Three ladies founded this quaint, cheerful dessert shop in 2008 after spending several months sampling recipes, dedicated to finding the perfect bases and smooth buttercream frostings. I have stopped in too many times to count, guided by the sweet smells that confirm the founders' devotion to quality. Lisa Liu, who took over the shop in 2014 after earning the trust of the partners, has upheld this legacy.
Previously the owner of a TCBY frozen yogurt franchise, Lisa followed her husband’s career from Salt Lake City to New York. It was her love for all things sweet that led her to Butter Lane. “I really like dessert,” she admitted. With an assortment of vanilla, chocolate, and banana bases, at least twelve frostings with seasonal flavors introduced almost every month, and no wrong combinations, Lisa is crazy about what she sells. The same is true of her staff. One employee told me that she had been with the company for over three years, in part because of its proximity to her residence, but mostly because of her “attraction to sweets.” Her favorite part of her job is the “free cupcakes,” as she is required to sample every cupcake flavor daily for quality check.
It is no wonder that the cupcakes taste so good, being that they are made fresh each day from only wholesome ingredients. “We do not use any artificial flavors or colors,” Lisa explained. Even without food coloring, the cupcakes are quite attractive, and specialty cakes may be ordered with forty-eight hours’ notice. At the time of our latest visit, during the summer of 2016, the Butter Lane team was ready for the release of their edible tribute to a popular television show’s finale, though I was told not to disclose the name just yet.
Equally as impressive as the delectable cupcakes are the baking classes, which always seem to fill the adjacent kitchen classroom to capacity with cupcake enthusiasts. Happening a minimum of four times a week, the classes include instruction in decorating during the winter and spring. People from around the world seek them out after learning about them in foreign travel magazines. The bakeshop has also been responsible for hosting birthday parties, complete with decorations. Great frosting, great fun.
Founded by Antonio Veniero, who emigrated to New York as a teenager from a small town outside Sorrento on Italy’s Amalfi coast, Veniero’s has been an East Village mainstay since the turn of the twentieth century. Initially a confectionery shop, it later evolved into a cafe and then a full-fledged pastry shop, with culinary creations by some of Italy’s finest bakers. Along with his wife, Pasqulina, and their seven children, Antonio followed the Italian custom of keeping business in the family. Veniero’s passed through four generations until reaching its current owner, Antonio's great-nephew Robert Zerilli, who had worked at the cafe alongside his father, Frank, for decades before taking over. Beyond the business legacy he left behind, Antonio also birthed an extensive family tree. “The Venieros are every-where, ” Robert quipped, adding that the legendary Bruce Springsteen is his second cousin. The business savvy of the extended Veniero family has helped keep the shop alive. Tales of Antonio’s relentless determination to succeed are still retold with pride by his relatives. He is also credited with bringing electricity to the neighborhood, home to mostly poor immigrants at the time, by rallying local support and collecting signatures to sway the reluctant energy company. In another bit of local lore, Antonio is said to have ushered in the entry of Italian espresso to the city, as he started roasting his own beans right in the shop’s backyard. Fittingly, Robert has Veniero’s to thank for meeting his wife, whose love for their iced cappuccinos made her a regular customer until he found the courage to ask her out on a date.
Confectionery is the brainchild of two passionate vegan chefs who owned separate bakeries in New Paltz, NY. Lagusta Yearwood began Lagusta’s Luscious as a boutique vegan chocolate shop, and Maresa Volante's Sweet Mresa specialized in macarons. They met, found that they shared a passion for sweets and vegan cooking, and Confectionery was born! Nowadays, the East Village shop serves a wide clientele, from random passersby following the sweet aromas to the front door, to avid cult fans in the city on vacation, and, of course, to those who either prefer or require a vegan diet. Confectionery is a space of inclusivity and giving, as evidenced by the prominent “Mitzvah Wall” that greeted me when I entered. The idea is to pay it forward: buy a cookie and put a note on the wall for someone to reward. When speaking with the counter server, a young woman who had been a fan of Lagusta’s Luscious for many years before working at Confectionery, she told me that she finds peace and comfort in the shop. “It's a nice, welcoming space where we can heal ourselves. ”
"The Two Faces of Italian Food" is the tagline at this restaurant and wine bar. The perfect blend they are referring to is tradition and innovation. The menu boasts homemade and traditional options - the wine list is not limited to Italian varieties, though the beer is. We stopped in briefly and relaxed with a glass of wine in their quiet back garden and spoke with one of the restaurant's partners as waiters set up for that evening's meal. When we asked him to describe the food that Giano served in a short sentence he told us humbly: "Italian food. No big deal. " Can't wait to try it!
Most business owners know how difficult it is to bounce back after being robbed. Makoto Wantanabe has done it twice and, ironically, has a thief to thank for the very birth of Tokio 7. Makoto was globetrotting in the early 1990s when he arrived in Southern California on what was supposed to be the penultimate stop on his tour. He befriended a homeless man and let him stay in his hotel room for the night, but Makoto awoke to find everything except for his passport was stolen. Stranded with no money and far from his home in the Japanese countryside, Makoto called one of his only contacts in the U. S., who worked at a Japanese restaurant in Manhattan. He scrounged up enough money for a bus ticket and was off. While in New York, Makoto felt that men’s clothing suffered from a lack of style. Having always had a knack for fashion, he knew he could change that but lacked the funds to open a store with brand new clothing. So, after several years of saving his wages as a waiter, he founded one of the first consignment shops in New York City. Tokio 7 now carries men’s and women’s clothes, with the overarching theme being, as Makoto says, that they are simply “cool. ” The clothes are mostly from Japanese designers and name brands with unique twists. In the store, clothing that has been donated with a lot of wear is labeled “well loved. ”Despite its importance in the community, the shop fell on tough times during the COVID-19 pandemic. To make matters worse, Tokio 7 was looted in the summer of 2020 and had 300 items stolen. When Makoto contemplated closing his doors permanently, longtime customers begged him to reconsider. Resilient as ever, he set up a small photography area in the back of the shop and sold a portion of his clothes online to compensate for the decline of in-person purchases. Reflecting on his journey, Makoto marveled at the whims of fate. Had he not been robbed all of those decades ago in California, he had planned to start a life in the Amazon rainforest
This small, old-world neighborhood barbershop is loaded with personality. Everything about Barbiere is unique: the whimsical wrought-iron gate out front, the retro hair and shaving products along the walls, and the high-quality, old-fashioned service. When we poked our heads in to chat with the barbers and their clients—all seated in vintage leather chairs—they were proud to tell us that James Franco is among the celebrities that drop by for a haircut or a classic shave.