Sep 18, 2020

Flatiron Faces: Dr. S. David Wu, Baruch College President

Meet S. David Wu, PhD, President of Baruch College, one of the world’s leading and affordable institutions of higher education, located at 55 Lexington Avenue (at 24th Street) in the Flatiron District.

1. Congratulations on becoming Baruch College’s eighth President and the first Asian American to serve as President of a CUNY college. You were also recently named on City & State’s 2020 Power of Diversity 100 list of influential Asian Americans in New York politics and policy, and City & State’s Education Power 50 list of higher education leaders.  What are your thoughts on achieving these milestones?

I am humbled and honored to have been chosen as Baruch’s eighth president and the first Asian American to lead a CUNY college. Baruch is a remarkable institution that has truly distinguished itself by delivering the highest-caliber, most rigorous academic programs at an affordable price to a historically underrepresented population. Recently, Forbes magazine published an article called “Elite Colleges that You Can Actually Afford,” and they cited the ranking that looks at the most selective colleges around the country and compared the actual cost of attending them. Baruch is ranked No. 1 in the country as the “Elite College You Can Actually Afford,” I think that is quite remarkable.

I am also proud to join the CUNY family who has a long history of success in educating students from all echelons of society, many of whom have become Nobel Laureates, Fulbright Scholars, Barry Goldwater Scholars, and pillars of society that contribute to all aspects of New York and beyond.

To be acknowledged among such prominent and impressive New Yorkers on City & State’s lists is a tremendous honor. It is incredibly humbling to receive these recognitions, and to be acknowledged among movers and shakers in New York, and among my esteemed colleagues in higher education—chancellors, presidents, deans, and innovative influencers. Forty years ago, I traveled from my native Taiwan to New York as an international student. After receiving my doctorate and spending 30 some years in academia, to come home to this great city and state to lead a prestigious institution that plays such an important role in American higher education is a dream come true for me. I am thrilled. 

2. Briefly describe the responsibilities of your role as President serving more than 18,000 students attending Baruch’s three schools: the Austin W. Marxe School of Public and International Affairs, the George and Mildred Weissman School of Arts and Sciences, and Zicklin School of Business. What aspect of this job most excites you?

As President, I am the chief executive responsible for delivering the core mission of Baruch College—providing an inclusive, transformational education in the arts and sciences, business, and public and international affairs to students from New York and around the world, and creating new knowledge through research and scholarship. I oversee a cabinet comprised of the College’s senior leadership team who are responsible for all aspects of the College’s education, research, and day-to-day operations. In my role, I report to the CUNY Chancellor, and am bound by the governance of the Board of Trustees. However, the aspect of the job that excites me the most is the impact and transformation we engender on each student. This is particularly meaningful at Baruch as we often serve the underprivileged, immigrants, and underrepresented minorities. The transformation from a college education is profound and path-changing.

3. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, you immediately convened a task force at the College to cope with the crisis. Tell us more about this effort.

The global pandemic, ironically, opens a rare window of opportunity for colleges and universities to take a fresh look at what we do and why we are doing it, and to challenge ourselves to reimagine what is possible. We recognize that the road to recovery is bumpy, but it is likely to take us to a “new normal,” which could lead to a fundamental paradigm shift in higher education. It is for this reason that, before even assuming my official duties as President, I set up a “Task Force for the Future.” The idea is not only to contemplate our place in the “new normal,” but to help guide the paradigm shift in a way that is beneficial to our students and to our communities. I charged the Task Force to use this crisis to put Baruch on a path to lead, to envision a transformation that allows us to deliver our mission with better quality, more flexibility, to assure the health and safety of our people, and to help hard-hit communities in New York City in the recovery from COVID-19. The Task Force is charged to map out a multi-stage “reopening” plan for the coming year that is sufficiently flexible and adaptable to CUNY, NYS, and NYC policies, while positioning the College for long-term growth.

In the meantime, I have been writing blogs and op-ed pieces to reimagine higher education in the “new normal” and encourage others to weigh-in on constructive dialogue. My goal is to share ideas, research, and perspectives that impact the campus community, higher education, and society at large.

4. During the current fall semester, Baruch’s courses will be offered through distance learning, an exclusive online learning program due to the pandemic.  What has stood out to you as the university and student body adapted to this change?

This fall we are teaching 98% of our classes in an online format. The rest are classes that are being taught in a hybrid mode, given some classes such as laboratory and studio classes require some in-person instruction. Interestingly, our enrollment has increased by over 4.5% this fall, with over 19,500 undergraduate and graduate students matriculated. Our faculty and staff have worked tirelessly all summer to get us ready to deliver high-quality instruction and student services in the online format. What has stood out to me as the student body has adapted, is their perseverance and technological sophistication. Our students are truly prepared to lead in this new world.

5. Baruch is also one of the most ethnically diverse student bodies in the country. Students speak more than 110 languages and have roots in more than 160 countries. What’s one of the fondest memories that you can recall as an international student arriving in New York City from Taiwan 40 years ago.

One of the fondest memories I have when I arrived in New York City 40 years ago is the dynamic energy of the City, and its great cultural diversity. I often say that you can feel the “electricity” in the air. A city where dreams can come true, and where you can find every type of food, music, and art that the world has to offer. I can still feel that excitement and sense of possibility even today. 

6. Since then, you’ve become a distinguished scholar whose career has included serving as Provost and Executive Vice President of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Can you offer any advice to those individuals who may be interested in pursuing a professional path in academia?

I would say the most important characteristic of an academic career is a sense of wonderment, intellectual curiosity, and an eagerness to share that with others. There is a great joy in pursuing something you love, while opening the door to a whole new world for generations of students. I am a strong believer of high-quality, rigorous education as that truly unlocks the human potential. For someone who truly believes in the mission, it is an incredibly fulfilling profession. In academia, there are many jobs and professional opportunities that varying levels of education can prepare you, from having a bachelors’ degree, a master’s, or doctoral degree. Of course, I would also encourage people to look at Baruch College, which is truly a gem. 

7. Baruch College has been a beloved institution since its founding in 1847 as the Free Academy and America’s first free public college. What do you enjoy most about working on this campus?

First of all, the Flatiron location has so much history, and Baruch itself is rich in history. And yes, Baruch originated from the Free Academy, which pioneered a set of different ideas about higher learning—a scholastic “experiment” focused on educating individuals from all backgrounds and social classes with the highest academic standards. This is a radical departure from other higher education institutions in 1847.

I also appreciate the architectural aspects of Baruch’s historic linkage to New York. The original Free Academy building was built in 1849 in the style of the Gothic town halls of the Netherlands on land that was sparsely developed. Baruch’s Neumann Library occupies the Lexington Building, on East 25th Street, which was built in 1895 as the power station for the Lexington Avenue cable-car line. By the way, East 24th Street was once ''Old Stable Row' boasting the ''largest dealer of horses in the world.''

Not far from my office and my residency, I see the iconic Flatiron Building, one of New York’s oldest original skyscrapers. My wife and I enjoy the neighborhood a great deal since we moved in mid-July. 

8. Outside of the campus venue, what do you consider a "must-see” or “must-do" hidden gem in the community?

On East 20th Street, I know that people often walk by the birthplace and childhood home of the 26th President of the United States Theodore Roosevelt–who I understand was the first U.S. president to be born in New York City. I heard there is also a wonderful museum, and we look forward to visiting after the site reopens.

9. When it’s time to grab a bite to eat in the area, where do you like to outdoor dine or grab takeout in the neighborhood and why? What’s your favorite go-to dish?

The neighborhood is teeming with restaurant choices—featuring nearly every ethnic cuisine—and many are open now. We are still exploring—or eating—our way through the neighborhood, but I discovered a wonderful Italian restaurant offering Sicilian cuisine, a top-rated Japanese vegetarian restaurant, a tasty thin-crust pizza place, and we just experienced a remarkable Indian “dosa” dinner the other day. I’m enjoying this food tour of Flatiron and welcome suggestions! 

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

The Flatiron District is the perfect home for Baruch College–we share the same descriptive words: Vibrant, Historic, and Welcoming to everyone.

Jun 22, 2020

Flatiron Faces: Luca Di Pietro, Founder of Tarallucci E Vino & Feed the Frontlines NYC

Meet Luca Di Pietro, Founder of Tarallucci e Vino NoMad at 44 East 28th Street and four other Tarallucci locations in Manhattan. Di Pietro is also the Founder of Feed the Frontlines NYC, an initiative that has been providing meals for medical personnel and individuals experiencing food insecurity. If you're in the position to do so, consider contributing to this initiative. Donations support New Yorkers, and the workers, supply chain, and restaurants that feed them.

The NoMad location has yet to reopen, but the Union Square, Upper West Side, and East Village locations have reopened with outdoor patio dining. Also, Di Pietro recently opened a new addition to his restaurant business, Il Forno, a take-out window serving the community at 15 East 18th Street. 

1. First of all, how are you and your family? 

We are doing well health-wise. It has been an incredibly challenging time, with the coronavirus and the protests tied to the horrific murder of George Floyd. We keep on going though. 

2. At the peak of COVID-19, you founded Feed the Frontlines NYC, an initiative to provide meals for medical personnel saving lives during the crisis. The initiative later expanded to also deliver meals to those experiencing food insecurity and homelessness. Briefly describe how your initiative came about, including your daughter Isabella's role in creating its website?

When Mayor de Blasio ordered all restaurants to close except for take-out and delivery, I made the painful decision to close four of our five Tarallucci e Vino locations. This meant laying off 95 of my 102 employees. A friend reached out that week to ask if she could buy meals from Tarallucci e Vino to help the business, and have them delivered to healthcare workers battling the virus. She facilitated the first delivery to the NYU Langone ER on March 19th. The nurses who met my wife and me when we delivered their dinner that night were so grateful. It was clear how tired they were, and how much this food meant to them. So, I thought this might be a way for us to do something useful during the crisis while also keeping the lights on at Tarallucci e Vino and keeping my people on payroll.

That night, I asked my daughter Isabella, who had just been kicked off her college campus, if she could build a website for us to start collecting funds for more hospital deliveries. She pulled it together with one of her classmates in 18 hours. The generosity we saw from the start, as soon as the website went up, was incredible. And Isabella has brought together several of her classmates and friends to work on the initiative since then. They have been incredible.  

3. Healthcare workers have affectionately called you and your team the "lasagna guys." Please describe the types of meals prepared for this program. What has been the response from those receiving your meal deliveries? 

Yes, people love our lasagna! We try to keep things varied–from pesto-marinated chicken with roasted fingerling potatoes to orecchiette pasta with sausage and broccoli rabe to a variety of paninis made on freshly baked bread. The response has been incredible. I believe in serving food that I myself love to eat–food that's comforting, nourishing, and reminds me of my mother's kitchen in Abruzzo, Italy. Whether it's been COVID-19 nurses or veterans living in supportive housing, I think people have loved the food so much because it provides them with a sense of really being cared for, beyond the basic nutrition food can provide.  

4. To date, your campaign has raised $1.6 million to deliver 121,000 meals to over 65 hospitals and 8 shelters and supportive housing residences. Please share your thoughts on this outpouring of generosity to help those in need. What do you believe was the key to the success of this initiative?

We were overwhelmed by the generosity of our friends and customers from the moment we first launched Feed the Frontlines NYC. I think people recognized right away that contributing was a way to make a concrete impact at a time when everyone had just begun sheltering in place, feeling helpless/anxious, and they understood that it was a win-win. They could help feed their healthcare heroes while supporting local businesses that make our city so great. I think we were able to raise money so quickly because people saw the immediate impact. We were sharing photos and stories with our friends and family, and on social media, so people could see for themselves. It's been heartening to see how generous New Yorkers have been. I often think back to a healthcare worker that we delivered to who said that people always say New Yorkers are mean, but the generosity of New Yorkers during this crisis proves we are not. We've been so grateful for the support, and we just hope we'll be able to sustain it even as public attention shifts, and people start to forget that hungry people and restaurants still need their support. 

5. Because of your meal delivery program, you were able to rehire more than 80 of your employees that you previously were forced to lay off. How did your employees react to returning to work and getting involved in this community effort?

Surprised that I called them back in. They were also excited to be able to help feed people on the frontlines of the crisis. Many restaurant workers residing in hard-hit communities could see the devastating effects of the pandemic firsthand. For my staff, being able to keep working while helping was quite fulfilling.

6. What advice would you like to offer businesses in the food industry? Any advice for residents of the Flatiron community?

We are relieved of the latest changes to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. This will give restaurants some hope to reopen. Rents are still an issue. As you know, the Flatiron area has quite high commercial rents and we hope landlords will also be able to get some relief so that they can be more flexible with tenants. As far as reopening goes, every business will need to be rational and really consider who their customers are. A business that mostly works with office employees will have the added uncertainty of whether offices will reopen right away or continue working remotely through the summer.

Tarallucci e Vino is committed to remaining a part of the Flatiron area and serving our neighbors, which is why we opened our new take-out window. We named it Il Forno–the common name for the neighborhood place where Italians buy their morning pastries, bread, and focaccia. We wanted to create a safe way for people to enjoy the simple, delicious food and drinks our neighbors know us for while featuring the amazing work of Chef Alessandro Fortini, who has been working seven days per week preparing thousands of cookies and bread for frontliners and hungry New Yorkers. We are open from 9 am to 8 pm for Alessandro's fresh pastries, breads, panini, focaccia, and Roman-style pizza, along with coffee and drinks. We hope Il Forno can be a bright spot on 18th Street, between Fifth Avenue and Broadway, and bring some comfort and life to the neighborhood at a time when it's so desperately needed. 

Jun 12, 2020

Flatiron Faces: Neil Schneider, Owner, J&M Hardware & Locksmiths

Meet Neil Schneider, owner of J&M Hardware & Locksmiths, located at 19 East 21st Street, between Broadway and Park Avenue South. Open since 1947, the store is the oldest retail businesses in Flatiron. Schneider who has stayed open to offer essential items and services to the community during the COVID-19 pandemic says, “Being open, providing the products people need, listening to customers express their concerns and worries, and bringing some sense of normalcy to our neighbors is most important.”

Be a hero and help small businesses like J&M Hardware survive this crisis. We need them as much as they need us.

1. During the COVID-19 pandemic, J&M Hardware & Locksmiths was designated an essential service, continuing to operate during the stay-at-home orders. How are you doing? How are the store and your employees?

I am happy to tell you that my staff and I are all well. None of us acquired the virus. As for the store, while we remained open throughout the lockdown, our sales have plummeted. When customers ask me if business is bad, I reply, “If my sales were to double, then business would be bad.” Keeping the store open has given us a purpose. I am deeply concerned about the businesses that have been closed and how any retail business in the area will survive. It will be difficult, but we will persevere. 

2. The store is commemorating its 73rd anniversary this year as the oldest retailer still operating in the Flatiron District. In what ways do you feel this level of longevity may have helped you and your hardware store team be prepared for this challenging time?

After 73 years, and as the owner for 33 years, we have weathered many crises. The store has survived fire, inflation, recessions, storms, blackouts, steam and water line explosions, 9/11, and changing neighborhood demographics. We have learned that there are times when profits and sales should not be our primary goal. That is true now. I am truly touched when people thank me for being open and helping them in any way possible. While we have weathered many changes and catastrophes in the past, this pandemic is of a different nature. We will need the entire community, business owners, residents, landlords, and property management companies, to ensure that the neighborhood's character remains.

3. For customers who visit your location now, how has the business devised social distancing strategies for shoppers on your premises? Please share some of your protocols with us.

Through the end of May, we did not let people enter the store. They were able to order by phone or order at the entrance. As always, we offered free local delivery or delivery by mail. As of June, we are allowing customers to enter the store. We will be following the protocols of New York Forward

Should a customer not want to come in, we will still take orders by phone or at the front door. There are signs reminding people to wear masks and maintain social distance. Our floors will be marked every eight feet. Cleanings will be conducted twice a day on all high touch areas such as credit card machines, registers, door handles, counters, bathrooms, etc. For contact tracing purposes, we will also maintain a log of people coming into the store, which will be voluntary for customers. The number of people allowed in the store at any time will also be limited. We have a written plan that all employees must read and understand. We want to have the safest shopping and working environment possible during these times.

4. You’ve proclaimed on social media that your store has “almost everything you need, and we always offer friendly, expert advice and service. Whether it's hardware, a locksmith, J&M is here to help you get the job done.” You also offer notary public services. What are some of the most requested essential items purchased by customers at your store at this time? And are you providing any special offers to consumers?

The vast majority of the items sold during the lockdown were COVID-19 related. Disinfectant spray, hand sanitizer, masks, gloves, wipes, bleach, paper towels, and toilet paper were all in high demand with little supply. We were able to maintain a good stock on these items. From the beginning of the pandemic, we limited the number of product customers could purchase. This enabled more people to buy what they needed and avoided hoarding. This is not how the big box stores acted and that is one of the many ways we differ from them.

In terms of special offers, we waived the minimum purchase on credit card sales for our free local delivery service. Currently, we are trying to team-up with other local merchants. With each purchase at the store, customers are given a special offer from another retailer in the Flatiron District. We are strongly encouraging our customers to shop locally. With the opening of Phase One, we are giving away free LED bulbs to customers who spend $15 or more. And when Phase Two starts, we will have another special offer. We want to let our customers know we appreciate their patronage and their friendship.

5. What advice would you like to offer neighboring businesses, as well as residents of the Flatiron community at the moment? 

The lockdown is temporary. The repercussions from it will be formidable and long-lasting. Residential and commercial landlords and tenants will have to work together or we will all suffer. Each of us, as individuals and businesses, need to recognize the importance of supporting local businesses, especially the small businesses that give the Flatiron District it’s unique charm. If we want to preserve the neighborhood and not have empty storefronts, we need to support local merchants. More than price, there is a value to buying flowers at the florist, shoes at the shoe store, greeting cards and office supplies at the stationery store, and yes, hardware at the hardware store. These local merchants do more than sell products. They give advice. They know you by name. They are there when you need them. They employ local people. They pay local taxes. They make this neighborhood the place you want to live in or work at. Now is the time for the people of the Flatiron District to help them and their employees. Shop local. A smile looks better on a face than on a box.

Mar 6, 2020

Flatiron Faces: Allison Nye, VP of Operations at Birchbox

Meet Allison Nye, VP of Operations at Birchbox, an online retailer that offers a box of curated beauty samples on a monthly basis to more than 1 million subscribers. The e-commerce business is headquartered in the Flatiron District at 16 Madison Square West on Broadway between 24th and 25th Streets.

1. Birchbox’s motto states, “We are more than beauty & grooming.” Tell us more about your mission, and what sets you apart from other e-commerce businesses in wellness and beauty. 

Birchbox is 100% tailored for the casual beauty consumer, someone who is not obsessed with beauty or grooming, but who values the utility and enjoys the discovery. When a customer becomes a subscriber, they immediately fill out a beauty or grooming profile in order to receive personalized samples to try. Once they find a product they love, subscribers can purchase full-size versions on our website and feel great about the transaction instead of worrying that their investment will end up unused in their product graveyard.

2. Briefly describe your role as VP, Operations. What aspect of your job most excites you?

As VP of Operations, I oversee Operations, Customer Operations, Retail, and People & Culture. I collaborate with the leadership team to create company goals, set strategy and innovation for the future, and foster an environment where our people enjoy spending their time.

I definitely get excited by problem-solving and building efficiencies, but my ultimate passion lands with the people. I am impressed and motivated by our team’s level of creativity, their candidness, and their ability to execute or pivot based on business needs. As a leader of People & Culture, I support and maintain our open-door culture where all questions and ideas are welcome, and all expectations are clear so we can continue to foster our unique environment of exceptional employees.

3. Birchbox was co-founded by two women, Katia Beauchamp and Hayley Barna, and you are a member of a mostly female leadership team. How has this shaped the culture at Birchbox?

I believe that a strong culture is shaped by a leadership team who isn’t afraid to ask questions, be candid, and be challenged. I found these qualities in Birchbox when I first joined the team in 2014. Our female leaders instilled an artful balance of confidence and transparency that allowed me to feel safe to ask questions, advocate for change, and approach all levels of leadership for guidance throughout my career.

What I appreciate most about the culture at Birchbox is that this is just our norm. The culture originated by our co-founders has lived on through the years of Birchbox, which keeps me inspired to this day.

4. March marks Women’s History Month, and Birchbox is actively involved in the gender equality movement. For example, Birchbox’s Female Founder Collective and Women Take Tech initiative in partnership with the Flatiron School. Tell us more about these projects and how they came to be.

As a women-founded business, we’ve always felt it was really important to support our community beyond the box. Since the beginning, we’ve intentionally focused on featuring women-founded beauty brands and highlighting women in our community of customers across our website, email, social channels. A few years ago, we started feeling like it wasn’t enough to just talk about the amazing women who are part of the beauty community. We wanted to take it a step further, so we created a program called the Future Starts Now Fund to empower our customers. A handful of times each year, we pick one winner and give them $5,000 to put toward a dream of theirs. Nine winners later, we are in our third year of running the Fund and applications are live now for March’s Women’s History Month-themed award!

In addition to the Fund, we also make it a point to partner with women-founded businesses as frequently as possible. Katia Beauchamp, our co-founder and CEO, and fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff became friends while being judges on a TV show a few years ago. When Rebecca came to us with the idea to partner with her network, the Female Founder Collective, to bring attention to some of the women-run businesses that are members of the FFC, it was a no- brainer. A lot of the women-run companies we partner with are recommended to us through the network, but we also reach out to companies we come across and get a lot of cold emails too. It’s really important to us to give women access to our platform and community– we have to support each other and lift each other up, regardless of whether it’s going to drive sales for us or not.

5. Getting back to beauty, what are some of the most requested Birchbox products among customers, and what items do you personally consider to be must-haves?

This is my favorite part to talk about. In addition to our subscription service, we get great reviews on our Birchbox Discovery kits. These kits are curated by our merchandising team and are an affordable way to try out new products. These kits are some of my favorite things to purchase from Birchbox because I definitely self-identify as a casual beauty customer. I am busy and do not have time to find what products work the best for me, so I spent the majority of my life with the same, limited, beauty routine.

My all-time favorite, cannot live without product is Arrow Boost Color Enhancing Lip Balm. If you haven’t tried it, the time is now! It is the perfect blend of a hydrating lip balm while adding just a hint of color that I feel comfortable wearing all day long. Prior to my subscription, I never knew I needed this product and now I have one in my purse, my desk drawer, and in my makeup bag.

My go-to hair product is Beauty Protector Protect & Detangle. As a curly girl who likes to style and put heat on my hair, I am constantly looking for products to hydrate and protect. This product smells delicious and it has so many benefits in one bottle. It hydrates, works as a heat protector and adult detangler to protect my curls from breakage and damage between haircuts.

6. In 2018, Birchbox unveiled a partnership with Walgreens, which rolled out dedicated Birchbox spaces in select locations. What were the reasons behind launching an in-store shopping experience, and how have customers responded?

We decided to partner with Walgreens because it was an incredible opportunity to learn from a very established retailer. Walgreens brings so much retail expertise and we are excited for the opportunity to innovate, test, and learn about what customers want when shopping for beauty/grooming in an offline environment.

I believe there is something special about experiencing a digital brand in a physical way, but one thing we were mindful of was creating stores that were equally useful as they were enjoyable. We are still in pilot mode, but we are excited that the customer response has been overwhelmingly positive both in utility and experiential qualities of our brand.

7. What’s the best advice that you can offer to those who are interested in pursuing a career in retail and customer operations?

It starts with the customer–be obsessed with learning from them and make sure to stay connected.

In my experience, the operational parts of the job seem bigger in the beginning, but rarely change over time in your career. I leaned on my managers to coach me through the operational responsibilities, but I had to develop my own customer insights through my own experiences so I could bring my personal perspective when it came to strategic innovation.

As I started to develop and grow in my role, I had to protect that touchpoint to the customer so I didn’t lose my capability to create the right experiences for them. I feel inspired when I am around our customers. They are more engaged and dedicated to the success of our brand, and I want to build something that they will love and continue to love.

8. Birchbox opened its corporate headquarters in the Flatiron District in 2013. What makes Flatiron such a great fit for the BB team, and what do you enjoy most about working in this neighborhood?

The energy! The people who work at Birchbox are fast-paced, active, and motivated by new things, and there is always something to see and do in the area from pop-up activations in front of the Flatiron Building to educational installations in Madison Square Park.

9.  When it’s time to grab a bite to eat in the area, where do you like to dine in the neighborhood? What’s your go-to dish?

maman for caffeine. Trattoria Italienne for happy hour. Tacombi for esquites and egg tacos. Eataly for everything and anything.

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

Energetic. Convenient. Dynamic.

Feb 14, 2020

Flatiron Faces: Susanna Woodley, Area Director of Sales, The Assemblage

Meet Susanna Woodley, Area Director of Sales of The Assemblage, a co-working space with two locations in the neighborhood: NoMad on 114 East 25th Street, and Park Avenue South between 24th and 25th Streets. “Our intention,” says Woodley about each location, “is to create spaces to uplift and transform the way you work and how you feel about working.”

 1. The Assemblage NoMad and Park Avenue South locations offer clients flexible co-working spaces and private offices. The workspaces are “intentionally designed to foster personal and professional transformation.” Tell us more.

We incorporated biophilic design into all of The Assemblage houses. Studies show having natural elements within the space, for example, plants, living moss walls, natural materials, help to reduce stress and anxiety, which, of course, is bound to affect how you engage with one another, how you approach or conduct professional meetings, how it increases your productivity levels–all because of our custom surroundings.

 2. Community is a strong tenant of The Assemblage’s philosophy. Describe the curation of nightly cultural programming to encourage the active participation of members. What programs and events are most popular?

Our dynamic programming brings a new dimension to social interaction. Our mass sound meditations and biohacking events always pack the houses with members and their guests. Having innovative speakers in the blockchain space, science, sustainability, or social impact themes in business are also quite popular. Programming is the gateway to members coming, sharing ideas, learning, and interacting with one another and collaborating. Matter of fact, most of our events are curated, hosted or are co-produced by our members. It’s so important for us to offer that kind of platform to our community.

 3. The Assemblage spaces are dedicated to supporting the health and wellness of your members. Offerings include meditation rooms, rooftop gardens, and botanical cafés. How does wellness add value to a workplace? 

Good question! It’s no secret that the hustle culture in New York City can be both mentally and physically unhealthy. The Assemblage was one of the first to really incorporate wellness into a collaborative workspace environment to help counteract that. Our members can take 30 minutes in the Gong Room for a breathwork class, make healthy food decisions throughout the day since the café always has seasonal, organic and locally sourced options, relax with a quick Vitamin D break outside on our sunny, plant-filled rooftop, end their day with our cacao ceremonies–all of these wellness components are invaluable in the workplace.

 4.  What types of business sectors gravitate toward the space?

The sheer variety of businesses in this neighborhood are amazing! Our community is a home to creative/brand agencies, blockchain consultants, software developers, architects, interior designers, fintech startups, health practitioners, sustainable fashion and food enterprises…it’s less about what type of businesses gravitates toward us and more so the type of mindful space they want to align themselves and their business with.  

 5. How does your role as The Assemblage’s Area Director of Sales differ from a typical sales job?

Other sales jobs can be harsh and extremely competitive. Having access to these beautiful Assemblage houses allows me to escape the sales grind mentality and more importantly, provides the opportunity to lead a sales team with better focus and clarity without feeling anxious. I can honestly say that no matter what is going on in my day, my shoulders immediately drop down when I enter these houses. Maybe it’s the palo santo we use–haha!

 6. Tell us why the Flatiron District was the ideal neighborhood for two Assemblage locations.

We opened in the Fall of 2017. The Flatiron area was ideal because it’s one of the most desirable neighborhoods for startups, entrepreneurs, and even large established companies. This neighborhood has everything a business, large or small, could want. The parks, restaurants, shops, etc., and it is incredibly easy to get to from any part of town. We wanted to create an oasis, focused on wellness and nature, in the middle of the action where it was needed the most! If you are located at either of our Flatiron houses, your business is automatically in one of the topmost desirable districts in the world–that is very valuable to our members.

7. Sales and the hospitality business are competitive industries. What led you to consider this type of career? What’s the best advice that you can offer to those who are interested in pursuing this profession?

When I first started my career in sales, it was completely by accident. I was in a member service role and my boss at the time said that I had a knack for effortlessly developing relationships with people, a common trait she mostly saw in sales professionals. So that obviously stuck with me and I made the transition into sales.  I felt good to pursue a career that was pretty much aligned with my personality.

As for advice, first, diversify your networking and social circles. You would be surprised to learn that there are sales roles–some less traditional than others–in just about every business. Also, you have to believe in whatever it is you are selling. If not, you will just come across inauthentic.  Motto: If you are not into it, don’t try to sell it.

8. When it’s time to grab a bite, where do you like to dine in the neighborhood? Do you have a go-to dish?

Oh man…so many. My go-to: The Little Beet Table. Guilty pleasure: Lady M Connections.

9. Outside of your venue, what do you consider a "must-see” or “must-do" hidden gem in the community?

A “must-see” is any art installation happening at Madison Square Park. I’m still in awe of Diana Al-Hadid’s work from two years ago! A “must-do” would be a visit to the Museum of Sex, LOL! Its playful, informative and always eye-opening.

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

Evolving. Architecture. Connection.



Jan 28, 2020

Flatiron Faces: Vegan Chef Gaz Oakley, wagamama

The Japanese-inspired restaurant wagamama is kicking off the year in partnership with UK-based, vegan Chef Gaz Oakley to create a signature plant-based dish: Vegan Sticky Asian ‘Ribs’. This creation features barbecued seitan caramelized and glazed in a spicy cherry sauce that’s garnished with sesame seeds and scallions. The ‘ribs’ will be paired with steamed broccolini, chilis, and sticky white rice.

Oakley’s newest creation compliments his previous collab that became a permanent feature on wagamama’s menu in the United States, the avant gard’n’ that features a vegan egg made with miso-infused coconut and sriracha mayo. 

1. Landing a collaboration with wagamama was one of your biggest achievements to date. Please elaborate on this partnership and your creative process.

I admired wagamama even as a kid when I had one of their first cookbooks. I knew that I wanted to create something really exciting and use it as an opportunity to spread vegan options to a wider audience. That’s why I conceive dishes with ingredients like the vegan ‘egg’ or ‘ribs' that put a vegan spin on something that’s familiar. I was a meat-eater for 20+ years, and I love the taste and texture of meat. If I can create meals in a cruelty-free way with a taste and texture that's just as good, I'm all for it. 

2. Vegan is all the rage. What do you think is the biggest misconception around veganism, and what do you imagine for the future of vegan cuisine?

One of the biggest misconceptions is that you have to give up all these really exciting flavors if you go vegan. There are really unique, creative options out there that taste brilliant and use a variety of ingredients. There has been a lot of momentum around veganism in the last few years, so I imagine some really inventive dishes emerging. I know Asian flavors and plant-based imitation for traditional meat dishes are becoming more popular now because of their approachable flavors. I was thrilled to get ahead of these trends with wagamama.

3. You promote the vegan lifestyle as activism. Tell us more about your philosophy on food choices making a difference.

I was truly struck by a speech by animal liberation activist Gary Yourofsky. I had already seen a bit on social media, so I was intrigued by his thoughts around veganism. It brought a number of issues to my attention: the cruelty that is happening every single day to animals on farms and in slaughterhouses around the world, the devastation that animal agriculture has on our planet, and the damaging effects that eating animal products can have on our bodies. From that day on, I knew I would be vegan for the rest of my life.

4. Please speak to the health benefits that you’ve experienced since becoming vegan. Which recipes do you consider ‘vegan gateways’ for people looking to reduce their consumption of animal products?

I immediately felt lighter and had more energy when I became vegan. I didn’t feel like I was eating these heavy ingredients anymore. In terms of gateways, I think that the space to find recipes and new styles of cooking has only grown. There are so maybe different spaces to exchange ideas whether it's social groups and communities online or looking up chefs like myself who share dishes designed for people to make at home. Some of my most popular how-to videos are my recipes for Sticky BBQ 'Ribs' (the recipe that inspired the collab dish with wagamama), 'Fish' & Chips, and My Famous Vegan Lasagna.

5. Your work weeks can be very long – even up to 80 hours. How do you maintain physical and mental health in the grind?

When I was younger, I was really motivated to play rugby professionally. Even though I had more passion for cooking, I still deeply value having the opportunity to exercise and use it to relieve stress and mentally unwind. I’m also very fortunate that I get to be quite active and travel with my cooking. I had a traditional job early on, and I definitely feel more excited each day when I wake up and have a role outside of the regular 9 to 5 pm.

6. When you share your story about becoming a chef at the age of 15, you mention fond memories of learning from fellow chefs in the kitchen. Looking back, what words of wisdom or teaching moments stood out most?

From the beginning, I actively worked to develop relationships with the Head Chefs at each of the restaurants I was fortunate enough to join. Some of the best advice that I received was to keep pushing and never limit yourself to what can be created in the kitchen. It can be easy to continue cooking the same dishes day after day once they prove to be successful, but I was taught to question each component of the plate and ask how it can be improved. That mentality has continued to inspire me as I work to create vegan dishes like the ‘ribs’.

7. Since you’ve launched your YouTube Channel ‘Avant Garde Vegan’ in 2016, you have impressively gained 903K+ YouTube subscribers. What advice do you have for entrepreneurs who create original content?

Don’t be afraid of doing something just because it’s a bit of outside your comfort zone or you need to self-teach. I had no experience in the realm of digital or the ‘influencer world’ but I watched others before me and spent countless hours learning how to edit photos. You have to have confidence in what you’re doing and truly believe in the content you’re putting out there. When you care and are willing to take a chance, people are that much more interested in what you have to offer.

8. Outside of the kitchen, how do you like to spend your time? 

I really enjoy getting to spend time outside, so anything that allows me to be active and spend time with friends. I’m also very interested in opening my own restaurant one day and plan to make a big announcement on that when I reach 1 million subscribers.

9. You’re based in the UK, but you travel to New York frequently. What do you consider a “must do” or “must eat” here in Flatiron?

When I travel to the US with wagamama, I’ve been lucky to see all different parts of the city including Flatiron. I enjoy walking around Madison Square Park and seeing the art exhibits on display while taking in the view of the Flatiron Building at the same time. I love a good vegan burger with tons of different toppings, so that’s normally what I'm in search of when in the city. 

10. And finally, choose three words to describe the Flatiron District.

Unique. Community-based. Innovative.

Photo Credit: wagamama