Sep 13, 2021

Flatiron Faces: Eva Julia Grubler, Director, Dharma Yoga Center

Meet Eva Julia Grubler, Director of Dharma Yoga Center located at 46 West 24th Street, near Sixth Avenue, in the Flatiron District. “We teach you how to stay youthful, positive, calm, and happy,” says Grubler, who also studied dance with Alvin Ailey, appeared as a principal dancer in the 1980 film Fame, and has been with the Dharma Yoga Center since 1990. She adds about sessions at the center, “I forgot to mention every class ends with deep relaxation–that does the trick!” 

1. Dharma Yoga Center is one of New York City’s oldest yoga centers and defines itself as “a pathway to radiant health, well-being, and inner peace.” Tell us more!

Dharma Yoga Center had some early incarnations in New York City in the 1970s. Sri Dharma Mittra, the head and main teacher of the school, had come to New York City in the 1960s from Brazil to study with a guru from India that his brother had already met. The man who was to become the guru of Dharma Mittra was Swami Kailashananda, a.k.a. Yogi Gupta. He arrived in the United States in the 1950s to bring health-giving natural methods and techniques of yoga to the American people. In those days, there was really almost no yoga in the United States. Sri Dharma went into intensive training with the guru, and when the guru opened a school in Midtown East, Sri Dharma helped in all ways at the school, as well as teaching daily posture classes and running its early live juice bar in Manhattan.

2. You’ve been the center’s director since 1990. Briefly describe your role, specialties, and what aspect of the job excites you most. What’s your overall mission as a yoga instructor?

I basically do all the needs and aspects of our center. From keeping it clean, organized and beautiful, delegating tasks, managing staff, and teachers, to making sure we have an awesome ongoing class schedule, and supporting and promoting one of the most important things we do, training new teachers!

3. Dharma currently offers live streaming and in-person sessions for vaccinated individuals. What are any ongoing business challenges faced by the center and how are they managed by your team?  

Getting everything set up was quite a feat, especially early on when we had to figure out and purchase all the electronic equipment for sound, video, and computer monitors, both for at the center and teachers who were no longer local. Thanks to some amazing people on my staff, we did it, and we did it well! We have always been a seven-day-a-week school, and we never missed a beat. Now that we are open with live classes and continuing on Zoom, our challenge is having people come back to class at the center. We have always had an international community regularly coming to New York City, so of course, that is no longer happening.

4. What was your experience like overcoming pandemic-related obstacles over the past year and a half?

It truly has not been easy, and we take everything very seriously. We always follow all city and state guidelines. We were basically closed as a live center, and when we were legally allowed to open a few months ago, we did a thorough cleaning of every corner of the center and air filtration system. We regularly clean between all classes as well.

 5. What are some of the physical and mental benefits of practicing yoga?

The benefits now realized finally by so many are number one, intoxicating your body with the life force - breath! Something most people never even think about on a daily basis. Breath activates our entire body and all systems. There are many special ancient breathing techniques in yoga that we teach. Some align with the physical body postures that keep your bones, muscles, and tendons strong and elastic at the same time. 

6. You have a background in choreography and modern dance. What led you to pursue a career in yoga? For those considering this field, what professional advice can you share?

Yes, I was a scholarship kid at Alvin Ailey when he was alive, at a church he had on East 59th with Pearl Lang in the 1970s. I also danced with Louis Falco at 61 West 24th Street, down the block from the center, kind of before it was called the Flatiron District. It was pretty grungy then. I was also a principal dancer in the film Fame. I am very happy to have been part of the dance world of the 70s and 80s of New York City for sure; there was nothing like it. After some minor dance injuries, I had turned to yoga as a more peaceful and connected way to move. That you can relax while holding still or moving is so beneficial for the body. You have time to clear your mind and body of the external world, all the noise and the restlessness, and start to connect within. 

A career in yoga is likely one of the best professions in the world today. It keeps you healthy as you support others in becoming healthy. Our Life of a Yogi Teacher Training program that I started in 1999 is all about sharing love and knowledge with others. We have trained thousands of Dharma Yoga teachers worldwide. Being a yoga teacher or a Dharma Yoga instructor can be part-time, and you can still have whatever career you’re trained in. The most important aspect is the desire to help and serve others!

7. What do you love most about the Flatiron District? When you’re not at the Dharma Yoga Center, how do you like to spend your time in the neighborhood?  

I lived in the West Village in the 70s, East Village in the 80s, Gramercy/Stuyvesant Town in the 90s, and the Dharma Yoga Center also has moved in a similar direction. Most recently, we were around the corner in a huge space at 61 West 23rd Street for 10 years until the building was sold. So I would say it's been part of my neighborhood for years now. Good stuff in the area? Madison Square Park only gets better, and they have a great dog and kids park and art exhibitions.

Eataly has been a lovely addition to the area, and now they have most of the street, too, just like in Italy. A lot more European, like outdoor seating in the middle of what was recently the street. Trader Joe’s–needed! And by Chloe., Bite, and my fav Taïm (I’ve been to the ones in Tel Aviv, too). Sadly, some good vegan places have closed, so I can't mention them anymore. And I frequent what’s left of the Flower District area. 

8. Finally, choose three words to describe the Flatiron District.

Cool. Open Sky. Walkable. 

May 13, 2021

Flatiron Faces: Connie Chung, Co-Founder & Chef, Milu

Meet Chef Connie Chung, who co-founded Milu, a fast-casual Chinese restaurant, with business partners Vincent Chao and Milan Sekulic. Located at 333 Park Avenue South, between 24th and 25th Streets, Chung says the restaurant finds its “culinary inspiration from traditional Chinese dishes, as opposed to Chinese American dishes.” Milu made its debut in the fall of 2020 and has since earned rave reviews from Eater New York, The New Yorker, and Grub Street and landed spots on Condé Nast Traveler’s “the best new restaurants in New York to eat in now” and Eater New York's "15 Exciting New Restaurants Open in Manhattan." 

1. Briefly describe Milu and your roles as Chef and Co-Founder. What aspect of your job excites you most?

Milu is a casual restaurant serving modern Chinese cuisine. As Chef and Co-Founder, I develop the menu and oversee daily operations. The most exciting part of my job, by far, is being able to have more control over the menu than ever before in any previous job. There are obviously constraints within the cuisine/concept of the restaurant but this is the first instance where, creatively, I have final say over the menu.

2. Tell us about your proudest moment at Milu.

On our opening day, we were welcomed to the neighborhood with overwhelming support. So much so that we were wholly unprepared for it! We were not staffed to be so busy and, to top it off, we ran out of food and had to close early. It was a humbling moment, from a kitchen and operational perspective. It’s never nice to have to turn people away. But at the same time, it was a wonderful moment to know that people were interested in what we were doing. What’s even better is people came back after all that, which is amazing!

3. What are your menu recommendations, and what makes these dishes a “must-try”?

For lack of a better word, our “signature” dish is the Mandarin Duck. Duck is my favorite protein, so I knew it had to have a place on the menu. We do duck leg confit so you get all the richness and flavor of duck meat with nice, crispy skin. And then we serve it with duck fat rice, an indulgent alternative to plain white rice. If you’re looking for something lighter, the salmon is really great, and pretty unique. We poach the salmon in soy, so it’s always moist and tender. And we serve it with broccoli dressed in a yuzu cilantro vinaigrette which is really bright and refreshing.

4. When developing a new dish, what are you passionate about in its creation? Where do you draw inspiration from?

In general, I try to pick a specific dish from traditional Chinese cuisine, such as Hainanese chicken rice or Cantonese steamed whole fish, for inspiration for the flavor profile. But when it comes to execution and technique, I pull a lot from my background in Western kitchens, like duck confit or slow poached fish. But at the end of the day, the most important thing is for the dish to be delicious. Not just, “yeah that’s good” delicious, but in your face, “wow that’s good, I want more” delicious.

5. Milu opened its doors in October 2020. What was your experience like opening a restaurant during the pandemic?

It definitely had its challenges but there were also some pluses. Obviously, volume of business was drastically reduced from the original intention, so we had to pare down everything, including the menu. We also had to get creative and try to create other outlets for revenue, like our pantry section. But as a positive, we were lucky enough to hire some really talented individuals who were quite suddenly unemployed due to the multiple restaurant closures. And while having fewer customers than originally intended is never good from a business perspective, it did give us an opportunity to iron out a lot of opening snafus and early growing pains with the reduced volume. Almost like a several months-long soft opening!

6. You were a line cook at Eleven Madison Park, and then became Director of Culinary Projects for Make It Nice Hospitality, the team that oversees development for EMP and NoMad restaurant. What major lessons did you take away from these experiences?

Organization and structure are incredibly helpful tools. Restaurant life is full of unexpected challenges–when your vendor shorts you a product you really need, when a party of 10 guests arrives 5 minutes before closing. There’s only so much you can do for such occasions. But all of that will be much less challenging if you are properly organized. A good prep list goes a long way.

7. You also earned an undergraduate degree in chemical biology. What led you to pursue a culinary arts career and is there any connection with your background in science?

I think I was about in my junior year when I realized that chemical biology wasn’t for me. I started cooking at a relatively young age, helping at least once a week with family dinner. In college, my roommate and I would throw dinner parties for our friends, not necessarily for any given occasion, just for fun. And we both really enjoyed it. I think that is what really inspired me to pursue a restaurant career. I think chemistry and cooking do have a lot in common–putting things together in different ways to create something new, to oversimplify. But maybe, I think, it was my underlying interest in cooking that pushed me to pursue chemistry rather than the other way around.

8. For those aspiring to become a chef, what professional advice can you offer?

Pay attention to everything around you. Listen to what you are told and what you are taught, of course, but also, look at what’s going on around you. If you can pick up what your station partner is doing, without being directly taught or told, you will be that much more valuable, and learn that much faster. Also, don’t just blindly do what you are told. Ask why. Not to challenge, but to understand the reasoning behind each task.

9. You chose to open Milu in the Flatiron District. What do you enjoy most about the neighborhood?

Honestly, this is the only neighborhood I have ever worked in in NYC so it’s kind of like “home” to me. Obviously, Madison Square Park is awesome and I love all of the programs that go on there. I still remember the art installation that was up when I first moved to NYC– the one where there were sculptures of a man all over the park and the surrounding buildings. Very cool. But there’s also just so much in the area–shops, restaurants–all you want and need!

10. When you’re not in the kitchen, how do you like to spend your time?

With my family, for sure. I spend so much time in the restaurant, and my husband works in a kitchen as well. So the little time that we have off at the same time is very precious to us.

11. Besides having a meal at Milu, where else do you like to grab a bite to eat in the neighborhood? Do you have a go-to dish?

I used to absolutely love getting a Cuban at Sophie’s Cuban Cuisine on 23rd Street. So bummed that that location closed. So good, and that green sauce! I also love Bourke Street Bakery on 28th Street. All their baked goods are incredible!

12. Finally, choose three words to describe the Flatiron District.

Energetic. Eclectic. Fun.

Milu, 333 Park Ave South Between East 24th Street and East 25th Street, (212) 377-6403, @eatmilu, Open Monday - Saturday, 11 am - 9 pm

Photo Credit: Evan Sung.

Apr 6, 2021

Flatiron Faces: Cindy Kim, Co-Founder, Silver Mirror Facial Bar

Meet Cindy Kim, who co-founded with business partner Matt Maroone, Silver Mirror Facial Bar. Located at 20 West 22nd Street, Silver Mirror provides unique and customized skincare treatments and offers discount membership deals and gift cards. “Our philosophy,” says Kim, “is that skincare should be accessible, affordable, effective, and fun.”

1. Briefly describe Silver Mirror Facial Bar and your role as Co-Founder. What aspect of the job excites you most?

Silver Mirror Facial Bar is changing the way consumers think about, take care of, and maintain their skin. We view facials not as spa luxuries, but as results-driven skin treatments meant to improve your skin over the short and long term. We encourage our customers to embrace the concept of developing a plan and investing in their skin for a lasting, healthy, and beautiful complexion. Why? Because good skin takes consistent work. We say it’s just like going to the gym. You don’t see true results unless you work for it and keep at it.

I think the most exciting thing about being a Co-Founder and entrepreneur in this space is that there is not one day that is the same. I thrive on creating and building companies and problem-solving through issues, and with Silver Mirror there is never, ever a dearth of things to do, improve, fix, streamline, and work through. It keeps me on my toes!

 2.  What are the benefits of a Silver Mirror facial? What makes your facial bar stand out among others?

Silver Mirror facials are results-driven skincare treatments. At Silver Mirror, every facial is customized to each person’s unique skin condition and goals. We want to understand your skin and your concerns (we’re like skin detectives!), lay out an effective treatment, and then educate you about how to best take care of your skin at home because getting a facial is only one part of the solution to achieving healthy skin.

True to our results-driven values, every facial at Silver Mirror includes a professional exfoliation (chemical peels and/or enzymes), extractions, high frequency, customized serum infusion, and finishes with a vitamin-enriched oxygen treatment. All 50-minute facials include LED therapy. Many of these items are often expensive add-ons at other spas and facial bars, but we include them in the price of the facial. Our commitment to our customers is over the long run and we believe that the more we can invest in a client’s skin during each treatment, the faster and more effectively we will be able to help them reach their skincare goals.

3.  Which skincare treatments are favorites with customers, and which do you recommend most for the warmer weather ahead?

Our 50-minute Anti-Aging Facial and Acne-Fighting Facials continue to be our most popular facials across all of our stores. Every 50-minute facial at Silver Mirror includes a double professional exfoliation, extractions, serum infusion, LED therapy, and a vitamin-enriched oxygen treatment, so you’re really getting a packed treatment every single time.

When the weather gets warmer in NYC, we see many clients who come in with skin that has been overexposed to the sun, is dehydrated, sensitive, and congested from sweat, pollution, and sunscreen. Our Seasonal Hydrating Facial was specifically created to directly address these weather-related issues, so we recommend that one for the spring and summer ahead!

4. Are there any misconceptions around skincare that you can help clear up?

I find that a lot of people avoid delving into skincare because it can seem incredibly daunting and overwhelming. I’m here to say that it doesn’t have to be! Skincare is simple and effective if you approach it in a simple and effective way:

  • Identify 1-2 (and only 1-2) of your main skin concerns
  • Identify one main improvement you would like to see in your skin over the next 3 months
  • Continue using the basic skincare products that currently work for you, and look to incorporate 1-2 active products that will work to address your skincare concerns and help you reach that main short-term skincare goal

5.  For in-person appointments, describe the safety protocols in place for guests and staff.

We have invested heavily into ensuring the health and safety of all of our Silver Mirror guests and staff. We understand the gold star standards that we need to uphold in order to maintain the trust of our clients and our team.

Our facilities are disinfected with hospital-grade disinfectant continuously throughout the day. All stations, machines, tools, and products are thoroughly disinfected by our estheticians before, in-between, and after every single client. Our estheticians are required to wear a face mask, face shield, and gloves at all times while treating a client. We also have acrylic bed shields to place in between the esthetician and client should a client feel more comfortable with one.

We’ve also invested extensively in placing high-grade air filtration machines throughout each location. We stagger the stations that are in use in order to maintain 6-feet distance protocols. And we now ask guests to check-in for their appointment on their phone and to fill out their consent forms prior to entering Silver Mirror so that we maintain proper distancing at all times.

6.  Each season your business partners with a non-profit organization to send a portion of the proceeds from your Seasonal Facials to those in need. Tell us more about your giving back campaign.

At Silver Mirror, we are just as passionate about positive change in the world as we are about skincare. We have a special passion for education, healthcare, social justice, and women’s economic development opportunities. Each season we partner with a different non-profit to direct a portion of the proceeds of our Seasonal Facials to those in need.

This season we are proud to offer our Seasonal Defense facial that will be directing a portion of proceeds to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF). The NAACP LDF, a non-profit organization, is America's top legal firm fighting for racial justice and equality for all Americans. You can try out this timely facial and help support an incredible organization.

 7. What led you to pursue a career in the personal care industry? For those considering this field, what professional advice can you share?

Skincare was always present in my life when I was younger–whether it was watching my mother do her nightly skincare routine or schlepping to dermatologist offices week by week as a teen to combat my acne. But it was during an internship with a beauty company that I started to realize that I could potentially make a career in this incredibly exciting and robust industry, and I never looked back. For those who are considering this field, read and learn and talk to as many people in the industry as much as you can about your particular interests. Is it in makeup? Skincare ingredients? Formulations? Innovative beauty technologies? Beauty in the context of social media? Once you figure out what piques your interest the most, you can really dig into potential career paths and options you have.

 8. In addition to being a Stuyvesant High School alum who earned a B.A. in Economics from Wellesley, you’re also a former Team USA synchronized ice skater and now a coach. What’s appealing to you about skating?

Coaching young athletes is really about helping them to build their skills, discipline, and confidence to be successful, step by step, practice by practice. Watching my skaters improve at every practice, reach their skating goals–no matter how big or small, and work together to do so, is fulfilling and rewarding in a way that I cannot even begin to describe. Being a coach can be stressful and is certainly not easy, but it’s all worth it for the opportunity to make an impact on the lives of young women and help them blossom into the skaters they strive to be.

 9.    Along with your Flatiron location, you’re also on the Upper East Side and in Washington, D.C. Why did you also choose the district, and what do you love most about being in the neighborhood?

Flatiron was one of the neighborhoods that we knew that we absolutely had to be in from the start. It has such a busy and vibrant community of residents and office workers who like to take care of themselves and invest in their wellness, fitness, and beauty. We made a conscious decision to take our time to find the right space and location within Flatiron for Silver Mirror, and it took much longer than we had anticipated. But the wait paid off, because the space we have on 22nd Street really feels like it was meant for us to be in and has attracted such a loyal crowd of customers.

10. When you’re not at Silver Mirror, how do you like to spend your time?

Entrepreneurship, especially for a retail store, is 24/7. As an owner, you are constantly on call and need to be ready to drop what you’re doing and fix a problem at any given moment. During the times I can turn off, even if for a few hours or at night, I enjoy meeting up with my friends and loved ones. It helps to shift my focus away from work and onto good conversations, laughter, and meaningful connections that make me happy and feel fulfilled.

11.  Where do you like to grab a bite to eat in the neighborhood? Do you have a go-to dish?

My go-to spot for a quick and delicious lunch is Bite on 22nd Street for their fresh sandwiches and soups. The Chicken Schnitzel Sandwich and Country Tomato Soup combo never fail me!

12.  Finally, choose three words to describe the Flatiron District.

Community. Vibrant. Resilient.

Silver Mirror Facial Bar, 20 West 22nd Street Between Fifth and Sixth Avenue, (212) 702-8742, @silvermirrorfacialbar

Photo Credit: Cindy Kim

Mar 9, 2021

Flatiron Faces: Ngo Okafor, Founder and Owner of Iconoclast Fitness

Meet Ngo Okafor, Founder and Owner of Iconoclast Fitness, a personal training and workout facility, located at 210 Fifth Avenue, between 25th and 26th Streets, in the Flatiron District. At Iconoclast, virtual training sessions and in-person training sessions are available (book a tour). 

Briefly describe Iconoclast Fitness and your roles as owner and Body Transformation Specialist? What makes your gym a standout among others?

In addition to being a coworking-style space for independent personal trainers, Iconoclast Fitness is a training facility that I designed to become a home where my top trainers and I train and perform dramatic body transformations on clients. As the owner of Iconoclast Fitness, I strive to maintain a supportive and safe environment for clients and trainers. Anyone, whether it is a client or trainer who spends time at Iconoclast Fitness becomes family. As a Body Transformation Specialist, I have created a results-driven training program, which dramatically changes our clients’ bodies in 7, 14, or 28 days flat. My transformation program inspires a mental transformation from the outside in.

Your high-profile clients have included Jennifer Lopez, Mariska Hargitay, and Naomi Campbell. What do you think it is about your Ngo Effect workouts that attract such star power? 

The Ngo Effect is training method that I created because I understand that high-profile clients have careers that demand for them to look their best at all times. My workouts are designed to get all of my clients, not just high-profile clients, great results, in a short time. My clients who are in the public eye don’t have the luxury of time to look their best, therefore, I created a training method that gets dramatic results in a very short time, without drugs, shakes. or potions. Whether they have to prepare for a role in a movie, a red-carpet appearance, the runway, or a photoshoot, we get them ready quickly!

You were born in Massachusetts and spent most of your time growing up in Nigeria. Later, you became a model, an actor, and Golden Gloves Championship winner! What’s appealing about the work you do now and how does it compare to what you did before?

What makes the work I do now very appealing is the pressure. The pressure to continue to produce results for my clients motivates me. When creating training programs for my clients, I have to account for the fact that although they are high profile, supremely driven, and successful, they are human and make mistakes with their nutrition. I have created a program that will produce great results, even if the client slips, because at the end of the day, if the client does not achieve great results, the blame falls on me. I love it because I do my best work under pressure.

Both virtual and in-person training is available at Iconoclast. What safety protocols are in place for clients who train in person?

We are happy that our clients trust Iconoclast Fitness enough to train in person. Therefore, we work extremely hard to keep both our clients and trainers safe, by ensuring that everyone entering the facility wears a face mask at all times, even while working out. We updated our air filters to HEPA filters throughout the facility, we have hand sanitizer stations located throughout, and our cleaning staff is working even harder than ever to keep all areas and equipment in the gym constantly clean. Trainers and clients also contribute to the safety and cleanliness of the facility by wiping down the equipment after each use.

What are your favorite workout routines for both beginners and for fitness fanatics? Any tips for staying consistent?

My favorite workout routines for both beginners and fitness fanatics are circuit training workouts, where a cardio burst is mixed in. These workouts vary in intensity, depending on the client’s level of experience. The goal is to get the client to work hard, without reaching complete exhaustion. It is important to never ask a client to do more than he or she can physically handle, although it is often more than the client thinks they are capable of, which leaves the client feeling very proud when they accomplish a physical goal they thought was impossible. My tip for staying consistent is to make the workouts fun while getting the client fast results. When the client starts seeing results, they get excited and want to continue working out. Another tip for staying consistent is to never give a client a workout or exercise that they cannot handle.

Are there any misconceptions around fitness and health that you can help clear up?

One of the biggest misconceptions around fitness and health is that our metabolism slows down as we get older. This is absolutely not true. Our metabolism does not slow down, we do. As we get older, we lead more sedentary lives, but continue to consume calories as we did when we were younger and more active. The fact that our daily activity level diminishes as we get older, but our caloric intake stays the same, we burn fewer calories and therefore, gain weight. Many of the clients at Iconoclast are over the age of 50. The point is that if you train and maintain the activity level of a 20- or 30-year-old, you will look like a 20- or 30-year-old. I believe in leading by example, therefore, at the age of 46, I look better than I did in my 20s and 30s, because I choose to workout and maintain an activity level that is higher than that of a 20- or 30-year-old.

7. In terms of nutrition, what advice do you offer your clients? Are there any foods you recommend incorporating more or less of and why?

In terms of nutrition, the advice that I offer to my clients is to keep things simple. If your goal is to lose weight, eat less, but if your goal is to gain weight, eat more. I advise clients not to cut foods out of their diet, but rather cut back on the volume of their intake of certain foods. For example, many New Yorkers like to drink wine in the evenings, to help them relax and decompress. I suggest that they just cut back on the amount of wine they consume. That immediately lowers their calorie intake. For example, if a client consumes two glasses of wine, I suggest that they drink just one. This way, they do not feel as though they are missing out on the things they love and they can maintain a reduced-calorie diet over a longer period of time. I recommend that clients incorporate more green leafy vegetables into their diet, because not only do they aid in digestion, they are filling and have a lower calorie content than most other foods. 

Why did you choose Flatiron as your business destination? How long has the studio been in the area and what do you love most about being here?

I chose Flatiron as my business because I believe that Flatiron is the center of New York City. You can feel the positive energy in Flatiron and it is infectious. I get inspired to soar to even greater heights when I spend time in Madison Square Park or the promenade by the Flatiron Building. I started my career as a trainer at the Equinox at 19th Street and Broadway. A year later, I became an independent and have been running a successful training business for the past 14 years. I fulfilled a huge dream of mine, when I bought, renovated, and opened my own gym, Iconoclast Fitness, in September of 2018 and it has grown to become a huge success. I don’t believe that I would have been as successful if I ran my business elsewhere.

What advice would you offer those considering a career in the competitive field of fitness?

The advice that I would give to those considering a career in the field of fitness is to understand that the cream always rises to the top. If they dedicate themselves to hard work and the perfection of their craft, they will become successful. I also advise young trainers to create their own method or style of training as quickly as possible. Once they do that, they can then invest time and resources into building themselves as a brand.

When you’re not in the studio, how do you like to spend your time?

I love to spend my time with my wife and kids. I work a lot and don’t get to spend a lot of time with my family, so when I have free time, I like to run home and spend as much time as I can with my family.

Where do you like to grab a bite to eat in the neighborhood? Do you have a go-to dish?

I like to grab a bite at The Smith. My wife and I have had plenty of lunch dates there. The food is great, the service is fast, and they are always accommodating to me, my wife, and my two kids. The Bar Steak, which comes with a salad, is my go-to dish. Steak is my favorite food, and the Bar Steak is always the right temperature and size for me.

Finally, choose three words to describe the Flatiron District.

Strong. Inspiring. Progressive.

Iconoclast Fitness, 210 Fifth Avenue, Fifth Floor, (646) 598-4806, @iconoclastnyc 

Nov 17, 2020

Flatiron Faces: Nina Cooke John, Principal & Founder, Studio Cooke John

Meet Nina Cooke John, Principal & Founder of Studio Cooke John, this year’s winner of the Flatiron Public Plaza Holiday Installation presented by the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership and Van Alen Institute.

Point of Action is the first installation to appear on both the Flatiron North and South Public Plazas as the centerpiece of the Partnership’s “23 Days of Holiday Cheer” programming and will be in display from November 23rd through January 1st. Cooke John’s design invites visitors to contemplate the experience of seeing one another—and being seen. Once the viewer steps out of their usual routine and into the installation’s threshold, there are multiple chances to connect with other viewers and passersby. 

1. Congratulations on being selected as this year’s winner of the Flatiron Public Plaza Holiday Design Competition for your concept titled Point of Action. What was your reaction upon hearing the news?

I was absolutely thrilled to be given the opportunity to develop ideas for such an important location in the city.

2. Point of Action will appear on both the North and South Public Plazas. Visitors will be able to contemplate the experience of seeing one another—and being seen–on both sides of 23rd Street. You’ve indicated that society is now at a threshold with the pandemic and that Point of Action could possibly make people think about how we connect to others. Tell us more about the piece and what do you hope the public’s takeaway will be when experiencing your installation?

New Yorkers hail from all over the country and the world, are of differing economic, ethnic, and religious backgrounds, but rarely connect with each other as they rub shoulders in the subway and on the streets. Making eye contact is considered one of the worst things you can do. How can we care about the issues that don’t affect us if we don’t connect to those who are? Engaging in public art provides an opportunity for city dwellers to pause their everyday routines and take a detour from their usual paths.

Point of Action provides the space for contemplation as viewers unravel themselves from their busy lives. As they engage with each of the nine units, they step into the spotlight. While in the spotlight, they can be more easily seen and connect with passersby, as well as others also in the spotlight throughout the installation. The spotlight is also a threshold. It becomes a place of connection and reflection, a point from which they can decide to take action on any of the many issues they’ve long promised themselves they would as they move back out into their everyday routines.

3. You’re the Principal and Founder of Studio Cooke John, a multidisciplinary design workspace located in Montclair, New Jersey and Manhattan. Tell us more about what led to opening your own practice. 

I started working for myself once I had children. Having my own firm gave me the flexibility to work at whatever hours I needed to, while actively engaging with my children’s school life. It also allowed me to develop my practice around my own interests.

4. You’re a native of Kingston, Jamaica and studied architecture at Cornell and Columbia. In addition, you teach at Parsons the New School of Design. Can you offer advice to those who may be interested in architecture, design, or urban planning? 

Anyone interested in studying architecture, design, or urban planning should get as much practice as possible with being creative. This doesn’t mean you have to take architecture classes. If you love photography, art, or painting graphics on your friends’ sneakers, keep doing it. Those skills of exploring your creativity in multiple media will serve you better than anything else. 

5. Speaking of architecture and urbanism, Flatiron/NoMad is well-known globally for its striking buildings and public spaces. What’s your favorite building or architectural element here in the neighborhood and why? And, do you have a favorite park or public space that you can share (anywhere in the world)?

The Flatiron Building is certainly iconic. I particularly admire how the architect decided to own the odd shape of the lot and build into it, instead of trying to figure out how to compromise the geometry. I love public parks around the city and the world. When you stop and spend time in a park, you feel like you are a part of that city. When I worked in the West Village, my friends and I loved to sit and have lunch in the tiny park close to our office. We used to also go to jazz concerts at Grant’s TombThe High Line is great for the architectural detailing, art, and the variety of experiences that you can get as you walk along from a new vantage point above the city. Washington Square Park is great because of the vibrancy added by performers. They are all different and great for their unique characteristics.

6. In addition to visiting Point of Action, what else is a "must-see” or “must-do" in the neighborhood? 

There is great shopping in the area. I’ve always loved Eataly, not only the shops and restaurants downstairs but the rooftop as well. There are also a great variety of shops heading downtown via Fifth Avenue. I frequent the tile and bathroom fixture shops in the area often when I’m shopping for clients, especially Porcelanosa

7. When it’s time to leave the office or worksite and grab a bite in Flatiron, where’s your go-to? And your favorite dish?

I actually worked out of the Wing Flatiron for a while before we had to lockdown. They had an amazing salad with grilled jerk chicken that I was a fan of. Eating that on the roof was a favorite pastime.

8. Finally, choose three words to describe the Flatiron District.

Nexus. Vibrant. Interchange.

Photo credit: Ball & Albanese

Oct 26, 2020

Flatiron Faces: Hyunjoo Lee, Owner, Chelsea Nails

Meet Hyunjoo Lee, owner of Chelsea Nails, located at 100 West 23rd Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. “It’s nestled on the most beautiful street in Manhattan,” says Lee about the sunlit salon that she purchased in 2016. With the recent resumption of the personal care industry in New York City, Lee now welcomes customers with safety protocols and a special offer worth up to $10 off their next visit. You can book your visit online here

1.Briefly describe Chelsea Nails and your role there. What aspect of the job excites you most?

Chelsea Nails has been in this place for 30 years now. That’s why we can occupy Chelsea Nails in Chelsea. Some workers have been working here for over 10 or 20 years. I bought this salon in 2016 and was excited when I finally found something in this area. Also, we meet diverse people here every day. They all come in tired, but go out happy and refreshed, which makes us most excited about this business. 

2. The personal care industry such as nail, hair, and tanning salons were able to resume business during Phase 3 that began in New York City in mid-July. What was your immediate reaction upon hearing this news?  

Honestly, we expected that we could open in Phase 2, but we couldn’t. You can imagine how much we were disappointed by the news. We’re running a small business. If we stop working, all our workers have to stop, too. Our family and some technicians couldn’t just sit still, so we regularly came and grabbed the trash in front of the building and wiped every surface in the store. Yes, that’s how we waited for the good news from the government. 

3. What safety precautions did you implement in order to responsibly welcome back guests and staff into the salon? 

Sanitizing. Sanitizing. Sanitizing. We follow every single protocol of the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). For example, checking temperatures, keeping a customer log, employee log, cleaning log, and, of course, we do cleaning whenever a single service is done. We have harmless certified sterilizing light to ensure all spaces are free from the virus and germs. 

4.  Your licensed nail technicians provide a vast selection of nails enhancements and other treatments at Chelsea Nails. Tell us more about your services and some of your recommendations for customers during the upcoming holiday season?

Yes, we have a vast selection of services including manicures, pedicures, nail extensions, waxing, and massages. Our highly skilled technicians will make your nails look perfect. Most of our customers already know what they want. We do as they tell us. We are confident in our services. 

5. Why are you proud to call Flatiron/Chelsea the home of your business? What do you love most about the area? 

This area shows the real Manhattan, I think. All different people come and go in this vibrant area. This busy and vivid atmosphere gives us huge energy to live on. That’s what I love most about the area. I wish all of this comes back soon.

6. Outside of Chelsea Nails, what are your favorite things to recommend in the neighborhood?

The Flatiron Building. I saw it in a movie when I was in South Korea. It was very impressive to me. It was like the one symbol of Manhattan. People might recall other buildings or scenes for this city, but to me, the Flatiron Building was the one that I remember for this city.

7. What advice would you like to offer other businesses in the personal care industry as we navigate the challenges of the pandemic? Any advice for residents, returning workers, and visitors to the community? 

In this challenging moment, I have struggled in the last seven months. We are enduring hardships now, but I know we can survive if we don’t give up our hope.

Chelsea Nails, 100 West 23rd Street, 2nd Floor Open Monday through Saturday, 10 am to 8 pm, (212) 924-6245, Online Booking