Saeed Pourkay, sitting with the Manhattan Sideways team at the back of Pizza Paradise, leaned back in his chair to check on his counter at the front of the restaurant. His business, Taste of Persia, is nestled comfortably into the window of this 18th Street pizzeria. The front window holds a collage of printed stories about Saeed and his food, including a New York Times rave review, and one Old-West wanted poster which prominently features Saeed in a cowboy hat.
As he leaned back into our conversation, Saeed shared, “As a kid - around eight or nine years old - I used to help my mom in the kitchen. I always loved to surprise her: she was going shopping and by the time she came back I had something ready for her to eat. That was a talent that I think led me to open my own place, because I do have a passion for food” - a passion that spoke for itself in the steaming, aromatic dishes set before us on the table.
Saeed moved to the U.S. from Tehran, Iran, when he was twenty-five - the last of his family to do so. He followed his parents and five siblings. When he arrived in New York, he joined his three brothers in business at a graphics shop directly across the street from where Taste of Persia can now be found. “Even David Bowie was bringing his childhood pictures,” Saeed told us, and yet “somehow I wasn’t too happy with what I was doing.” And so he departed the city: “I went to China. I went to Japan. I made some bad investments and I left with no money in my hands. At that time I had no place to live.” Saeed moved back to Iran for a quarter of a year to live in his family’s house. He began visiting different restaurants with reputations for their cuisines to build upon his childhood interest in cooking. “I learned so many things at that time, and I decided to come back.” Still, though, he had no place to live and no money. “So what did I do? I went to a friend of mine. He had a warehouse in Brooklyn Navy Yard and I asked him to let me sleep between boxes . . . I was living for almost a year in Brooklyn Navy Yard between the boxes coming from China, with my Baume et Mercier and my computer and every morning getting a cold shower [in] the sink that they used to wash their mop.”
After some time, when he felt ready, Saeed made the leap and met with Urban Space Management and asked if he could rent a stall at the Christmas market to sell his soup - and they agreed. That winter, Saeed ran a booth at the Union Square Market, where he began to sell his now much-anticipated, overwhelmingly comforting Ash Reshteh soup, an Iranian traditional dish.
While you can still find him at the market every winter, Saeed decided to open his own little space in 2013. He proudly told us that he works seven days a week at Taste of Persia. He runs the business by himself, “shopping, cooking, selling, and being so kind with people.” His customers are constantly blown away by what he does. “At this point my life has a meaning, because I wasn’t happy before; now, I am happy because every day I open this place I meet so many wonderful people, and I have so many friends.”
A city landmark and a slice of Old New York, Pete's Tavern has been serving food and draft beer uninterrupted since 1864. It does not take much to envision Pete's as it was a century and a half ago. The scarred, carved bar, the high-backed booths, tin ceiling and functional 1950's register are reminders that this was once the favorite haunt of writer O. Henry, a speakeasy, and a pre-Civil War "grocery & grog." Walking through the rooms, one can also discover hundreds of photos of people from our past - James Cagney, Mickey Mantle, and celebrities of today, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, and Adam Sandler. To drink here is to drink half in the past and half in the present.
New York has more than its fair share of yakitori houses and sushi bars, but this Japanese transplant is concerned with presenting its American diners with Teishoku, or home-style cooking. This chain, which opened in Japan in 1958, features nourishing, traditional fare, where a "healthy body and mind" are top priority. Throughout Asia there are over three hundred restaurants, and as of 2012, New Yorkers can dine in the light, airy interior of their elegant US flagship restaurant.
Ken Giddon likes to say that he went “from riches to rags” by leaving a career as a bond trader to reopen his grandfather’s men’s clothing store. Harry Rothman used to peddle his wares from a pushcart on Delancey Street in the 1920s before moving into a retail space. “He kind of created the concept of a discount clothing store,” Ken remarked. Rothman’s closed for a time after Harry’s death in 1985, but Ken revived the business a year later in a stunning, 11,000-square-foot storefront on the corner of 18th Street in Union Square. “I love being on a side street. It gives us the ability to afford a bigger space while watching the movable feast that is New York walk by every day.” Five years after the shop’s reopening, Ken invited his brother, Jim, to join him. “This is one of the true family businesses in Manhattan.” The store, which carries both casual and formal attire from top designers, aims to make the shopping experience for men “as efficient and rewarding as possible.” To this end, Ken and Jim scour the market, travel abroad, and attend numerous trade shows to find the best brands. “We try to provide our customers with that personal, small-town feel in the middle of the city,” Jim said. Despite Rothman’s more modern look and merchandise, the brothers strive to keep some core elements of their grandfather’s business alive, particularly by preserving his humble approach to owning a men’s retail store. As Harry used to say, “It’s not so serious what we do. We just sell pants for a living.”