Tara Paige Travels: Bacchanal, New Orleans

bacchanal-5.jpgAt Tara Paige, we love summer in the city – the patio dining, food festivals and street fairs (not to mention the reduced lines at some of our favorite spots). But we still need to hit the road occasionally, and check out the concepts that have people buzzing all over the country. Which brings us to this special travel edition of our retail spotlight, on Bacchanal – a unique concept off the beaten path in New Orleans, Louisiana. Located in Bywater (just over the canal from the Ninth Ward), Bacchanal highlights the vitality of a city where music comes from every street corner, and great food and wine require no excuses or white tablecloths to enjoy.

The heart of the concept is a simple but rarely imitated one; Bacchanal is a wine and cheese shop with a large backyard, where local musicians play sets from lunch till late night. Guests can browse the shop, chat with the knowledgeable staff about vintages and cheese pairings, and then grab their chosen bottle and an ice bucket and head for the back, where a selection of mismatched patio furniture offers about 100 first-come-first-serve seats for watching the band. Servers will put together a plate of your chosen cheese and charcuterie, and bring it out to the table while you sip and listen. For those feeling a bit more peckish, there’s also a full dinner menu, served out of a small window in the back of the wine store from a kitchen barely big enough for the two cooks working inside. The tables fill up early in the evening, but most are large enough to share between multiple groups of friends, inspiring conversation and new connections.

When they began, Bacchanal was primarily a little-known wine shop on the outskirts of the city. After hurricane Katrina devastated the area, they began hosting guest chef pop-ups with live music each Sunday – helping revitalize the city by bringing its residents together around great food and wine in a neighborhood setting. As their website and owners describe, the business model was not without its legal hurdles, since Bacchanal exists somewhere at the intersection of wine store, restaurant, speakeasy and block party, and was not always licensed to be all those things. We’re glad they took the risk though, and the concept remained intact after their day in court.

The food “is dedicated to the ingredients themselves and the wine that flows with them, it is focused Mediterranean minimalism.” This is somewhat in contrast with the big Cajun flavors to be found in the heart of the French Quarter, for which tourists rightfully travel from thousands of miles. There’s no gumbo on the menu, but there is a fantastic ceviche and a delicate, garlicky bucatini. Many items are seasonal, and local produce is prominantly featured. No matter what guests ultimately order, the Bacchanal experience still captures the spirit of New Orleans: an unpretentious commitment to living life to the fullest, come rain or shine.

Bacchanal is located at 600 Poland Avenue, New Orleans LA, 70117. Visit their website at http://www.bacchanalwine.com.

Retail Spotlight – Syndicated

657fa7862b12c5f91c449a4d83f058c5Their Success… Scrolling through the website for Syndicated, Brooklyn’s latest movie theater/restaurant mash-up, you might notice some curious contrasts. For example, there are the menus – half loaded tater tots/burgers/popcorn, half chatham mussels/smoked lamb ribs/fiddlehead ferns? Or click on their Instagram account, a mix of mouthwatering food photography and film stills that range from the artistic to the (literally) cartoonish. But move on to the calendar of movies and events for the clearest indication that Syndicated has embraced contrast to the fullest.

Syndicated’s monthly calendar is a grab bag of movies both classic and new. Each night features one or two films with up to 4 showtimes; some films run for a few nights, others are screened as one-offs or for special events. During the first week in May, each night is devoted to a single sci-fi flick, be it Mars Attacks or The Fifth Element. In mid April, the Coen Brothers had a week, as did Hitchcock later in the month. Sometimes an obvious theme ties together an entire week, other times guests may not even notice a connection, like the road-trip-week bookended by Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Dumb and Dumber.

Most of the movies listed on the calendar are screened in Syndicated’s single screening room, which comes equipped with a table for every two seats and a low-tech but easy ordering system. Theater-specific menus (think nachos, flavored popcorn and ice-cream sandwiches) are hung on clipboards at the tables, and guests can circle their orders. A server collects them and quietly brings the food around during the film, dropping the check shortly before it ends. Movie theaters have been making the majority of their money on concessions for decades, so it only makes sense to elevate that concession list and integrate the food and film experiences completely.

Outside the theater is the main bar/restaurant, a huge room with lofty ceilings and an art-deco aesthetic. There is a central bar with (almost) 360 degree seating, and generously-spaced tables along the edges of the room. Two large projectors on the far wall allow Syndicated to run additional programming (with closed captioning, of course) for guests who might not want to commit to a full movie, but still want the experience of dinner, drinks and a show. Sports bars may have been the first to figure out that guests will stay longer (and order more) if they can watch something while they do, but Syndicated is doing the same with the Oscars, presidential debates, and favorite TV show finales.

The thesis of this project is perhaps best summed up by their occasional “Hi / Low” movie pairings: two movies chosen because they express some underlying theme from very different rungs of the cultural ladder. (In May, for example, that means the dark and intense Shame alongside American Pie) “Hi/Low” is the best expression of what Syndicated aims to be – a  place you can eat great food that’s also junk food, catch up on classic film history or binge watch current tv, and have an extravagant date night that’s still just a casual dinner and a movie. Because sometimes a good night out looks like foreign films and a Spanish red, sometimes it looks like Bill & Ted’s Excellent adventure and a Narraganset, and sometimes it looks like all the above.

Take aways… Syndicated comfortably embraces contrast between the highbrow and the low, filling multiple needs in a playful way that keeps guests surprised and engaged.

 

(In)Boxed Lunch

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Their Success… Whatever your feelings about the trend, there’s no doubt that the desk lunch – that is, the practice of eating lunch at one’s computer, often while checking emails or finishing up work – is gaining popularity in offices everywhere. More and more office workers are either bringing lunch or taking advantage of the growing number of delivery options to get some grub and clean out their inboxes at the same time. Against this backdrop, Maple has an important goal: to bring some hospitality back to weekday lunch.

Unlike competitors like Plated, Caviar and Grubhub, Maple is a delivery service that is not associated with any brick-and-mortar restaurant. Maple’s food, which includes a daily rotating menu of healthy lunch and dinner options, is only available as delivery to those living or working in midtown or lower Manhattan. Without a central location for guests to visit, Maple has built their guest relationship on beautiful graphic design and playful emails announcing specials like pie for pi day (3/14) and Shamrock ice cream for St. Patrick’s. These extra surprises are made possible because the ordering process itself is as streamlined and user-friendly as possible.

Before their first order, users begin by creating an online account with their name, phone number, email address and location. By collecting your home or office address at registration, Maple can check that you fall in their delivery zone – and avoid disappointment later for those who don’t. Once you have an account, it’s easy to scroll through their menu each day, see the ingredients in each dish, and order a meal for yourself or your whole office. For those with slightly more mobile jobs, there is a Maple app for Android and iOS which features all the same gorgeous pictures of the food (usually arranged on welcoming wood tables, with cloth napkins and stoneware that would be appropriate to the best restaurants in the city).

Dishes come to $12-$15 with tax, and delivery is included so there’s no fumbling with cash when the food arrives. Instead, a smiling (and speedy) delivery person hands over the food and any extras – all neatly packaged in their signature minimalist brown and yellow packaging. Since Maple is often billed as David Chang’s brain-child, it’s appropriate that the delivery service should be gratuity-free, just like Chang’s Momofuku Nishi and an increasing number of sit-in restaurants in NYC.  With a streamlined payment system and simple, transparent pricing, it’s easy to add the whole office to the lunch order – making it just a little easier take a break and eat together.

The food itself is curated and limited to about 5 options each for lunch and dinner, which helps avoid the pitfalls of decision-fatigue in a city with endless options. Although any meals must be easy to transport, the recipes are ambitious in their use of spices and flavor – like a coriander vinaigrette on tamarind glazed tofu, or spicy jerk shrimp with sweet potatoes. The selection is well balanced, and each option includes at least one side (usually vegetable-based), an important touch that makes ordering from Maple feel more like eating a home cooked meal. Cold brew coffee, vegetable juice,  and Ample Hills ice cream can all be added at the end, although every dish comes with one sugar shack cookie – the kind of extra surprise that reminds you to take a minute to yourself in between all those emails.

Take Aways… Maple’s winning recipe combines hospitality and simplicity to bring a little more joy to working lunch every day.

Maple delivery is available to homes and offices below 14th street, or below 42nd street and between 8th Ave and Park.

 

Retail Spotlight – The Chocolate Room

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Reservations at the most romantic restaurants in the city fill up quickly in the weeks before Valentine’s day, but it’s important to remember that this holiday – thankfully placed in the middle of the coldest months, when we all need a little celebration – can really be celebrated with loved ones of all sorts. At The Chocolate Room in Brooklyn they know this well, and it’s equally possible to share the joy of a spicy hot cocoa with your sweetheart as it is a banana split with your 3-year-old niece or a chocolate stout with your best friend. In fact, you can do so any time of year and be greeted with the same recipe of warmth and decadence – although they’re particularly busy these first weeks of February.

Walking inside, guests often remark on the smell of chocolate coming from open kitchen – the first invitation to stay awhile and try as much as possible. This is matched with an equally chocolatey color scheme of dark brown and red. After the smell, the first thing most guests notice is the chocolate case – brightly lit and well stocked with confections. In the weeks before Valentine’s day, there is a staff member available just to help guests assemble custom chocolate boxes from their favorite truffles inside.

The retail side of operations might be front and center, but The Chocolate Room also wants to keep you out of the cold; they take no reservations but provide table service during both the day and evening. Each shop has bar seating where you can watch desserts being assembled, as well as small tables that are sometimes pushed together for children’s birthday parties, and other times pulled apart and candle-lit for intimate evenings. There are no savory items on the menu, but there is something for every sweet tooth – from overflowing brownie sundaes to elegant flourless chocolate cake. Each menu item also has a suggested wine or beer pairing on the menu, like dark chocolate stout from Brooklyn Brewery or a Graham’s tawny port.

The wine pairings and low evening lighting make one thing clear: this is a romantic spot, the perfect place to take your date post-dinner when you’re not ready for the night to end, but you don’t feel like heading to a noisy bar. But just like its namesake, The Chocolate Room strives to be universal, and very kid-friendly. There is no hard alcohol served, but there are plenty of child favorites and kid-sized scoops of homemade ice cream. Appealing to both families and couples is no easy task – but it does explain how The Chocolate Room keeps the hot cocoa flowing at all hours during these cold winter months.

Take Aways… It can be difficult to bridge the gap between daytime family fare and nighttime romance, but doing so means you can put a smile on twice as many guests faces. The Chocolate Room begins with a concept that appeals to everyone, and then carries it out with a range of menu options and a warm, relaxed atmosphere.
The Chocolate Room has two locations: 269 Court St, Brooklyn, NY 11231 and 51 5th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11217.

 

 

Retail Spotlight – Blank Slate Coffee + Kitchen

o.jpgTheir Success… In a city with sky-high rents and rising expenses, it can be hard to make ends meet on coffee alone. Blank Slate has increased its sales by bridging the gap between coffee shop and restaurant, creating a hybrid best described as a “Café-table” that is the best of both worlds. This concept works on an old premise that is becoming increasingly popular as labor and operational costs increase. In it, guests order from a single point of sale, then take a number to indicate their table as they seat themselves. When the food is ready, a runner brings it out, clears dishes, and attends to guests.

Walking into Blank Slate, guests are greeted with high ceilings and a bright, modern space. During the busiest lunch hour, this space can fill up quickly; tables are laid out to maximize seating with longer shared table spce in the middle and a banquette along the wall. The espresso machine is front and center behind the counter, promising all the caffeine fixes you would expect from a coffee shop, but the large menu on the wall behind makes it clear that Blank Slate wants to keep you fed as well as energized. This menu, which is impossible to miss as you walk up to order,  focuses entirely on prepared food; beverages are listed on a smaller side menu, and there are none of the pastries or baked goods that are usually on display in a coffee shop. Guests who come in in the morning may not be able to get a quick muffin with their coffee, but they can get sweet toast with whipped ricotta and candied bacon, or an egg sandwich with truffled goat cheese.

The breakfast menu is available late on weekends to appeal to midtown brunch-ers, but in the afternoon the selection switches over to salads, sandwiches, and small plates. These offerings are all thoughtfully curated and described on the menu – there are basics (like a rustic chicken sandwich or a Mediterranean salad), but they often have small twists to add a layer of appeal (the caesar salad is made with brussel sprouts, and the meatball sub is made with lamb, mint, and pecorino). The desserts are also in line with what you would expect from a sit down restaurant, including molten chocolate cake with vanilla gelato, and you can pair any of the food with wine or beer offered on tap.

While the menu itself would be at home in an upscale sit-down restaurant, the front of house operations are much more streamlined. Guests order from the register in a single line from which they can get coffee to go or a table number to seat themselves and wait for food. From there, staff members bring orders, fill water, and bus dishes – but ordering and payment is all taken care of.

Take Aways…Blank Slate fills all the needs of a neighborhood coffee shop in a neighborhood that needs plenty of coffee shops, but a finely tuned menu of savory foods (and a streamlined system for serving them) helps Blank Slate do double-duty as a lunch, brunch, and early dinner spot as well. This combo is the heart of the Café-table concept: fill two needs at once, and your morning regulars may just become your most satisfied lunch guests as well.

 

Retail Spotlight: Birch Coffee

Birch-Coffee-4.jpgTheir Success…With five locations around Manhattan and a roastery in Long Island City, Birch Coffee has become synonymous with quality coffee and a knowledgeable staff, all while maintaining an unfussy and approachable vibe in their presentation. Walking into any of their shops, it’s easy to see that owners Paul Schlader and Jeremy Lyman prioritize service and community for all guests, which is not always easy when the line extends out the door. A small chalkboard sign by the register happily declares “Birch Loves You.” Conversation cards are available on the front counter to help break the ice between strangers looking to chat, and each shop has its own lending library, encouraging visitors to stay and relax with a book. Plenty of guests also bring laptops to work, and all Birch locations are open until 8PM, so it’s easy to stop by after a 9-to-5 job (or 9-to-6 or -7) without feeling rushed. Birch truly embodies the friendly public-private space that many urban residents look for in their local coffee shops.

From the menus to the interior design, Birch shops directly reflect Schlader and Lyman’s personalities and attention to detail. Besides the usual espresso and pastry options, craft beer and wine are also available for those who are attracted to that community-oriented atmosphere but don’t need the caffeine kick. In the sweltering Manhattan summer time, cold brew is a huge seller – and fortunately for any guests who don’t want to leave the comfort of air conditioning, Birch delivers 64 ounce growlers for environmentally-friendly refreshment that’s big enough to go around. Schlader and Lyman also made fair trade, single-origin coffee fundamental to their brand before it was de rigeur, and they seem more than happy to share the joys of a superior brew; guests can sign up for by-appointment lessons in home-brewing, barista skills, and coffee appreciation.

The setting for these offerings are spaces that are tend toward the industrial, with unfinished tile work, mismatched furniture, and plenty of wood details. The aesthetic is rugged and hip, and it sets Birch apart from many coffee shops where meticulous interior design is the main attraction. Here, the coffee and the people are front and center. One exception is the iconic Birch logo and font, which unify all their shops and are available on assorted “Birchandise” through their store.

Take Aways…Birch has grown steadily since their opening by maintaining a great reputation for quality and a warm, welcoming aesthetic.  By roasting their own coffee, Birch maintains a connection to the entire supply chain, which helps them guarantee the best product for all their guests. Of course, many coffee shops provide great coffee, but what sets Birch apart is their down-to-earth presentation and welcoming details. In a busy New York day, getting good coffee quickly is expected, but being able to really enjoy it is their recipe for success.

 

 

JUICE PRESS: MULTI-UNIT COLD-PRESSED JUICE ENTERPRISE

122 Greenwich Avenue at 13th Street (West Village) • 212.777.0034

Juice Press

Their Success…With summer just behind us, many people are still trying to hold onto their healthy habits—fruit- and vegetable-filled salads, juices, and light fare—all through the year.  One way New Yorkers, and now people across the country are doing so is through cold-pressed juice.  And when it comes to juice, Juice Press is among the most notable retailers, growing rapidly amidst a frenzy of press.  Juice Press, helmed by founder Marcus Antebi, has taken New York City by storm, bringing with it not only cold-pressed juice, but also a lifestyle that has generated brand fanatics.  And with 8 locations in the city and another 7 planned within the year, Antebi is poised to take his brand to even greater heights.

What is driving the brand is not just its craveable products and prime real estate, but Antebi’s fervent belief in himself and his concept. By being his concept’s strongest supporter, both in his actions and his words, Antebi has convinced others to believe in it, as well.  His passion for healthy living and belief in his product is evident in all aspects of the enterprise.  Antebi is the consummate advocate for his concept, from his enthusiastic media interviews, to in-store marketing materials to his own lifestyle.

As the face and embodiment of the Juice Press lifestyle, Antebi empowers and motivates loyal followers and new guests alike.  Juice Press becomes more than just juice for guests—it is a feeling they crave and want to seek out again and again.

Health-conscious juice fans are not the only ones taking note of Juice Press’s success.  In 2012 Juice Press raised $7 million in funding from high-profile investors such as New York Yankee Mark Teixeira, Ken Langone of Home Depot, and billionaire Stanley Druckmiller.

With the support of these investors as well as Juice Press’s ever-increasing base of brand loyalists, Antebi has positioned his brand for strong growth in the rapidly expanding cold-pressed juice market.

Take Aways…Believe in your concept and others will follow.  As an enterprise owner, you will always be the strongest supporter of your brand and the best advocate for your concept.  By giving your brand a face, you give guests and prospective investors confidence in the value of your products and your potential for continued success.