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 Flatiron 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


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.