Located within the lobby of Parker New York (formerly known as Le Parker Meridien) in a windowless room about the size of a New York City studio apartment, burger joint is the definition of a hole-in-the-wall, but only in the most positive sense. From outside burger joint, the only indication of its existence is a small neon burger sign - and, of course, the crowds of people waiting their turn for what has been voted "best burger in New York." Inside, the walls are wood-paneled with iconic movie posters hanging on them. A back white brick wall has the signatures of celebrities who have eaten at the restaurant - everyone from hip hop artist Talib Kweli to Heidi Klum. The other walls - and even some of the tabletops - are also covered in writing, though these signatures are less recognizable. It is not actually encouraged to write on the walls; rather it was regular customers who noticed the celebrities' signatures and decided to carry on the tradition themselves. The menu is no-frills and written on a chalkboard: burgers, fries, sodas, milkshakes, Sam Adams, a brownie and that's about it.
Having opened in 2002, burger joint has gained a "cult following" due to its unlikely location. According to the hotel's marketing person, Marisa, who kindly gave us a tour, she explained that people enjoy the juxtaposition of Le Parker's sleek elegance and burger joint's underground feel. Though its customer base was once mostly locals in the know, today the restaurant is overwhelmingly populated by tourists, including plenty of international visitors. Burgers are part of the American experience, and a burger joint burger has evidently become part of the New York City experience. When I commented to Marisa that I could not believe how long the line was at 3:30 in the afternoon, she took one glance at the hectic scene before immediately pronouncing, "This is quiet for us." Indeed, the employees often find themselves churning out up to "1000 burgers per day."
After so many years with only the one location, burger joint has recently begun to expand, opening a (much larger) restaurant on 8th Street along with outposts in far-flung locales like Seoul and Dubai. Marisa told us that there are plans to expand further, but the original location will always have a special place in the city's heart - all 600 square feet of it.
Guy Vaknin and his wife Tali opened Beyond Sushi in July of 2012 with the goal of producing healthy, beautiful and earth-conscious food. After learning of the depletion of fish in our oceans – not to mention the health benefits of a meatless diet – Guy set out to be the “first to pioneer the fish-less sushi movement.” He views “sushi as a vessel that carries the perfect amount of flavor to just grab it in one bite.” He also praises sushi for its consistency, which gives him room to play around in creating interesting and perfect balances of vegetable's flavors and colors.When describing his extensive background in the restaurant industry, Guy told us, “I had a dream to cook since I was young. I’ve always loved food.” He grew up on a Kibbutz in Israel - and came to New York after serving in the Israeli army - to help out in his father’s restaurant. He went on to work at numerous other restaurants in New York doing every possible position, and after a brief dalliance with computer engineering, returned to the food world by studying at the Institute of Culinary Education. Fresh out of culinary school, Guy became the executive chef at his father’s kosher catering company.When a request for a sushi station popped up, and knowing that meat and fish are restricted in some areas of the Jewish world, he decided he wanted to create something “cool and innovative - and not fish.” It took two years to develop his vegetarian sushi, but after selling out at the Vegetarian Food Festival two years in a row, Guy decided to open a business on 14th street. Within three months - working solely with the help of his sushi chef - the growing popularity of his beautiful, healthy, and delicious food quickly enabled him to expand into the thriving company that Beyond Sushi is today.One of Guy’s main goals is to balance sustainability and accessibility to encourage people to choose the healthy option of Beyond Sushi, and the passion that sustains this goal is his creativity. Even now that he has grown Beyond Sushi into a consistently expanding company, Guy still spends around fifty percent of his time cooking, and loves adding new dishes to his menu. He thinks of his business expansion in terms of community impact and wants to be “as big as possible."
Everything at Norma Kamali's eponymous store feels distinctive, from the layout to the designs of the clothes. In the years since the designer opened her first shop on 53rd street in 1968, she has carved out a style all her own. Her flagship store's aesthetic is striking - white walls, floor-to-ceiling mirrors, and fluorescent lighting that feels intentional and welcoming. Racks are placed at different locations throughout the store, showcasing Norma's three core collections - Activewear, Swimwear, and Kamali Kulture. The first includes Norma's iconic sweatsuits, which revolutionized women's activewear when the line appeared in 1984. The Swimwear collection prominently features the Bill Mio bathing suit, a rucked, old Hollywood-esque one-piece. Finally, the Kamali Kulture line was created so that a wider variety of women could enjoy Norma's signature designs; every item in the line is under one hundred dollars. The store also features sunglasses, including Norma's signature cat-eye shades.While being given a personal tour by Marissa, a representative of the Norma Kamali Brand, we learned that Norma's flagship location houses the Wellness Cafe, where women are invited to take a break from their shopping, sit down, and help themselves to some green tea and popcorn - sprinkled with Norma's own line of olive oil. On display is a "curation of products Norma loves," including health snacks, supplements and weights. Marissa went on to explain that Norma frequently hosts events at the cafe featuring members of the medical community as well as tarot readers. "We invite people with a range of backgrounds and expertise," said Marissa.Norma has achieved significant recognition in the fashion world and beyond, but many people who come into the store are merely drawn in by the display window. Customers stop by "whether they know that it's Norma Kamali or they're just curious," Marissa told us. Though Norma's collections are featured in most major department stores, including her Fifth Avenue neighbors, this location on West 56th is the only one devoted exclusively to her. Because of their "small but mighty" status, Norma is able to keep a hand in everything that goes on at her boutique and wellness cafe: she styles the display window and chooses what clothing is showcased. Her virtual presence is strong as well: she narrates her own website, providing the stories behind various pieces of clothing. Towards the end of our time spent here, an exhilarating moment occurred when we had the pleasure of catching a glimpse of the grand lady, herself.