel School, and trained at the Cordon Bleu in Paris. She met her husband and business partner, Mario Riva, working as the general manager at Candela, which he opened with his brother in 1996.
In an effort to fulfill her dream of running her own "little neighborhood spot," in 2010 - after closing a nearby restaurant - Suzanne and Mario opened La Follia at Third Avenue and East 19th Street. As her friends questioned the decision to jump into another business venture, she chose the name La Follia, or “the madness” for their latest endeavor. Five years later, they moved to their current location on East 17th Street, a larger, more inviting space with extensive outdoor seating and a wood-burning pizza oven.
Follia serves a menu of delicious Italian food, including pastas, meat, chicken, fish, and pizza, paired with an extensive wine list. Suzanne loves the simplicity of Italian food, its health, and the way that it highlights fresh ingredients. The dishes and flavors reflect her appreciation for the produce she has access to at the nearby Union Square Greenmarket.
One of the things that Suzanne is most proud of is the family she has built out of her staff, some of whom have worked with her for the past twenty years. In an industry where retention is difficult, she has maintained a great core of people through the challenges of 9/11, the stock market crash, and now the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the end of the summer of 2021, Suzanne is anticipating all the changes coming to the restaurant business, experiencing first-hand how rising rents and food prices, combined with the pandemic, make staying in business extremely difficult. She worries about the future of neighborhood spots. “Everyone has been through a lot and is doing their best. We’re on a big learning curve, and I’m hoping that people will be patient.”
A longtime local, Suzanne calls Gramercy Park “the best neighborhood in New York City.” Her customers are kind, supportive, and understated. Many of them visit her restaurant multiple times a week. “Everyone has a good story,” she said. That proved to be true when she greeted a regular customer as he passed by on the street with his family. She then turned and told me that the man she had just said hello to was Nigel Harrison, the former bass guitarist of the band Blondie.
Since arriving in Gramercy in 1995, there are fewer small businesses, but the neighborhood still retains its character. Much of that comes from the people. “They know who they are,” she said. “They’re not trying to impress anyone.” And there is one more thing Suzanne loves about New Yorkers: many of them do not cook!
I would have to say that John's is about as old world Italian as one can get here in the East Village. The décor, the menu, and the service all take me back to my youth when I adored going out to eat with my family and ordering spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna, or veal parmigiana. I do still appreciate all that they have to offer, but now I, personally, prefer their eggplant or pizza. John's opened its doors in 1908 and is considered one of the oldest speakeasies in the city. It was downstairs in the basement where they made their wine and whiskey. Over the years, John's has been a popular film location for filming many TV shows and movies including Boardwalk Empire.
The Azzollini family has been at the heart of Paul & Jimmy’s since Cosmo Azzollini waited tables at its 1950 incarnation on Irving Place. Back in 1968, when Cosmo purchased the restaurant, the Azzollini’s made it their own slice of southern Italy. Even today, Louis and his son, Greg, keep the focus on home: homemade cuisine, a home-style atmosphere, and the homey touches of Italian hospitality. Paul & Jimmy’s is truly a family-run, neighborhood business. Louise and Greg emphasized that “one of us is always here - we are the only ones with the keys. We open and close every night. ” Greg has worked in the restaurant since 2005, and - after culinary school at the Institute of Culinary Education, working at Mario Batali’s Lupa Osteria in Manhattan, and furthering his culinary studies in Italy - is currently the head chef. Linda, Louis’s wife, is in charge of the accounting. Together, the whole Azzollini family works hard to ensure that everyone who walks through their doors feels like part of the family. They are proud that the majority of their customers are local, and are particularly pleased that they have “a lot of customers who have been coming forty, fifty, sixty years, and also a lot that come three, four, five times a week. ” As for Paul & Jimmy’s younger clientele, they are often surprised when Louise is able to tell them what their parents or grandparents used to eat. Their secret is that their “food is phenomenal… we have great waitstaff, we have reasonable prices, a cozy atmosphere, and are extremely accommodating. ” They try their best to fulfill non-menu food requests or change the dish to suit their customers’ needs, which is generally “very easy” since “everything is cooked to order. ” Louise told us it does not surprise him that many of their customers come so often, since they have “fifty or sixty different dishes on their menu - not including specials. ” With an emphasis on freshness, they are proud that they source their fish, produce, and meat from well-established New York businesses. Gregg makes their own mozzarella fresh every day, as well as many of their pastas, and Paul & Jimmy's offers their own line of sauces, both in the restaurant and at a few local shops in the city.
When I asked Alessandro Peluso, the owner of Bocca, if he had gone to culinary school or had a passion for cooking as a young man, he laughed and told me that he had initially studied accounting and then moved to London in 1997. He began working in restaurants then, but never envisioned himself owning one until he came to New York in 2000. His first place, Cacio E Pepe, opened in 2004 in the East Village, and then a year later he launched Spiga on the Upper West Side, and then sold it. In 2007, Bocca came to be - and it is here that chef and partner, Salvatore Corea, prepares traditional Roman cuisine. Esteban and I came in one afternoon for some photos and a bit of lunch and left an hour later totally satiated. We thought we would order a light meal that we could share, beginning with a roasted pepper and fennel soup, followed by the cow's milk mozzarella (made in-house) with fire-roasted marinated peppers, capers, and balsamic reduction, followed by a roasted vegetable panini with goat cheese. Little did we realize that next would arrive a large wheel of pecorino romano hollowed out and filled with house-made pasta and served tableside on warm plates with cheese, melted butter, and crushed black pepper. Perhaps it sounds simple, but the flavors of Bocca's signature dish, Tonnarelli Cacio E Pepe, were intense, incredible, and unforgettable. Thank you, Alessandro.
Since 1994, this clean-lined, white-walled restaurant has been serving upscale Southern Italian fare to Gramercy locals who come for the romantic atmosphere and chef Marco Fregonese's excellent menu. Grilled and roasted mushrooms with shaved Parmesan, Kobe beef carpaccio with rucola and black truffles, homemade white tagliolini with lobster ragu, and fingerling potato gnocchi with fresh tomato sauce and aged ricotta are just some of the appetite-whetting dishes that have made this such a neighborhood evening staple. Novita offers an extensive Italian wine list, organized by region, and a wide variety of traditional desserts.
Today, Shareen Mitchell is a bicoastal business owner, a sought-after entrepreneur with fourteen employees and a celebrity following. But no one would have guessed it eleven years ago, when Shareen was, in her own words, “broke, in debt, and selling at a flea market. ” That flea market booth soon grew into a 7, 000 square foot vintage warehouse in LA, and within a few years, Shareen had expanded to New York City. In spite of her success, Shareen’s location on West 17th Street is one of the best-kept secrets in Manhattan. Hidden away on the second floor of an old walk-up, the only sign of its existence is a red dress hanging from the fire escape, and sometimes—like the day I visited—not even that. Fortunately, a friendly employee from the salon next door pointed me in the right direction, but if I had not been in the know, I would have missed Shareen entirely. This secret location may seem like a bad business decision, but it is actually one of the keys to Shareen’s success. Her stores have always fostered a sense of exclusivity, and Shareen told me that her warehouse, especially in the early days, was not only the hottest vintage store in LA, but also a gathering place for a society of hip young women. “It was a crazy, fun secret, ” she told me. “No one knew where they were getting their vintage. ”Because there are no dressing rooms at Shareen—women change out in the open—both store locations have the same “no boys allowed” policy. But the resemblance between Shareen’s two stores ends there. While the LA warehouse is constantly buzzing with youthful energy, the New York location has a quiet, sophisticated feel that caters to a slightly older crowd. The reason for the difference, Shareen explained, is that by 2009, many of her original customers at the LA warehouse were now young professionals living in New York City. “They told me there was nothing like Shareen in the city, ” she said, “so I decided to test the waters. ” She opened a shop in a train station parking lot on Long Island, above an auto shop. “People like Ivanka Trump would get off the train, ” she told me, laughing, “and walk into this auto shop with their dogs and babies and everything. ” But after a while, the trip to Long Island became exhausting, and Shareen decided to open a location in the city. “It was kind of a secret, ” she said. “I had no money for a sign, so I put the red dress out on the fire escape. ”Though she did not put much effort into the store’s exterior, Shareen transformed the inside. The former apartment is now an elegant retail space, filled with ornate mirrors and old-fashioned couches, and yet it still manages to feel warm and welcoming. One large room is devoted entirely to wedding dresses, while another two rooms are filled with vintage clothing of all kinds, from evening gowns to 1950s prom dresses. When I asked Shareen about the bridal section, she told me that the store is in the process of transitioning. “A lot of my clients are starting to get married, ” she told me, “but they don’t want to look like traditional brides. ” These young women, many of whom get married in unorthodox venues—upstate farms, Brooklyn lofts, and Manhattan rooftops—are looking for unique dresses that will express their personalities. Over the past few years, the demand for these “indie wedding dresses” has grown so much that Shareen predicts that the store may soon be entirely bridal. “A year ago, we were half bridal and half vintage, and now it’s more like seventy-thirty, ” Shareen told me. “We’re double-booked on the weekends with brides. ”The New York location may be transitioning into bridal wear, but Shareen insisted that the store will not abandon its vintage roots. Along with her bridal collection, which is all under $2, 000, many of the wedding dresses for sale in the store are reworked vintage. Shareen added that her collection is designed to flatter all kinds of body types, to celebrate women rather than inhibit them. She always tells her brides, “I want to see you looking beautiful, not you in a beautiful dress. ”
The third time was the charm for Mohamed Jamal, who cycled through several business ventures before settling on the perfect one. He first opened a candy store on 17th Street in 1989, which he then transformed into a juice bar, before finally arriving at the space’s current iteration: Rainbow Falafel. Mohamed used the recipes he learned at his grandmother’s knee during his childhood in Syria to create a healthy, Middle Eastern menu. “We stick to all of the old-fashioned, classic foods and never change them, ” Mohamed affirmed, adding that the freshness and preservative-free nature of everything he serves is key to his philosophy. Offerings include the eponymous falafels served in veggie-filled sandwiches and platters, as well as stuffed vine leaves, spanakopita, hummus and other spreads. Impressively, most of the spices and special ingredients are imported, such as tahini from Lebanon, olives from Greece and mango juice from Egypt. To Mohamed, who runs Rainbow Falafel alongside his wife and son, the restaurant’s prosperity is easy to explain — “We are always here and we are always happy. ”
This little urban oasis provides families and individuals acupuncture treatment for a wide range of ailments – infertility, stress, and muscular and skeletal pain. Husband and wife founding team Jill Blakeway and Noah Rubinstein have been a functional medical and media presence in the world of acupuncture for years, publishing a number of books, appearing on Bravo, CBS, The Today Show, and lecturing on the benefits of Chinese medicine.