Tag Archive | "manhattan"

Angel Moinas and the American dream


El Maguey is Angel Moinas's new Mexican restaurant at 142nd and Broadway in Manhattan.


Angel Moinas paid a coyote, a smuggler of illegals, $800 in 1982 for a ride from Tijuana, Mexico, to Los Angeles.  The trip from Ecuador, where he is from, to Mexico had been legal, and he traveled by bus.  This leg of the journey, however, meant four hours lying in the trunk of a car. “Full music in my ears — when I get out in Los Angeles, I can hear nothing,” Moinas recalls.

Once Moinas arrived in Los Angeles it was a simple matter to fly to New York City. In those days, airlines were not overly concerned about the immigration status of their customers.  He soon found work as a dishwasher in a restaurant.

Now, Moinas, 47, has a new restaurant, El Maguey, at 142nd and Broadway in Upper Manhattan.  It is  Mexican, family style, with orange walls and seating for 60.  Three flat-screen televisions playing muted action movies are mounted on the walls and Latin music plays softly.

It is a Wednesday night, October 21st, and El Maguey has only been open for six days.  So far, business has been slow, but he is not concerned.  He doesn’t have a liquor license yet, and he expects that when he is able to sell alcohol his business will improve dramatically.

Moinas has good reason to believe that a liquor license will improve business at El Maguey — his other restaurant, La Posada, is literally a block away at 143rd and Broadway and is doing well with its liquor license.  La Posada is less suited to family dining and feels more like a bar, but the establishments are similar enough that Moinas expects to be able to replicate La Posada’s success.

Becoming a restaurateur was not a speedy process for Moinas.  His first obstacle was his immigration status.  Fortunately for Moinas, Ronald Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act on November 6, 1986.  The act allowed certain illegal immigrants to apply for amnesty, and Moinas made the cut.  As a result, he is now a U.S. citizen.

The second obstacle for Moinas was money.  He didn’t make much as a dishwasher, but soon worked his way up to becoming a cook and then a sous-chef.  He worked long days, saved fastidiously, and after about 12 years had acquired enough money to return to Ecuador and open a restaurant.  A year and a half later, however, Ecuador converted its currency from the sucre to the dollar. The U.S. dollars Moinas had saved had gone a long way when converted to sucre, but didn’t seem to stretch as far once the currency converted. The cost of running his restaurant rose, but his revenue didn’t keep up. Eventually, he went broke.


Moinas relaxes in his new restaurant.

Moinas returned to New York in 2000 to start over. This time he started as a “black car driver” for a company that chauffeured corporate executives.  He worked long hours for four years to save money.  On some days he would start an afternoon shift at 3 p.m. and not return home until 8 the next morning.  He had a new wife and baby daughter at home, but he needed to earn enough money to pull ahead.  Finally, in 2004, Moinas took the plunge again and opened La Posada with two friends.

Owning a restaurant did not make Moinas rich. He couldn’t afford enough staff to run the place, so he worked as a cook himself, often putting in 14-hour days.  After a year he bought out one of his partners and a year later he bought out the other.  The buyouts only put Moinas in debt, however.  He  needed $50,000 and the only way he could get it was through loans from friends and family in the Ecuadorean community.  Those loans came with exorbitant interest rates.  On a $5,000 loan, for instance, he would have to make payments of $250 per month in interest until he had paid off the principal, a rate which is approximately 60 percent annually.

Moinas has had to fight and pay for everything he has acquired in life.  Now that he is the sole owner of La Posada and has paid off his debts he still isn’t in the clear — his landlord has not yet renewed his lease, which expires in two months, so Moinas is on tenterhooks again.  He has opened El Maguey partly as a hedge against the possibility that his lease for La Posada will not be renewed.

Operating two restaurants means that Moinas must pay $14,000 a month in rent.  Asked if he was rich, he laughed.  “I have too many bills,” Moinas said.  “It’s crazy.”  In fact, Moinas and his wife, Janet, both still work full time.  La Posada stays open until 4 a.m., which means that Moinas often doesn’t get home until almost six in the morning.  As a result, he says, he rarely sees his daughter, Hailey, who is now 8.  He is asleep when she gets up to go to school and she is asleep when he gets home.

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Tongue tacos in Manhattan


Walk down a street in any given Mexican city and you will find many taco stands, the good ones before the bad ones.  The aroma of spicy meat and vegetables will guide your feet to the perfect stand.  Most have meat or pork tacos, but every once in a while you might run into one that serves lengua, Spanish for tongue.

While Manhattan doesn’t have the stands on every corner, you can find tongue in Harlem at the brick and mortar hotel, Cinco De Mayo  Restaurant at 1028 Amsterdam Ave. has them.  No such aroma on the sidewalk, but you’ll know to go in by it’s big Red, Green and white canopy on the west side of the street.

They charge $2.95 a taco, which isn’t too bad.  In Northern Mexico they go for about a dollar each.  The tongue isn’t made directly from the meat.  It’s boiled, peeled then sautéed, normally with tomatoes and onions.  Then it’s topped off with cilantro in true Mexican fashion.  And to make it even more authentic, you have to squeeze a little lime on it, preferably from your cold Corona.

It’s most common to eat them with corn tortillas.  You might need two, because the tongue tends to be somewhat watery.   A normal person will probably be satisfied with about six tacos.  The beauty in that is to vary them.  If you’re not feeling bold, have a couple steak tacos, maybe some head-meat tacos.  Once you have tongue, you can graduate to tacos made from head muscles.  And that’s the gateway drug for entering the adventurously delicious world of brain and tripe tacos.

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In downturn, Harlem sees hope in opening restaurants


(Photos by Vadim Lavrusik)


After running a small cupcake shop in the West Village for three years, Tonnie Rozier decided to come back to his roots by opening up a second shop in Harlem.

Rozier, 40, said he hadn’t considered opening up a shop in Harlem because the rent always seemed so high. But when a friend approached him with a location off Lenox Avenue in Central Harlem last spring with a great rent price, he couldn’t resist.

He considered the fact that he was taking a risk with the recession taking a toll on small and big businesses alike. But Rozier was looking further ahead, and already noticing new businesses moving into the neighborhood. And it was a homecoming for the Harlemite who grew up and has lots of family there.

Tonnie’s Minis Opens in Harlem (Audio by Vadim Lavrusik)

“Harlem has been on its way back for many years now. And I saw the vision, but never thought it would become what is has become today,” Rozier said.

Though there’s more than 40 cupcake shops in Manhattan, Tonnie’s Minis is the first in Harlem. But it’s not the only first for a neighborhood that is seeing new food businesses (map) opening up and the community buzzing that these are signs of economic recovery.

Part of the buzz stems from new jobs that these new restaurants will create. Applebee’s alone is hiring 250 new workers for next week’s opening off 125th Street. The neighborhood is also awaiting the openings of several restaurants off Lenox Avenue, including a Jamaican and soul food restaurant called Jams, rotisserie chicken shack Spinners, and OneBar, a high-scale bar.

Though the exact number of restaurants opened in Harlem in the last year was unavailable, Community Board 10 has approved 49 liquor licenses so far this year.

Franc Perry, chairman of Community Board 10, which represents Central Harlem, said though he didn’t want to jump to conclusions on what that means, he certainly is optimistic about the opportunities it brings into Central Harlem – a neighborhood with an unemployment rate topping 20 percent. The city’s overall rate is 10.3 percent.

Though there has been a spurt of restaurants openings in Harlem, Andrew Rigie, director of operations at New York State Restaurant Association, said there is no doubt that the economy has still created a dip in restaurants’ sales. People are cutting back on going out, and one would think that Harlem would be worse off than other neighborhoods with such a high jobless rate. Though more new restuarants are opening, those that have been open longer have better chances of weathering the stark economy because they already have a customer base, experience and operating capital, Rigie said.

Harlem welcomes ‘Eatin’ good in the neighborhood’

So why would anyone want to open a restaurant during such economic turmoil, and why in Harlem? For Zane Tankel, CEO of Apple-Metro, which operates 34 Applebee’s locations in the New York metro area, the answer is simple. Demand in Harlem, plus cheap rent, a dash of risk, and years of experience is why Tankel is opening an Applebee’s on 125th Street.

“I think it is an underserved community,” Tankel said. “There are few places there right now where a large group of people can go in and sit down and get some good food for a reasonable price.”

Damaa Bell, who writes the UPTOWNFlavor blog on food news, said she thinks the new Applebee’s will be successful in Harlem because there is a shortage of restaurants that can accommodate large groups.

“When you think of dining in Harlem they are often small venues that can accommodate up to 10 diners max. An Applebee’s would be popular with families,” Bell said.

Bell points out that an Applebee’s just opened in the Marble Hill area has been successful because it is the only eatery of its type in the neighborhood, which she says is similar to Harlem.

Tankel said he also hopes he can attract some late-night customers. Though many restaurants in the area close around 9 p.m., Applebee’s will be open until midnight on weekdays and 1 a.m. on weekends. He acknowledges that maybe there is a lack of late-night demand or owners worry about crime, but said that is something he will have to re-evaluate after seeing how business goes.

“We’ll see how it pans out because we’re not immune to the economy, but we’ve definitely made the adjustments,” Tankel said. Though sales are down a bit at some of his locations, Tankel said they attract people by offering them value deals like bundling menu items with a $20 deal for an appetizer and two entrees. This keeps the total bill higher for the restaurant, but is still a good deal for the customers, he said.

On Tuesday, the restaurant’s hiring center was full of people filling out applications for the 250 full- and part-time positions available. The Labor Department reported Friday that the national jobless rate had dropped from 10.2 to 10 percent, the strongest report since the recession began – a glimmer of hope for those that have recently lost jobs.

Jeffrey McCaskill, 20, stopped in between classes at The College of Technology to fill out an application for a cook. McCaskill, who is currently unemployed, said he needs to get a job to help pay the family bills.

He’s predicting the restaurant, which sits at the corner of 125 Street and 5th Avenue, will be really busy despite the downturn.

“Sure people are struggling, but I think you’re starting to see more places opening up and they’re starting to build again,” he said. “It’s great. It gives a chance for people to get a job.”

McCaskill is one of 5,000 people that had filled out applications as of Thursday, according to Tankel.

“I hope I get it,” McCaskill said.

Real estate and a developing neighborhood

Though Tankel had been looking to open a franchise in Harlem for about six years, each time a potential location came up he was faced with obstacles in construction or price.

However, with the drop in real estate prices, rents in the neighborhood have gone down dramatically too, which is why Tankel took advantage of the location, he said.

Charles Belanger, a real estate broker turned restaurant owner, knows that better than anyone.

“The market obviously collapsed,” he said. “So I went into the chicken business.”

Belanger, who was a broker for more than 20 years in Manhattan, took his store front real estate office off Lenox Avenue and turned it into a rotisserie chicken and sandwich shop. On Thursday, he was working on cleaning the entryway of the shop on its first day open. Customers slowed to see what the new restaurant had to offer, some eyeing the side real estate office signs still visible from its previous incarnation..

Belanger already had the location and didn’t want to just give up on the space. A food business made sense for the neighborhood, he said.
“People gotta eat.”

Because it is a low-income neighborhood, he said it wouldn’t make sense to open an electronics store, which would be difficult to compete with a big box store that gets its products less expensibely from overseas.

“You can’t ship a roast beef sandwich from China though,” he said.

Belanger said he decided to stay in Central Harlem because of the growth in real estate development and businesses the neighborhood has seen in recent years.

“Harlem does have a bright future,” he said. “It’s an area in Manhattan that has seen a lot of growth in recent years.”

He said a combination of factors like city tax breaks contributed to the growth. Also, The Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Corp. has given $2.5 million in loans over the last 12 years to restaurants in Harlem, giving them the necessary cash to get started.

But most residents will point to the Clinton Foundation’s move into the neighborhood and its sweeping efforts to improve the neighborhood. Last year, the foundation launched the Harlem Restaurant Program, which used public funds and tax incentives to teach restauranteurs in the neighborhood better business skills.

Richard Howard, who stops at Rozier’s new cupcake shop almost eveyday after he picks his kids up from school, said ever since Clinton’s foundation came to Harlem a lot of new businesses moved into the neighborhood.

“I think that Harlem has kinda become the new mecca of new businesses,” Howard said. “It’s becoming like a SoHo or Delancey street. Well, now it’s Harlem.”

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Traditional cooking, updated

Mavel Vanetes, left and Massiel Soto, right, eat at a hands-on cooking class in BrooklynBy WINNIE ANDREWS

Alicia Baez is making a stuffed avocado dish she learned back in Mexico. But this time she is leaving out the salt and replacing the fresh shrimp with canned tuna. It isn’t the traditional version, but that is intentional.  She is making them with less sodium and more economical ingredients.

The goal is to make what you like, but reduce sodium, sugar, fat and refined grains, and increase the amount of vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Baez and several other mothers signed up for a free eight-week nutrition class at the New Life Head Start preschool in Bushwick, Brooklyn. The hands-on class is one of many nutrition courses that encourage making familiar foods in healthier ways.

The thinking here is that people are more likely to eat healthfully if they can stick to a version of foods they are used to.  Nutrition cooking classes like this across the country respond to the needs of populations with high rates of obesity and diabetes.

To make her dish, Baez cuts shining green avocados in half and fills each one with a mound of chopped tomato and tuna. She is making them at the last day of her class when participants can bring in dishes they enjoy, modifying them according to what they have learned.

Sonia Delvalle is teaching the nutrition and cooking class in Bushwick as part of a Cornell University program designed to help low-income families improve their eating habits. The five Hispanic mothers in her afternoon class gather for two hours a week not only to cook and learn nutritional facts but also to share information and try new exercise techniques. Two women have brought their small children, and the babies sleep peacefully in the mothers’ arms while one small boy joins the women as they exercise to Latin music and tries to eat the tacos, stuffed avocados and salad with a fork.

Spanish is the primary language of the class, and Delvalle only switches to English if there is someone who doesn’t speak Spanish in the room. During class, the women share information about foods from their respective countries. They talk about how to make a traditional Dominican drink called “Morir soñando”  (”to die dreaming”) more healthy by replacing evaporated milk with low-fat milk.  One woman brought in rolled tacos she made in Mexico, but this time with low-sodium cheese.

Delvalle stressed that healthy eating doesn’t mean overspending on organic food or drastically changing diet. Nutrition is all around, she said, it’s just a matter of using it in ways you like. She encouraged the mothers to buy fruits and vegetables, either fresh or in a can, and to put them in their favorite dishes. During the course, she handed out a recipe for quesadillas with low sodium cheese and broccoli, and a corn salad. Delvalle also reminded the women to wash the sodium off canned foods, and that juice was a good alternative to soda. “A 12 oz soda can has 10 teaspoons of sugar” she said.

Stuffed avocado from the healthy eating cooking class at Head Start preschool, in Bushwick Brooklyn

Compared to white Americans, African-American populations have a 51 percent higher prevalence of obesity and Hispanics a 21 percent higher prevalence, according to a recent study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. These two demographic groups are at a higher genetic risk for adult onset diabetes as well; 11.8 percent of African-Americans and 10.4 percent of Hispanics over the age of 20 are diagnosed with diabetes compared with 6.6 percent of white Americans, according to 2004-2006 national survey data compiled by the CDC.

Obesity puts an individual at a higher risk for diabetes, and diabetes is further exacerbated by unhealthy eating. People with excess body fat around their waist — especially those who have an apple shaped body outline rather than a pear shape – can become insulin resistant. Diabetes prevents insulin from efficiently converting sugar in the blood into energy. This is particularly a problem for foods that raise the sugar level in the blood quickly, such as white bread and sugary sweets. Over time, diabetes results in damaged blood vessels and increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. High blood pressure also increases the risk for these same cardiovascular complications, so high sodium intake is also discouraged for those with diabetes.

Bringing people from similar cultural groups together over food can help them feel supported and share information. Dr.Carol Horowitz, a physician at Mount Sinai Medical Center in East Harlem, developed Help Educate to Eliminate Diabetes (HEED), community workshops that help people with pre-diabetes reduce their weight.

“Rather than us stereotyping a culture, we let people speak for themselves, creating a safe environment to tackle their biggest challenges,” said Dr. Horowitz through an e-mail. People lost weight and kept it off in HEED’s pilot workshops said Kasey Coyne, a research assistant at Mount Sinai Medical Center. The program teaches moderation rather than focusing on avoiding certain foods.

Dr. Catherine Vigran, a pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente, in Sacramento, Calif. said healthy eating “doesn’t have to be a message of self-denial. It’s about showing people that there is some possibility for change.” Dr. Vigran helped develop a Family Cooking Club in 2008 when she realized there was a need for nutrition classes for the Spanish-speaking parents of her patients.

Sonia Delvalle, center, teaches exercises at a healthy eating class at Head Start

The Noelli Center, a patient education program in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, held its first healthy soul food cooking class in October. The workshop, called Heart and Soul, targeted people looking to lose weight, with early diabetes and high blood pressure. Participants talked about nutrition and ate traditional soul foods such as collard greens, cabbage, and fried fish, prepared with less sodium, fat and cholesterol. They were also given recipes on how to make the dishes at home.

Dr. Asha Isable, who opened the Noelli Center this fall, takes the proactive approach when it comes to obesity and diabetes in her patients. “Most disease is preventable, so that is what needs to be addressed,” she said. The center focuses on providing health education for young professionals and college students of color, a demographic that Isable said is often overlooked by other nutrition programs that target low-income groups.

Dr. Isable said teaching people in their 20s and 30s nutrition is important because that is when they develop the eating and lifestyle habits they will carry with them through life and pass on to their children. She created the soul food nutrition events as a way for young professionals to socialize while learning to improve their diets.

Others are finding new ways to cook soul food as well. Evalina Irish Spencer is the training specialist for the nutrition branch of the Cornell University Cooperative Extension in Manhattan. She suggested substituting some of the white flour in cornbread for whole flour. And for dishes like collard greens, “try not to cook the greens until they look like a lump,” she said, “try to cook them so they remain crisp and green.” In many health recipes, collard greens are cooked with turkey neck or olive oil rather than fat back from a pig to reduce the sodium and fat content.

Especially inventive recipes are able to turn infamous dishes like fried chicken into a nutritious meal. Lindsey Williams, author of “Neo-Soul, Taking Soul Food to a Whole ‘Notha Level,” suggests coating chicken in yoghurt and then rolling it in Rice Crispies and oregano to give it a crunch before popping it in the oven. It’s like fried chicken without the grease, he said.

Another alternative suggested by many nutritionists is replacing salt with fresh herbs. This reduces sodium and increases flavor. Gina Puzzanghera suggests this to the students in her cooking classes in East Harlem, where 62 percent of the population is overweight or obese. The area also has the densest concentration of diabetes of any area in New York City.

Puzzanghera opened Nourishing Kitchen, a small nutritionally based soup kitchen, in 2007 and currently teaches people of all ages healthy cooking.  As she oversaw the preparation of jerk chicken for the week’s free hot meal, Puzzanghera explained that she never uses white flour or white sugar in her recipes. “It’s great to give people food that won’t give people a diabetic seizure,” she said.

Irish-Spencer, the nutritionist from Cornell, said that food plays an important factor in feeling connected to a culture. Cuisine can also play a role in understanding other cultures, she said. Irish-Spencer is particularly excited about cooking classes with people from mixed cultural backgrounds. She points to the love of mangos in Caribbean cultures, and how it’s fun for people to realize that mangos actually come from China. “We think we are so different,” Irish Spencer said, “but we can share and enjoy other people’s foods.” The Hispanic women at the Head Start class in Brooklyn all had the same favorite dish: healthy Chinese fried rice.

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Athletes mind their diets as they age

Peter May, 48, ran the New York City Marathon in about four and a half hours. Nov. 1, 2009. (Photo: Daniel Woolfolk)

Peter May, 48, ran the New York City Marathon in about four and a half hours. Nov. 1, 2009. (Photo: Daniel Woolfolk)

Peter May walked down the street to his apartment in Chelsea wearing a metallic marathon cape, shorts, a medal and a huge smile, the kind of smile a 48-year-old man would have right after running the New York City Marathon.   He ran it in four and a half hours.
For the past 20 years, he’s been running “sometimes serious, sometimes not so serious,”  And the past two years have been serious.
“In order to do this race, I really, really had to focus on my diet,” said the Sydney, Australia, native who works in New York as an accountant. The bean counter doesn’t count calories, but he has been watching his portions. “I had to drop a few pounds as well so I can do the race,” he said.
That’s one of the biggest challenges to athletes as they age, said registered dietitian Marissa Lippert.  For every decade  after 30, a person loses 1 to 2 percent of their rate of metabolism, she said.
Another big challenge is calcium, Lippert said.  As athletes age, they become more prone to broken bones. It is especially true in women.
That’s why Carl Taeusch, 64, eats yogurt every night with his wife, Chizuko, 64.  He also takes calcium supplements.   The lifelong rower gets on the water about three times a week with the New York Rowing Association on the Harlem River during the warm season.  As it gets colder, he rows indoors and at the gym.
This type of physical activity can take a toll on a person’s body over time, Lippert said, so the body needs to recover.  A well-balanced meal with plenty of whole grains is the way to do that.
Taeusch is very aware of what he eats, partly because he is a borderline diabetic.  He’s the athlete, but his wife takes care of the diet.  She meticulously plans his meals and makes sure there is always water on the table.
When he’s not running, May eats a lot of fish and chicken combined with “really good veggies” such as broccoli and carrots.  He makes sure to eat brown rice, which is whole grain.
Aside from limiting his sugar, May’s diet hasn’t changed a whole lot in the past two decades.
“The big change is about awareness really,” he said. “I just wasn’t really aware of what I was eating 20 years ago.”
That’s typical, according to Lippert, the dietitian.
“At that age, most of us are more cognizant to what we put on our plate,” she said.
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Kolache: The ‘next bagel’ hits New York

 Into this boom-and-bust cycle steps Kolache Mama. Mama who? The mother of Czech baked goods

Kolache Mama offers the mother of Czech baked goods in flavors mom never thought of. (Photo: Richard Saler)


Empanada Joes has come and gone, Krispy Kreme has almost disappeared and Tasty Delight could face a freeze in sales once fans of frozen yogurt welcome winter. Into this boom-and-bust cycle steps Kolache Mama. Mama who?

Kolache, the mother of Czech baked goods (pronounced co-LAH-chee) was originally a sweet dessert, but not exactly a pastry. Over the years Czech communities in America began making kolache in areas with large European populations. The buttery yet light dough was filled with traditional fruit fillings, like raspberry or apricot, and cheeses before being tried with heartier options, like hams or eggs, around Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska or Minnesota. Kolache became a snack or breakfast option.

But now a Houston entrepreneur has decided to introduce the kolache to New Yorkers, hoping to make it the next bagel.

“Bagels started with an ethnicity group and are now across the board,” said Richard Saler, CEO and director of Kolache Mama, the franchise that will sell kolache. “We feel we can popularize the kolache like bagels because people don’t know what it is, we have so many options to eat them and alone are only 25 calories.” As for appealing to a New York audience, he said, “We chose New York to start the business because if you make it here, you’ve made it.”

Pronounced co-LAH-chee, it was originally only a sweet desert but not exactly a pastry.

Originally only a sweet dessert, kolache are now offered in savory versions as well. (Photo: Richard Saler)

Saler, who was born in Philadelphia but has lived in Houston for several years, tried kolache in a small Texas shop when his son-in-law suggested them. After tasting the hard-to-describe treat, he was hooked. He noticed that even if vendors tested different fillings kolache were still seen as a breakfast or dessert-only food.

For two years, he did research and development to see if there could be a market outside of Czech communities and invested over $150,000 to develop a business plan. On Sept. 30 the first New York Kolache Mama store opened at 45 E. 45 St., and others are planned for 34th Street, Washington, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago.

“Our products are fresh and we have vegetarian, lunch, snack and other options at an accessible price,” Saler said. “We are not selling kolache as the new ethnic food but a new food option, and we’re not selling it as just a breakfast item either.”

With little over 8,000 Czechs in New York City, Saler will definitely have to appeal to people who know nothing of his product and can judge it on its taste alone. During the store opening, the hot pink logo and the smell of baked bread reeled a few of them in. When presented with a hand-sized baked something filled with one of the more than 20 options for $2.99, their taste buds and price-conscious minds seemed to like what Kolache Mama offers.

“It was thrilling to have my first kolache,” said Annie Hu, who tried the food on opening day.  “The dough is delicious and the fillings were tasty. For under $5 you can get a kolache and a cup of coffee. It’s worth the price.”

Saler recruited a “culinary team” to develop a menu for his kolache, including Christopher Lampo, a 1989 honors graduate of the Culinary Institute of America; David James, chef de cuisine; Jocelyn Jones, a pastry chef; and Christine Campbell. The business will also offer catering and has partnered with City Harvest, a city food bank, to pick up unsold food each day and to receive a donated percentage of sales.

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Ed Koch on eating your way to Gracie Mansion

Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch is back to work at his Manhattan office near Times Square after undergoing a quadruple bypass surgery in June. (Photo: Daniel Woolfolk)

Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch is back to work at his Manhattan office near Times Square after undergoing a quadruple bypass surgery in June. (Photo: Daniel Woolfolk)


In time-honored New York style, the mayoral candidates are eating their way to the campaign finish line.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is leading the charge, racking up votes with hot dogs at Nathan’s, a second helping of pickles at the Queens County Fair and even a “Mike Bloomberg sandwich” at Lioni’s Italian Heroes in Bensonhurst. “Next time, put some hot peppers on it!” was the incumbent’s verdict on the pastrami, mozzarella and mustard sandwich.

But shrewd as Bloomberg is, few know their way to New York’s heart through its stomach — or enjoyed getting there as much – as well as Ed Koch, New York’s mayor from 1977 to 1989.

“Not as many politicians enjoyed food as much as Ed,” says Koch’s former press secretary and former New York Post political writer George Arzt. “He ate a lot more than Bloomberg does.”

Bill Richardson attempts to scarf some votes at The Varsity restaurant in Atlanta during the Democratic primaries.  Oct. 5, 2007. (Photo: Mike Schinkel)

Bill Richardson attempts to scarf some votes at The Varsity restaurant in Atlanta during the Democratic primaries. Oct. 5, 2007. (Photo: Mike Schinkel)

For Koch, eating on the campaign trail, whether stopping at a street vendor or taking a slice of pizza offered by a local shop owner – and always smiling for the cameras – was not just about scoring votes. It was about being polite.

“You’re there, you’re campaigning and if someone offers you a pizza, to turn it down is plain rude and stupid,” says Koch, now 84, in his Midtown office at law firm Bryan Cave. It was also simply about eating.

A gourmand who these days twirls capellini pasta at high-end diners like the West Village’s Il Mulino and Trattoria Dell’arte on Seventh Avenue, Koch says he relished the pizza, deli sandwiches and hot dogs “with the real casing” that he ate while campaigning for mayor in 1977, 1981 and 1985.

Unlike some candidates, who may discreetly pass half-eaten knishes or pizza slices off to an aide before moving on to the next photo op, Koch boasts: “I ate the whole thing.”

It was a way of showing respect to voters, says Koch. “People want to show their community at its best,” he says. “The best and quickest way to do that is by offering some food that the community feels especially proud of.”

Joyce Purnick, who covered New York politics for 35 years for the New York Post and New York Times, agrees with Koch’s food philosophy. She says it’s particularly important for politicians to have a big appetite in the Big Apple.

“Favorite dishes are a matter of ethnic pride, or even regional identity in the politics of New York,” says Purnick, over the telephone. “It could be pizzas with Italians, burritos for Latinos or the hot dogs from Nathan’s. We all grow up eating certain foods on certain holidays and it’s very much a part of our culture.”

Former White House chef Walter Scheib, who served Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush from 1994-2005, puts it more bluntly. “You want a political debacle, turn down a regional specialty and watch the fallout from that one. It’s just like kissing babies: You’ve got to do it.”

Koch says he never turned down a meal on the campaign trail. Running for governor in 1982 against Mario Cuomo, whom he beat out for mayor in 1977, he was asked to milk a cow in upstate New York. He was then asked to drink the milk. He did.

“Milk directly from a cow is not so good because it’s hot,” says Koch. “I like cold milk, but not direct from the cow. You just try not to show discomfort.”

His discomfort did show once, but not while campaigning. At a Bedouin feast he attended traveling between the Sinai desert and Israel, Koch was given sheep’s eyes, a local delicacy. “You’d take it and then secretly throw it over your shoulder,” he says. “The eye looks at you – very intimidating.”

Koch’s enthusiasm for food photo ops back home sometimes worried press secretary Arzt, particularly at dessert time. “You have to beware of chewing on camera, you have to beware of getting chocolate all over your face, you want the less messy foods when you’re going out,” says Arzt.

But Arzt says that the greater danger for politicians at food stops is the people they’re eating with. When a person approaches a hot-dog-chewing politician for a photograph, Arzt says, “The one thing that goes through the aides’ minds is, ‘Is the guy part of the mob?’”

To ensure he wasn’t snapped with a mobster, Koch would joke with anyone approaching, asking them to raise their right hands and swear they weren’t “a member of la Cosa Nostra.”

Eating your way to power can be more dangerous still for out-of-towners, as South Dakota Sen. George McGovern discovered while campaigning in New York for the 1972 Democratic presidential primary. McGovern ordered a kosher hot dog from a street vendor in Queens, along with a glass of milk. The Jewish community he was courting slammed him for the non-kosher combination.

More recently, President Obama was mocked by conservative pundits when he ordered a cheeseburger with spicy or Dijon mustard at an independent burger joint in Arlington, Va. Sean Hannity teased on Fox News, “I hope you enjoyed that fancy burger, Mr. President.”

Between photo-op pizzas, burgers and an on-the-run campaign diet of hot dogs, takeout, ice cream and soda, Koch struggled with his weight while in office. “It’s always easy to put on weight when you’re campaigning and eating junk food,” he says.

After his quadruple bypass surgery, Former NYC Mayor Ed Koch is 4.5 pounds into a 10-pound doctor-mandated weight gain. (Photo: Daniel Woolfolk)

After his quadruple bypass surgery, Former NYC Mayor Ed Koch is 4.5 pounds into a 10-pound doctor-mandated weight gain. (Photo: Daniel Woolfolk)

Scheib, who as White House chef fed Hilary Clinton and Laura Bush, says the photo-op foods and gala dinners, sometimes 5 or 6 meals a day, also

took a toll on the first ladies. “They were thrilled just to get back to the White House and get back on a more low-cal nutritional diet, get their vegetables, lettuces and soups back in,” he says. “They’d come back off the campaign trail and get into a purge type of thing to get ready for the next wave of all this food.”

Since leaving office, Koch has used the private gym at Rockefeller Center most mornings to manage his weight and is comfortable giving advice to others on staying in shape. Visiting Ariel Sharon at his home in the Negev, in southern Israel, he told the former Israeli prime minister, “You’re getting too fat and you’re going to die prematurely.”

“He said, ‘I hardly eat,’” Koch recalls. “And, of course, that wasn’t true; he ate like a horse. He came to Gracie Mansion, where I lived, and he ate off everybody’s plate. I was amazed.”

But Koch himself has not been dieting lately.

From June to July, the former mayor spent five weeks in the intensive care unit of New York Presbyterian Hospital, where he underwent quadruple bypass surgery and had his aortic valve replaced. Slimmer than he’s ever looked, with suspenders holding up too-large pants, the older, more somber man than most New Yorkers remember, says he does not need to worry about what he eats for now.

“It was touch and go because of complications,” he says of the surgery. “I lost 26 pounds in the hospital and the doctor said that until I gain 10 pounds I was under no restriction. I left the hospital at the end of July and I’ve only gained back about four and a half pounds. I have six more pounds to go, during which period I can eat whatever I want.”

Ever the New York politician, Koch thanked the team of 20 hospital staffers who worked on him with a food stop worthy of a thousand Post flashbulbs – a dinner at Brooklyn’s 120-year-old Peter Luger Steak House.

He ordered a slab of steak, medium rare, and told his guests, “If any of you order anything other than steak, I am going to make it public.”

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Renting kitchens gives entrepreneurs a chance of success

Aspiring food entrepreneurs can rent a professional kitchen to start their business. Photo credit: Isabelle Schäfer

Aspiring food entrepreneurs can rent a professional kitchen to start their business. (Photo: Isabelle Schäfer)


“I started baking brownies while running through the lines of my acting performances,” says Laura Siner, sitting in her favorite bakery in Midtown Manhattan and eating a blueberry muffin. The freshly married freelance financial consultant and actress started her brownie business two years ago.

At first baking was just a way of getting away from work, but she says she quickly realized she could do more with it. She brought her extra brownies to her theater and they sold during intermissions. “People would save room for their intermission brownie and would be really disappointed if I hadn’t baked any,” Siner says.

The Columbia business school alum started thinking about branding, packaging and different flavors. But the first big obstacle she faced was to find a kitchen where she could bake her brownies. “There are all sorts of licenses you need and you have to get checked by an inspector,” the young baker explains.

She found a solution in Kathrine Gregory’s company “Mi Kitchen es su Kitchen.”  Since 1996, the experienced restaurant manager has given aspiring food manufacturers the opportunity to rent a kitchen where they can start their business.

“Years ago I was mentoring for free two young girls who wanted to enter the catering business,” Gregory says. “I realized they needed a kitchen to achieve their goals.” When she asked restaurant owners if they would rent out their kitchens, she got not one positive response. “I saw there was a great necessity,” she says.

Now she offers professional kitchen leases that the clients can use with a flexible time schedule. They then can legally produce and sell their products. The service includes the inspections needed to be able to start a business in the food world.

Since the economic downturn, the demand has risen. “I get more and more calls from people interested in starting a new business,” Gregory says.

She says she is the only company in New York City that offers such a service to aspiring entrepreneurs.  She has partnerships with three locations throughout town. For someone like Laura Siner, she recommends the smaller kitchen on 35th Street and Eighth Avenue in Manhattan. “It’s more comfortable for baking pastries,” Gregory says.

The location belongs to Jon Chazen. The tall man, dressed in a dark blue shirt and jeans, oversees from his desk the whole 1,400 square feet kitchen space. Tin boxes full of cookies lie on one side of the table, while a watermelon-sized batch of cookie dough is waiting to be processed on the other side. The smell lingers in the air.

“I rent out my kitchen because I want to give back to other bakers,” Chazen says. He was selling shoes at Barney’s when he decided to start his cookie company, “Dough Ray Me.” At the beginning, a friend who owned a restaurant let him use his prep kitchen. Now he says he wants to do the same thing. He has been renting out his space through “Mi Kitchen es su Kitchen” for a year.

He is not concerned about the recession or about helping potential competitors. “There are still lots of opportunities in the food business. You have to help each other. More competition means more people interested in your product, so more clients,” Chazen says.

For $285, it is possible to use the place for a day, with a kitchen assistant included. The room has two ovens, a fridge, a freezer and mixers. “It’s not very big, but you can bake quite a lot in here,” Chazen says.

Laura Siner comes to Chazen’s kitchen when she needs to, which is once or twice a month. She mostly sells online, for weddings and theaters. Her specialty is including one of about 700 quotations in each brownie, most about art. To advertise herself, she organizes online flavor contests, where people can send her new recipe ideas. The winners get a brownie named after them and free samples. “I got much more entries than I thought I would have,” Siner says.

Every month she creates a new special brownie. During September, she proposes a “Cappuccino” flavor. One of her brownies cost about $3, but she offers a variety of brownie boxes that can go from two items for $8.50 to a box to a large brownie tray with 92 brownies for $59. “As the money comes, I take the next step,” Siner says. Eventually, she wants to open her own brownie bakery. “That will be scary,” she admits. She is looking at the area south of 42nd Street, because new theaters are opening there and the rents are reasonable.

But until then, she will continue renting the kitchen. And ponder on her favorite brownie quote by May Sarton, which she says she has pinned near her desk at home: “Each day, and the living of it, has to be a conscious creation in which discipline and order are relieved with some play and pure foolishness.”

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GoMobo looks to expand online, on-the-go food ordering


Noah Glass, 28, founder of GoMobo. The company is looking to expand its services to 2,000 restaurants this coming year.

Noah Glass, 28, founder of GoMobo. The company is looking to expand its services to 2,000 restaurants this coming year. (Photo: Vadim Lavrusik)

When Noah Glass worked on Wall Street, he would line up with hundreds of other professionals and wait for what seemed like an eternity to get his morning coffee. Frustrated, he wondered what it would be like to skip the line by ordering in advance.

In fact, he was willing to put off going to Harvard Business School to pursue the idea.

Glass, 28, now runs GoMobo, a company that allows customers of some 500 restaurants to skip the line by ordering through a text message, online or a mobile application. You can even order for delivery from those restaurants.

“The idea really came from my own consumer frustration,” Glass said. “Cutting out the wait in getting your food.”

The site is just one of several popular Web sites such as grubhub.com, seamlessweb.com, delivery.com, that cater to people who want food quickly. GoMobo, however, sets itself apart by offering multiple options to order food for take out or delivery. And after founding GoMobo in 2005, Glass said the company expects the number of restaurants using GoMobo to increase to more than 1,000 by year’s end and a revenue of $10 million for 2010.

That money comes from fees GoMobo charges for its services. For chain restaurants, GoMobo charges a flat daily fee of $2 to $5 per store, depending on whether the restaurant signs up for marketing services. For individual restaurants, GoMobo gets 10 percent of the transaction. So what’s in it for restaurants?

David Fellows, director of product development, works at the GoMobo headquarters in SoHo Monday. Fellows has been with the young company for three years.

David Fellows, director of product development, at the GoMobo headquarters in SoHo. Fellows has been with the young company for three years. (Photo: Vadim Lavrusik)

A potential increase in customers who might not have ordered from the restaurant during, say, their lunch hour, if it weren’t for the convenience and speed of using GoMobo.

Dallas BBQ tested the service at its Chelsea location in August and received roughly 100 orders through GoMobo, according to Sarah Haman, account executive at SHARPLEFT marketing agency. And in September, that number jumped to 150 orders, Haman said.

They are now rolling out the service to multiple locations and are about to launch a separate Web site that GoMobo customizes for restaurants’ online ordering services. She said the restaurant has a heavy takeout business, which is why she thinks the service has been successful.

“Almost any restaurant that has a successful takeout business will be successful with online ordering,” Haman said. “With so many New Yorkers ordering delivery and takeout, this makes it even easier.”

But the service isn’t gaining traction just in New York. With the exception of the Dakotas, Glass said, the company has restaurants in all of the states. But it is more popular in urban areas, he said.

James Harrington, 56, was dropping into a SUBWAY — one of GoMobo’s clients in the Upper West Side — during his lunch break on Thursday. Harrington said he has never used GoMobo, but often uses other online ordering services, especially with pizza ordering.

Harrington, whose son, Asante Samuels, plays for the Philadelphia Eagles, said, “It’s convenient, especially now that the football season has started. But other times you just want to go to the place because you want to go for a walk.”

Cutting the time spent in waiting isn’t just a boon for the customers.

Noah Glass gives suggestions on GoMobo's Web site redesign to Mike Hirst, creative director. The company is looking to release a fresh look for its site.

Noah Glass gives suggestions on GoMobo's Web site redesign to Mike Hirst, creative director. The company is looking to release a fresh look for its site. (Photo: Vadim Lavrusik)

Tahir Siddiqui, general manager of several SUBWAY stores in Manhattan, said they have been able to cut some of the time spent on labor and increase the number of people coming through the store. It makes the process much more efficient, he said. More people per hour means more revenue.

Siddiqui said they get a lot of online orders during the lunch hours on weekdays; people trying to save some time on their breaks.

“I think that people eventually will use this more,” he said.

He also said a majority of the time the service is very accurate in the timing of the order coming in and the customer arriving.

The Web site uses an algorithm to determine what Glass calls the “go time,” or the estimated amount of time it would take to prepare the order at any given time of day. This is based on various factors like how long it would take you to get to the restaurant, how big the order is, number of customers before you, and more. The aim is to get the order ready for you just before you arrive.

Glass said he is aiming to take this one step further. The company is working on incorporating a GPS element so that customers can order on-the-go.

“For now, we’re just trying to focus on developing our current services to more clients,” he said.

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New Yorkers get a taste of Italy at the Feast of San Gennaro


The Feast of San Gennaro in 2007.  Bonnie Natko via Flickr.

The Feast of San Gennaro in 2007. (Photo: Bonnie Natko/Flickr under Creative Commons license)

The famous Mulberry Street is full of games, rides and especially food this week.  There’s even a clown in a dunk tank who, if he doesn’t insult you, might insult your mother.  If your anger and aim holds you through, you can drop him into the water tank.

This is part of the 82nd annual Feast of San Gennaro in Little Italy’s Mulberry Street between Canal and Houston Streets.

More than 1.5 million people are expected to show up during the 10 days of the festival, said Mort Berkowitz, who is running the event.  He estimates about 20,000 people could be at the event at any given time.

One of those people was Anne Grardi. She has white hair and a cane.  She was dancing on the sidewalk on Sunday night with some of her friends to an oldies cover band, Johnny and the Raybands. She was no Fred Astaire with that cane, but she really enjoyed the music at the festival. “We saw a nice little Spanish guy do Frank Sinatra,” she said. “He had the whole crowd standing.”

She had eaten sausage and peppers as well as zeppoles at Sofia’s on Mulberry Street and said the restaurant was surprisingly empty this year — it was standing room only last year.  And even though she noted seeing fewer people, she said she still gets to do one of her favorite festival activities: people watching.

People have been watching people since it began since it began in its first feast in 1926. It had been only a one-day event until 1996, said Chick Pallotta, who has been showing a 10-minute video explaining the history of San Gennaro at the Most Precious Blood Church.  The church has a shrine to San Gennaro,  who served as Bishop of Naples in the second cenury A.D.

And it is just as much about food as it has ever been.

Vincent “Cuzzin Vinny” Patuto sells braciole at the festival and, with his loud raspy voice, makes sure anyone within earshot of his stand knows it.  He said there were about the same amount of people as other years, but fewer people buying his braciole because of the economy.  He should know: he started attending the event about 56 years ago as an 8-year-old and started as a vendor 15 years ago.  He also sells sausages but makes his money selling the bracioles.

“We have not been declared the king of the sausage,” he said. “But we have been declared the king of the braciole.”

He said he’s OK with not being the king of the sausage.

Nick Gennaro Petronella didn’t have either, but the skinny high-school junior did have calzones, potato croquetes, mozzerella pies “and, of course, I had  zeppoles,” he said.

And he wasn’t much of a picky eater.

“I had everything I could find,” he said. “Everything was slamming.”

Julian Armstrong was a little more selective.  The seventh-grader had been there an hour and had a funnel cake, which he said was “good and sweet and fluffy and very appetizing.”

Julian wanted to try brisket, but his mom didn’t let him.

“We had enough to eat already previously before we came here,” she said.

Food wasn’t Julian’s sole objective at the festival.  He had played some of the games and had won a small white teddy bear keychain.  He wasn’t sure if he was going to try his hand with any more game tickets.

“It’s all up to my mom if she wants to buy me any,” he said with a smirk, making sure to check her reaction.

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