Nic Faitos was not always in the flower business – in fact, he started out working on Wall Street. But the financial world just was not right for him. “I fell out of love with what I was doing,” Nic told me. “I was having my midlife crisis a bit early – I went from being a broker to being a florist!” Standing in Starbright, it is not hard to see why Nic was drawn to this sector. The space is filled with bright light, and the scent from all the flowers is enough to make anyone fall in love with their job again.
Nic started Starbright in 1993, and for the first twenty years, Starbright operated out of a second-floor industrial space on 28th Street, focusing on corporate clients and large contracts. They provided flowers for clients like Ernst & Young and Columbia University, along with several other large corporations and a number of major hotels.
In 2015, Starbright moved to its current 26th Street home. Although it was not far geographically, Nic explained “this was a big move for us.” The new space is twice as large as the old, and, being on ground level, offers an opportunity for Starbright to draw customers from the street in addition to their existing corporate clientele. Nic has been embracing that opportunity by having a floral “happy hour” every Thursday throughout the summer when everything in the store is half price. “There are all these pubs and bars on the block,” Nic exclaimed, “Everybody’s having happy hour, why can’t we?”
Starbright is by far and away the largest florist that I have come across on a Manhattan side street thus far, and so I asked Nic to tell me a bit more about how his business operates on this scale. I learned that they receive shipments of flowers three times a week, from places as far away as New Zealand, South America, Singapore, Holland, Israel, and Italy. In a given week, Starbright handles twenty-five to thirty thousand stems. I could not imagine what so many flowers would look like, and so Nic said, “I’ll show you!” and led me to the walk-in refrigerator that keeps their blooms fresh during the hot New York summers. The fridge was fully stocked with flowers in boxes and buckets, each a different color, and all waiting to be arranged by the designers who work at large tables in the main area of the shop. I was content to stay for some time and watch them – each employee was a true artist, combining the flowers as a painter might mix different colors on a canvas.
Starbright’s size allows them to bring in many flowers that are not often found at other florists in the city. Nic showed me a few of the more rare blooms, including the deep purple vanda orchid and the trumpet-shaped calla lily. “We donate a lot of flowers too,” he told me. Starbright often sends its arrangements to charitable organizations like Gilda’s Club and the Ronald McDonald House, believing that sharing beauty is an important way of helping others.
Everyone on West 28th between Sixth Avenue and Seventh Avenue has a story to tell about life on the garden block, but I found one of the workers at Foliage Garden's story to be the most inspiring. "I was raised in the Flower District. My entire life is wrapped up in this street, " she told me. "I invested my life here. " After 9/11, however, she made the decision to move upstate, where she felt safer raising her daughter. Not long after, she came running back to the city at the call of her dear childhood friend. Maryann Finnegan had recently lost her husband and needed help running Foliage Garden, a retail and wholesale market that sells magnificent orchids and a multitude of other plants. The part-time worker at Foliage proudly told me that the shop has been in the same location for over thirty-five years, having opened in 1981. Maryann added, "We are now the oldest plant store on the street. " She then said that what differentiates her from everyone else is, "we have our own greenhouses under glass on Long Island. "Maryann and her team have befriended many of the people who created the Flower District a long time ago. Sadly, her co-worker related that "so many of the old men have passed away. " There are still, however, a few remaining who have wonderful stories to share. "There is so much history on this block, " she continued. "We were once called the Times Square of Flowers. " She described a time when every single storefront was filled with flowers. Today, she is pleased that she came back to Manhattan. "I can put up with anything here because I still love it - it's my passion. "
Alessandra and Mario De Benedetti had never been in the restaurant business. She was a law professor and he was in finance - both living in Italy. When a passion burns inside you, however, and a desire to live in NYC is so strong, why not change careers and pursue your dream? This is exactly what the dynamic duo chose to do. Working alongside Elizabeth Roberts, architect extraordinaire, the team created a space built for dramatic floral arrangements and an enchanting atmosphere for dining. Alessandra combined her love of flowers by integrating them into the restaurant's splendid cocktails, specialty dishes and magnificent displays. In 2019, their dream finally became a reality as they opened the doors of Il Florista on West 26th Street.
Crossroads Trading Company now has almost thirty locations around the United States, but even in Manhattan they keep their original relaxed Bay Area vibe. The company began in Berkeley in 1991 and has since become a hub for recycling both men and women's clothing with the goal of helping the environment and working to eliminate waste. Locals are welcome to come in and sell their gently used garments for cash or credit... and while there, hopefully browse for something
If one were to close their eyes and walk into Hill Country, there is no doubt that in an instant they would know what kind of food was being prepared. At Hill Country, they take their barbecue very seriously. The food is prepared in their very own custom meat-smoking room, and everything is done in the style of Central Texas barbecue. The atmosphere is kitschy and relaxed, with live American music most nights of the week.
When Ashley Van Goehring, Hotel Giraffe’s director of sales and marketing, led me up to the rooftop bar as part of a tour of the entire building, I did not expect to find such a quiet nook. Despite being in the middle of the busy Flatiron district, the patio’s height and warm red brick border meant that the sky-high courtyard is reasonably silent. It is also beautiful: every inch appeared to be carefully designed with hanging plants, potted shrubs, and striped deck furniture that hinted at the hotel’s name. There is even a metallic giraffe statue in the corner, named after owner, Henry Kallan's granddaughter, Jesse. The seasonal rooftop does not remain quiet at night. Though the garden is only open to guests during the day, at night it turns into a cocktail bar, run by Bread and Tulips, the restaurant attached to Hotel Giraffe. The tucked-away space is also attached to the hotel’s private event room, which has a little roof terrace of its own. Ashley told us that the room had been used as Big’s apartment in the Sex and the City movie, and pointed out the little details that can be seen in some of the film scenes. The small attached patio shows just as much care and attention to detail as the larger rooftop bar, with potted flowers and warm, giraffe-inspired colors. Staring out at the sunny view, Ashley turned to me and said, “It’s nice to be reminded that this city is not just the place where I live. It’s a magical place. ”
Whenever Rebecca, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, asked her glamorous college roommate from Arizona where she had bought whatever fabulous item of clothing she was wearing, the answer was always the same... Buffalo Exchange. Founded in 1974 by Kerstin Block in Arizona, it was one of the first used clothing shops to open in the country. The store offers its patrons a place to buy, sell, or trade second-hand garments so that they can find a new life in someone else's wardrobe. Today, Kerstin continues to run her company with the help of her daughter, Rebecca, and they have expanded to forty-seven stores nationwide. The company has maintained its funky, fun vibe and reasonable prices even as it has grown so large.
When I walked into Biricchino alongside Fouad Alsharif, it was like stepping inside his home. Fouad, one of the owning partners of the restaurant, greeted each person inside with hugs, kisses, and warm conversation. I remembered a comment that I had heard from a different restaurateur not long ago: He was reacting to the lack of loyalty from customers in his neighborhood. In his opinion, there are too many restaurants to choose from, nowadays. People are eager to try them all rather than give consistent business to two or three. I understood his concern, however, I must say that Biricchino has proven him wrong - at least in this particular spot in Manhattan. "I know everyone, generation after generation, " Fouad said. It helps that the family behind Biricchino (which means “naughty boy”) as been in the food business for over ninety years. “Today we are a new generation of men, but we all came from Curino, a small town in Italy in the province of Biella, " Fouad explained. “In 1925 Salumeria Biellese opened on 28th and Eighth Avenue. This is where the men got their start. ” Today, Salumeria Biellese is known as "the" salami and sausage maker in the industry. “Some of the biggest people in New York purchase their meat from us, " says Fouad. Sure enough, one corner of the restaurant has cured meats hanging with a high-end slicer waiting nearby. Biricchino opened in 1986 not only to showcase their handmade meats, but also homemade pasta, mozzarella, and more. Fouad stressed that good food starts with good ingredients. “We are second to none for quality. All our meat is natural and local to the Berkshires or New Jersey, from our hogs and grass-fed beef to our chickens raised on an Amish farm. Everything is done according to our specifications. We also feature seasonal vegetables from New Jersey and fresh breads from Sullivan Street Bakery. ” As proof that Biricchino is the real deal when it comes to high quality and healthy practice, the restaurant was the first in the industry to receive the “Snail of Approval” from the Slow Food movement (in honor of commitment to authenticity and sustainability of the food supply in NYC). “This is a big deal to those in the know, ” Fouad added proudly. The chef is proud of his pasta, fresh fish, chicken, and, of course, pork chop. Each day he tries to mix up the menu a bit so that he is certain to appeal to the different crowds stopping by for lunch or dinner. As far as crowd favorites, Fouad had a ready answer: “Rigatoni with homemade sausage has been our signature dish for years. That and the cured salami has kept customers coming back for a generation and counting. ”
For thirty-nine years, this family-owned shop has been hand-rolling Dominican and Nicaraguan tobacco into Ecuadorian and Brazilian wraps. The Nicaraguan tobacco, the clerk assured us, is arguably the best in the world. “People fall in love with Cuban cigars because we want what we can’t have. ” This could be true – psychology 101 in a tobacco leaf. For our crew, the cigars themselves, while fit for one’s greatest victories, are not the most amazing part of the shop. Rather, it is the experience of being there. In a small space at the back of the store, the rollers pull tubes of tobacco from stacks of wooden blocks and expertly shape dried leaves from giant bundles into just-so shapes to do their enveloping duty. When we asked the clerk if he could roll, he replied, “No, man, it’s like a language. You have to start when you’re little. ” The sentiment is borne out in the mesmerizing motions of the rollers. Up front, a group of regulars gather around blowing puffs of smoke from their cigars while chatting. The air reeks of yet-to-be-smoked cigars mingling with smoking ones of all sizes. Everyone gets along. Long-time friends mingle with new ones, brought together by a shared languorous pastime. And then there is the added treat of stopping by on a Saturday afternoon when people gather to play a serious game of dominoes.
“My grandfather came here in the early 1950s, ” shared David Ettinger, owner of Truemart Fabrics. A Holocaust survivor, Irving Ledereich first found work in a velvet company, but when the businesses decided to move out of New York, he remained here with his family. Soon after, Irving came across an advertisement about a fabric store for sale and decided to purchase it. According to David, “His lawyer gave him a new name to call it, and it’s the name we still have here today: Truemart. ” Irving was in his mid-fifties when he took over the shop. He ran it alongside his wife, Anna, until her death in 2004. That is when David and his mom, Freida, entered the picture, until Irving passed away in 2010. Initially, Truemart was in a perfect location, in the heart of the Garment District and steps away from the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). These days, not many people sew anymore, so the business has changed to keep up with the times. But they continue to have customers coming in to purchase materials for Broadway, movies, back-drops, and commercials. And, of course, the FIT students are still learning to sew, frequenting the shop that is filled with rolls of cotton, wool, satin, and linen fabrics. “People come in for small projects, but once they step inside, their imaginations keep growing. ”
When asked what cake means to her, Lisa Mansour did not hesitate for a second: “Cake is happiness! ” she exclaimed. An award-winning cake decorator and owner of NY Cake, Lisa has had a hand in shaping the baking industry, from judging competitions to creating new and innovative product lines. In addition, Lisa has been inducted into The Wilton Method Instructor Hall of Fame and has won several awards from the Societé Culinaire Philanthropique. Besides her own hard work and determination, Lisa attributes her many accomplishments to a long family tradition of dessert-loving. Her grandmother was a chocolatier and her mother, Joan, a cake decorator, who opened The Chocolate Gallery in the ’80s. In 1989, Lisa and Joan grew The Chocolate Gallery into a store and school that focused purely on cake decorating. Then, in 1992, the duo opened NY Cake & Baking Supply on West 22nd Street. The business boomed, and, in October 2018, moved into a new, larger space just down the street from their old location. NY Cake is a baker’s paradise. The new location includes a commercial kitchen, a café where customers can purchase baked goods and coffee, and an expanded school. And, of course, there is the sprawling retail section that first put NY Cake on the map. Here, one can buy every baking supply imaginable and then some: cake and pie pans in multiple shapes and sizes, cupcake wrappers, chocolate molds, cookie cutters, food coloring, rolling pins, and hundreds and hundreds of other items. It is overwhelming in the best sense, stacked ceiling high with everything needed to create that special dessert. The idea, according to Lisa, was to provide something for every sweet tooth. “If you like to bake yourself, you can get your supplies in the back. If you wanna learn how to do it, you can come and take a class. Or, if you have no desire to bake, you can just come in, sit, have a coffee and have a treat. ”The expansion has been stressful, to be sure (“I’ve never worked so hard, ” Lisa confessed), but the challenge is what makes it so exciting for her. With the extra space, they have been able to grow the NY Cake line of specialty baking products–designed to help bakers execute intricate cake designs, such as a Chanle-esque quilted bag–and have started selling a series of blinged-out cake stands that are sure to jazz up any dessert table. The larger school can accommodate twice as many students, and the industrial kitchen has allowed them to actually sell cakes, rather than just helping people make them. “It’s so fulfilling for me to teach, to take an order, ” Lisa said, “It makes me happy. ”In addition to professional customers from bakeries, wholesalers, and restaurants, NY Cake has carved out a market among amateur baking enthusiasts and counts many Chelsea and Flatiron locals among its regulars. That sense of community loyalty goes both ways: From baking competitions and events to the cake-pop class Lisa volunteered to teach at a center for the blind on 23rd Street, NY Cake is a true neighbor. This might stem in part from the fact that the store is as much family as business. Three generations of Mansours work at NY Cake (I met Lisa’s nephew, sister and mother during our interview), and even those who are not blood-related are part of their big, happy “cake family. ”