Chola takes its name from the powerful South Indian dynasty that ruled for over 1,500 years — an appropriate title given that its founder, Indian entrepreneur Shiva Natarajan, built a culinary empire of his own. In addition to Chola, Shiva established twenty-three restaurants in New York, all inspired by his abiding passion for his home country’s cuisine. With such a vast domain, it is little wonder that he sought a partner to keep his businesses running. Fortunately, Min Bhujel, who left Nepal in 2006 to find new opportunities in the States, proved the ideal companion to ensure Chola’s success and serve as general manager for ten of Shiva’s establishments.
Though Min, his wife, and their son, Nischul Bhujel, now run Chola as a family business, Shiva’s contribution remains essential. “Mr. Shiva guides us through all the spices and reminds us that the focus must always be on the food,” said Nischul. Shiva traveled throughout India to educate himself on the authentic preparation methods and ingredients used in different regions. He then funneled his extensive knowledge and recipes directly into Chola.
Specializing in cuisine from both northern and southern India, Chola places a strong emphasis on its seafood-rich coastal dishes, with various delectable fish fries, curries, and roasts. Equally as important, the restaurant is recognized for its hospitality. “We take care of this place like it’s our home and treat our guests like dear friends."
In the book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell suggests a theory in which, to become an expert in any particular area, one must first accumulate 10, 000 working hours in that specific field. Naturally, it is faster to achieve expert status when focusing on only one topic. This concept must have crossed the minds of the Just Bulbs store owners in the early 2000s, when despite selling lighting fixtures for over forty years, the owners decided to focus exclusively on "just bulbs. " The idea for the shop originated with David’s grandfather, who started by selling light bulbs door-to-door during World War II. He later opened a brick-and-mortar shop that was taken over by David's mother. David is now the third generation to run the store, having left behind a career in management consulting in St. Louis to devote himself to the family business in the 1980s. Since then, his expertise in the field has only grown, along with his vast inventory. Today, the entire staff is an expert in their field, claiming to have over 30, 000 bulbs in the store. With shelves and bins piled high with colorful bulbs in dozens of shapes and sizes and creative varieties of string lights hanging overhead, the shop is most likely going to be able to accommodate almost anyone's needs. And, if somehow amidst the impressive stock they do not have what someone is looking for, they proudly boasted to me that anything a customer requests when it comes to a light bulb, they can produce. The crew at Just Bulbs has no problem making custom pieces and even dispatching for consultations, deliveries, and installation.
"The Gem of Swimwear" is the tag line for Pesca, and as I discovered quickly, an absolute "hidden gem" on the side streets of Manhattan. Imagine stepping indoors from the gray shades of winter into a petite, yet beautifully filled boutique, where one is greeted by the aquamarines, corals, and creams of the tropics. The contrast was a welcome reprieve, but more important to me, was to discover the rare professional, yet loving relationship between the mother and daughter, Shahlla and Teresa Azizian. Their familial affection for each other is obvious, and seems to only have been strengthened by running a business together. Not only are they the lifeblood of Pesca - the only all-year-round swimsuit boutique in the area - but there is no doubt that both of them could model their wares on any runway. Shahlla came to the States by way of Iran, and originally opened her boutique in 1979 to sell swimsuits and fur coats. After a few run-ins with theft, however, she decided to focus solely on swimwear. The store services women from age sixteen to seventy, and stocks suits from around the world. Teresa enjoys her frequent travels to France for the swimsuit shows, but mother and daughter sell suits from South America, Israel, the United States, and other parts of Europe. Shahlla admitted to having a particular fondness for Karla Coletto, an American designer, whereas Teresa revealed that she prefers the European and South American fashions. The secret to the two women's success is their personal touch. "We don't sell to sell, " Shahlla said. Their goal is to find the perfect suit for each woman, so that they can gain the trust of regular clients. Both mother and daughter have a magnificent eye, and can pick suits that are perfect for a woman's body type and taste. Their personalized service extends to keeping a record of past purchases, and if a repeat customer orders a swimsuit on-line, they will send two or three more possibilities in the mail for them to try. "Our business is based on trust, the women shared with me, "If the extra swimwear does not work, we know that the client will send it back. "Pesca is not just about the swimsuit. "We pack your suitcase for you, " Teresa explained. Amidst the rainbow of swimwear, Pesca sells cover ups, beach dresses, hats, bags, sandals, jewelry, and belts. We provide "the full story. " When I asked what their favorite aspect of the business continues to be after so many years, both women commented that with their extensive experience and knowledge in their field, the two are often invited to sit with designers and recommend color combinations, or alterations to a style so that it would best flatter a woman's body.
I first discovered Newel when it was on 53rd Street. Pressing the doorbell, I was greeted by Jake Baer, the fourth-generation family owner of Newel Antiques. Entering the showroom lit by Murano glass chandeliers, I made my quick introduction, and was kindly offered a tour of their five floors - each one filled with an astonishing assortment of furniture. From the French, Italian, English, Modernist or Renaissance period, as well as a basement filled with wicker pieces, Jake explained to me that Newel has an eclectic selection to keep up with the latest trends. They represent every period and style and can go in any direction depending on the need and interest of the time and the customer. I was overwhelmed, yet mesmerized, at the same time, by shelves stacked to the ceiling and overflowing with treasures from the fifteenth century. There were chairs and tables of all shapes and sizes crowned together, as Jake nonchalantly rattled off their backstories including telling me where they had been used. "That giant Venetian birdcage was on Boardwalk Empire, " for example. Jake also shared that Pygmalion was the first show that launched his great grandfather's company; they still have some of the original pieces that were used some seventy-five years ago. Newel is not a typical antiques store. The business got its start in the 1930s when founder, Meyer Newman, began visiting various Broadway productions and asking what type of furniture they needed for their sets. "Without quite knowing how, " Jake explained, he would find what directors needed and rent it to them for less than buying the piece would have cost. This same model continues to this day, though "ninety-eight percent" of the furniture, according to Jake, is for sale. Most of what Newel does is to rent out period furniture and paintings for television shows, movies, fashion shoots and store windows. "Rental is the DNA of our business - it got us to be where we are today, and always takes us back to our roots. " "Nobody does it on this scale, " Lewis Baer, Jake's father, told me about the renting side of Newel's business. Nor does anybody have the volume of authentic, high-quality items. "Anyone is welcome inside of this world of antiques, " Mr. Baer went on to explain. Newel tries to make themselves accessible to all ages. They work tirelessly to interact and build relationships with the theater world, movie set designers and interior decorators. Nowadays, minimalism is in vogue and people do not buy as many antiques as they would have a generation ago. Thus, the Baer family focuses most of their energy on renting their antiques, and on selling their new line of beautiful original chandeliers, crafted on the island of Murano in Venice. Most importantly, though, Newel remains family-owned just as they were in the 1930s, and these warm ties are evident in every aspect of the business.
Now old enough to be as vintage as the items they peddle, Brigandi began as an antique coin vendor in 1959. Since moving to their current location in '82, they've expanded to include autographed items and other memorabilia. Coins still rule the day: dating from the late 1700s onward. I, actually, found a silver dollar from 1799, one of the first ever minted, being sold for roughly $6, 000. I marveled at the $20 pieces and the late eighteenth century half pennies. Foreign coins, from Chinese to Seychellois to Danish and beyond add a bit of exoticism. There are signed sport posters and Green Bay Packers signed footballs from their 1960s Superbowls. Hanging on the walls were old college pennants paying homage to the alumni clubs lined up on 44th Street. There were many signed baseballs, but the one that Chris Brigandi, the grandson of the original owner, pulled out from the vault, impressed me most. It was signed by both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and had a price tag of $40, 000. I also learned a bit of history from Chris when I noticed the collection of baseball cards. In the early 1900s, cards were sold in packs of tobacco or cigarettes, thus called "tobacco cards. " It was not until the 1930s that baseball cards were inserted into packs of gum. If I had not been speechless before, I certainly was when Chris brought out a signed check by Joe Jackson dated 1919 with a price tag of $100, 000. He explained that Shoeless Joe had been illiterate so the only way he could sign his name was by someone showing him a "pattern" that he could copy. There is no doubt that collectors of every age will be fascinated by the selection of archives gathered under this one roof.
It is a thrill to be able to be writing about the Argosy Bookstore. As a former owner of a children's book shop, I could not wait to get to 59th Street so that I could delve deeply into this family history, which began in 1925, and share the story of the three extraordinary sisters that have carried on their father's legacy. Despite being on 59th Street since the 1930s, the bookstore remains a 'hidden gem' to many New Yorkers who will regularly walk by and miss its presence amidst the ever-growing retail buildings. Naomi, one of the sisters, who maintains her post at a desk by the door, says, "About fifteen times a day, I have someone walk in the store, stop in their tracks and say, 'Oh my goodness, I never knew that this existed. '" And what a wonderful discovery this six-story curiosity is. Argosy feels as much like a museum as it does a bookstore. With its specialty being rare and out-of-print books, along with a score of historic maps, prints and autographs, it is a treasure trove with a vast selection that has something for everyone. It brought me great pleasure to introduce members of the Manhattan Sideways team to this remarkable shop that I had been scouring for decades. From the moment we walked through their doors, and they commented at the "book smell" that invaded their senses, I knew that I had them hooked. But then their eyes wandered across the shelves of books that dominated the room, catching the paintings hung above them and the green library lamps suspended at every interval, they simply stood in amazement. And then Naomi greeted us and took us on what would become a remarkable tour of the entire building. We began on the main level, where some of the store's most beautiful books are showcased, in genres from historical fiction to children's books. We were amused as Naomi pointed out her special shelves appropriately named "the oh-I-should-have-read-this" - a sort of "un-Barnes and Noble section" that does not necessarily include Hemingway or Faulkner, but certainly exhibits a great awareness and taste in fine literature. From there, we ventured down to the basement, a general browsing room, and then up to the sixth floor, which Naomi calls the 'oh my God room, ' as it is filled with autographs from Teddy Roosevelt to Elton John. As one of three sisters who inherited the bookstore from their father, Lou, Naomi explained that each of the siblings maintains an individual pride in a certain collection in the store. For Naomi, it is the autograph collection. As we continued down, we stopped on a floor dedicated to American History, where there was a fascinating collection of rare books on topics that included American Architecture, the Cold War, and the American Revolution. I was particularly attracted, however, to the map room. As I was wandering through, I discovered an actual first edition map of Manhattan - drawn sideways in 1865. Argosy Bookstore remains one of the largest, family-run independent bookstores in New York City. Despite impressive offers for its real estate, the store has continued its business through generations and maintains a genuine character matched by only a handful of other businesses in Manhattan.
Beautifully decorated for the holiday season, Bistro Vendome was still abuzz with chatter when the Manhattan Sideways team stopped by at the tail end of lunch hour to meet with the delightful owner, Virginie Petiteau. Although she and her husband Pascal, who is the executive chef, hail from Brittany, France, they met in New York, where they both worked at Jubilee, a French restaurant on First Avenue. After fifteen years there, Virginie said they felt ready to open their own place. She told us that it was great to already have a base of customers in the area that knew and supported them when they opened Bistro Vendome in 2010. And she was pleased to tell us that they have maintained a loyal clientele ever since. As Virginie put it: "Some people who come here saw me when I was pregnant, and now my daughter is fourteen. "Pascal started working at high-end French restaurants in France at an early age. After coming to New York, he decided to focus on more casual French food. In 2014, he was inducted as Master Chef in Mątres Cuisiniers de France, a prestigious organization aiming "to preserve and spread the French culinary arts, encourage training in cuisine, and assist professional development. " An unusual occurrence continued to happen as we resumed our walking on 58th, as so many other businesses told us that they eat at Bistro Vendome on a regular basis because the food was as traditionally French as one could hope for in Manhattan.
Trendy, immense, packed at any hour and serving intriguing Pan-Asian food, Tao has been a sensation on 58th since opening its doors in 2000. Stepping inside, one cannot help but immediately feel transported to a different world. The interior design is exceptionally meticulous with beautiful calligraphy scrolls adorning the high ceilings, and a sixteen foot massive Buddha sculpture taking center stage down below. Despite the frenetic atmosphere, I have found Tao to be a fun restaurant to dine with friends and to enjoy an excellent meal.
At lunch hour during the work week as well as weekend afternoons, there is a constant line out the door as people wait to order a Kati roll. A customary street food of Kolkata, India, these are the namesake and main draw of this restaurant. The rolls consist of Indian favorites, like Chicken Tikka or Aloo Masala, wrapped up in traditional Bengali roti bread. Decorated with a tin roof, and tattered posters from Bengali and Hindi feature films, the Kati Roll Company offers up fresh, tasty Indian food that is less formal than a typical Indian restaurant.