From my window I notice the tiny girl with strawberry-blonde hair lag behind her parents while taking a moment to examine the grass under her feet. She’s aware of her mom, who looks back over her shoulder every few seconds, and inches away each time it appears they’re getting closer to one another. The mother is alert, attentive, but allows her daughter space. We aren’t that different, I think. I mean it’s what we do all along, that tough balancing act of holding on tight while simultaneously letting go, all the while glancing over our shoulders until that one day when we steal a look back and realize that there’s no one left behind us.
Jordan began her sophomore year in college this week. She discussed classes and her schedule, but she never asked for advice or assistance when planning out the semester. I didn’t expect her to. Figuring out the whole empty nest scenario last year helped me work through this new phase in my life. Trust me, it’s still a work in progress. As I hear friends talking about their kids venturing off to college this week, I’m grateful to be in a different place. And I know the next semester and the semester after that will be easier and perhaps harder all at the same time.
Soon, I will be a mere spectator in my daughter’s life rather than an active participant. Little by little I’m mourning the loss. That’s not to say I’m not excited for her future. There’s no doubt that she will go out and rule the world in her own special way. If I’m honest, I do, however, lust for one more minute to go back in time, ensuring I did things right, offering that last golden nugget of advice, and stressing once more the depth of unconditional love her dad and I hold for her, and that it will always be here. Did I stress all of these things enough? The worry creeps in as we near the final stretch. So I share these “juicy tidbits,” advice, wisdom, and inspiration in one quick swoop as a love letter of sorts for Jordan. I couldn’t finish writing this piece last year when I was right in the middle of enormous change, but today I was able to finish.
Savor “delicious ambiguity.” Be brave. Express yourself. Allow yourself options and take chances. Go makeup free as often as possible; know that you are beautiful. Use your beauty and intelligence for good instead of evil. Take care of yourself and care about others. Be genuine. Independence equals strength; wear it like a coat of armor. Stay curious. Fill your life with laughter. Never stop looking for your passion. Life without passion is lackluster. Admit when you’re wrong. Dust yourself off and move forward. It’s a learning experience, a necessary part of every day living. Try to find the good in everyone. Make friends easily; it’s not as simple as it sounds but worth the work. Be drama free–the last thing the world needs is more drama. Read. Listen. Trust your instincts. Learn when to move and when to stand still. Relish the little things. Be bold. Be compassionate. Be yourself. Be fearless of failure. When it presents itself, take the road less traveled and create your own path. Ignore the urge to glance over your shoulder in search of support or encouragement . . . those exquisite elements fill the space between us.
During the weekends, especially spring and summer, Roosevelt Island’s Fire Fighters Field, Octagon Field and Pony Field come to life courtesy of the Zoggers. Like a rare breed of exotic bird descending the fields in their colorful sneakers and occasional old-school knee-high socks, Zoggers congregate, strategize and ultimately play ball—be it kickball, dodgeball, football, or baseball. Styling team colored tee shirts with cool names like Catchers in the Rye and Purple Reign, the Zoggers, whether on the field or in the local Bar & Grill afterwards, make their presence known. They’re loud, really loud—laughing, talking, and cheering . . . nonstop. And it makes you feel good just being around it, little snippets of laughter sneaking in through open windows or tapping you on the shoulder while walking by on a sunny day. You begin to look for your favorite player or the most engaging team, high-fivers, and talk…
A planned trip around the world morphed into a life-changing journey from chaotic New York City living to a humble tent in Maui. Me-Shell Mijangos reignited her passion for yoga, surf and the outdoors which ultimately led to the discovery of a reinvented life centered in bliss. Realigning her priorities in a way most of us only dream about, Mijangos left behind the corporate world to start SwellWomen, a surf camp and wellness retreat for women. Founded in 2003 SwellWomen caters to women of all ages, offering a full service luxury retreat experience, including a variety of activities such as snorkeling, windsurfing, and of course, exploring the Hawaiian Islands . And most recently, SwellWomen added SwellCo-Ed, surf and yoga retreats open to men, women, and couples.
The SwellWomen experience is as much about internal wellness as the external. Mijangos gets it . . . the rat race, the stress, the obligations, the never ending tasks. She’s been there. She’s done it. And now she can show you how to sit back, take a deep breath, and treat yourself to some swell-deserved bliss.
Life of Riley: Much of your career focused on empowering women in some way. Why has that been such an important element of your work life?
Me-Shell Mijangos: I don’t know really. It’s just something that makes me feel good–there’s a real purpose behind it. I see the strength in women and like seeing women blossom in their personal growth. We (as women) really have so much to offer to other women.
LOR: People dream of leaving behind the chaos of every day life and searching for a more peaceful existence. How were you able to do it?
Mijangos: It was easy for me, I followed my bliss and it led me to Maui. I made some sacrifices to live here, i.e. going from Soho to living in a tent for a month in Maui. Then, I upgraded to a converted garage studio. I was in alignment with my purpose, and even though I was living much more simply than I did in NYC, I was happy. I was happy to be back in nature.
LOR: While you were living in New York, you took a trip around the world, and it turned out to be the trip that changed your life. How did the idea for that trip come to life?
Mijangos: It was a dream of mine that kept on ‘nagging’ at me. I love NYC—it was a wonderful time in my life to be there and it’s a place that I will never forget. However, I knew it wasn’t me to be there. I saved up all my pennies from my corporate job and took off on a wild adventure that I never completed. That’s how I ended up in Maui.
Mijangos: The surf, the sunshine, the aloha spirit, the slow paced life, why not? 🙂
LOR: What was the inspiration behind SwellWomen? Tell us more about the company.
Mijangos: During my trip around the world, the first stop was in Costa Rica to participate in a yoga teacher training program. It was there that I started to teach fellow yogis and yoginis how to surf. I took the concepts and poses of yoga and transferred them onto the surfboard. I really enjoyed teaching and using yoga as a teaching tool. Fast forward to Maui, I ended up getting a summer job as an assistant director at a teen surf camp. While I was there, my ideas of owning a wellness retreat that incorporated two of my passions—surfing and yoga—began to take shape. I knew Maui was the place for that to happen!
LOR: Who are the women joining your retreats? Is there a specific SwellWoman?
Mijangos: Our SwellWomen come from all over the world and range from 19 (our youngest) to 68 (our oldest). They are from all walks of life from business owner, doctors, CEOs, full time moms, and everything in between. One thing in common is their sense of adventure and wellness…I think that’s what draws them to our retreats.
LOR: What do you hope these women take home with them?
Mijangos: I hope these women take home with them more ways to incorporate bliss into their lives. This can range from spending more time on themselves, taking yoga classes, eating more healthy, taking walks, or as extravagant as a career change.
LOR: Have you found your bliss?
Mijangos: …yes, and then some.
LOR: For those who can’t leave their current job or change locations, do you have any empowering tips to help them achieve a form of bliss in everyday life?
Mijangos: Yes, find out what feels good for your body and do more of it. We disconnect so much from ourselves when we get caught up in the rat race of life (I’ve experienced this personally) and we ‘forget’ what brings us bliss or makes us happy. Pay attention. Go play. See what happens. It could be sunshine on your face for a few minutes, a new brand of tea, or taking 5 minutes to be present with your child that can bring you bliss. Blissful moments…they are wonderful.
You can learn more about Me-Shell Mijangos and SwellWomen at www.SwellWomen.com. Check out the SwellWomen Promo video for a very blissful overview of this amazing adventure. And you can also connect with SwellWomen on Twitter and Facebook.
A glass of red Hungarian wine, a heated conversation on letting myself go, and an unbelievably sweet Groupon deal featuring a friend’s fitness studio led me down the road to fitness boot camp.
Standing along the East River, surrounded by a large group of twenty-somethings dressed in the latest lululemon athletic wear, I hold my head high. Decked out in my old Target jogging pants with the faded out crotch and an unraveling waistband—the same tired pants my husband and daughter christened the “uniform pants,” I try to ignore the startling contrast in age, fashion, and physique.
Five minutes in, the trainer introduces himself as G5, asks us to sign in, and then directs us to line up in rows. Before I have a chance to find a comfortable spot, G5 reaches for the whistle dangling from his toned neck in what seems like slow motion and, suddenly, a shrilling sound echoes in my ears. I sprint up the hill desperately trying to stay in front of someone, anyone, so that I will not be last. But last is where I finish each time.
1981. Reagan became President. Lady Diana married Prince Charles. MTV launched. Ali retired. Titanic found. The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) issued the first “official” report of what would later be called the AIDS epidemic. And Elizabeth Glaser contracted HIV from a blood transfusion during childbirth.
Seven years later, Glaser lost her daughter, Ariel, to AIDS. At that time little was known about Pediatric AIDS or mother-to-child transmission and research was very limited. Out of a mother’s grief for her daughter and fear for her son’s life, Glaser co-founded The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation and rallied the world for change. Losing her own battle with AIDS in ‘94, Glaser’s legacy lives on in many forms including the EGPAF Ambassadors—a special group of individuals, touched by HIV or AIDS, who work hard to educate, support and inspire, striving for a generation free of HIV. Today, Glaser’s son, Jake, now a healthy HIV-positive young adult, serves as an EGPAF ambassador.
Recently I had the honor of speaking via Skype with EGPAF Ambassador Florence Ngobeni-Allen who lives in Johnanessburg, South Africa. The striking similarities between Glaser and Allen were hard to miss, two HIV-positive mothers fighting, relentlessly, for global change. And just as Glaser had lost Ariel, Allen also lost her daughter, Nomthunzi, in 1997. From counseling other HIV positive mothers to advocacy work to standing alongside President Obama at the 2011 World AIDS Day, honoring Nomthunzi’s memory has become Allen’s passion and work–a mother’s fight.
Life of Riley: Did you ever imagine this is where you’d be, what you’d be doing today? Giving interviews? Traveling the world? Supporting other mothers?
Florence Allen: No, not at all. It’s amazing and when it happens, I pinch myself, and say, ‘Oh, I’m going back to America again! What is it about these guys that they keep inviting me!’ So many women have gone through what I’ve gone through. You ask yourself, how is it that it’s you who is required and privileged to come and talk to other people.
I am passionate about mother-to-child transmission, because I’ve lost Nomthunzi, and in her honor I’ll do anything to save a child’s life and to comfort mother’s all over the world and say you know what, you can still make a difference.
I used to think when I have other kids—I have 2 beautiful boys now who are HIV negative—and I used to think that the interest would be less and I would have an excuse, because I’m a mother now I can’t do it. The truth is there is still so much to be done regardless of funding and new policies that have been written and programs that have been introduced.
Riley: What other type of work and advocacy do you want to concentrate on?
Allen: Our voices as women, especially women who have gone through some of these systems, are important, and it’s important to hold another woman’s hand and say you can still fight, and I’m here with you. Those things keep me going.
The other thing is as an Ambassador of The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation and as a person who’s done much advocacy I see the passion in what other mothers are doing. We have a blog called A Mother’s Fight. And that blog for me is just telling the story in different ways. I’d like to encourage more and more women to get into the blog and talk about their stories and share with other mothers.
You know about Elizabeth Glaser how she lost Ariel and how she fought for her kids? I see her as a very good role model. If we can be here for the next generation for whoever needs us to fight the mother’s fight then I’ll do that anytime.
Riley: I do remember Elizabeth and her story. She and Ryan White were the two people who educated me about HIV and AIDS . . . After losing Ariel, Elizabeth’s grief became the catalyst for creating The Pediatric AIDS Foundation and her advocacy work. Your story is very similar. Do you feel this empowering connection with her?
Allen: I do. Strange enough when you walk into the office her smiling face is in one of the pictures right at the door, greeting you. In a way mine is a similar story, similar to hers. And the fact that she’s not here now but she fought this fight of a mother encourages people like me. Her organization funded a place I used to work, Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, and I saw how much people’s lives were transformed. Not only was sharing my story as an HIV-positive person giving hope to the women, but suddenly there also was medication they could take to have HIV-negative children. Elizabeth will always be my hero. And I know one day we will meet in heaven. She is an inspiration to all of us. And I look at her in the pictures, read about her, and mention the name every day and it’s encouragement for me to fight even harder.
Riley: Can you explain antiretroviral treatment and PMTCT and how they helped you have 2 sons who are HIV-negative?
Allen:PMTCT is Prevention of mother-to-child transmission.
If a mother is HIV-positive she can pass the virus to her baby through conception, through utero, through delivery, or through breast milk. Transmission of HIV from a mother to her child can be prevented during pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding through the use of antiretroviral therapy (ART) and antiretroviral (ARV) drugs.
We are fighting for PMTCT in Africa and the PMTCT transmission rate has been cut in half. There are 1,000 children born with HIV in Africa versus here in America where you have 100 to 200 children born with HIV a year. We have made good strides to prevent mother to child transmission and we’re hoping in 2015 that there will be an elimination of Pediatric AIDS transmission.
Riley: Florence, you’ve mentioned several times about an HIV free generation. Do you really see that in the near future?
Allen: We have hope. I have hope. I never thought today I’d be as healthy as I am. In our country, in South Africa, we hosted the World Cup in 2010 and I remember we won and everyone was so excited. I wasn’t. Because I never thought I was going to be there in 2010. Funny enough, in 2010 I was expecting my youngest child, and I was healthy. And I was moving forward.
So this year regardless I’m trying to study and try other things that I’ve never tried before. If a cure comes, it will come, and hopefully I’ll still be there. If it doesn’t come, I will fight as much as I can. The most important thing for me now is using every minute of my day to make a difference at this. It is important for me to continue doing this job. And I see how I can become a grandmother one day and see my grandchildren. And if not, I’d rather have gone down having fought this fight. It’s important for me.
The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation is a global leader in the fight against pediatric HIV and AIDS. They’re working in 15 countries around the world to provide HIV prevention, care, and treatment services for children, women, and families—with a mission to eliminate pediatric AIDS.
To be honest, I don’t remember where or how I discovered The Holstee Manifesto. What I do remember is the way it opened my eyes, awakening me from a mid-life slumber. A simple declaration scattered with life altering statements: Do what you love. Travel Often. Share your passion. Stop overanalyzing. Life is short.
Crafted on the steps of Union Square, brothers Mike and Dave Radparvar along with friend Fabian Pfortmüller wrote their definition of success. The three partners express it wasn’t a business plan, more so a life plan, but it’s metamorphosed into all of those things and more. Its organic success mirrors the principles that makeup Holstee’s environment and community. It’s obvious the moment you step through their doors. From employee bike credits to staff prepared healthy lunches, Holstee practices what it preaches—Lifestyle design with a conscience. I sat down with co-founder Mike Radparvar at the Holstee office in Dumbo, and we chatted about all things Holstee, the message, the growth, and the future.
Life of Riley:Shared more than 500,000 times, and viewed online 60 million times, and counting, The Holstee Manifesto resonates with so many. Why do you think people connect with it?
Mike Radparvar: We were really surprised to see how well it resonated. When we wrote the Manifesto it was for ourselves. We said let’s write down something that can be a definition of a successful life. Let’s write our own definition. There are so many different ways that everyone is telling you what you need to be successful or you’re not successful until you have this.
We thought, we’re starting a new company and a kind of lifestyle and a framework to play in. And so we needed our own definition of success. So we sat down in Union Square, and we all decided to write down different elements that were important to us. The things that came out of that mini brainstorm were reminders that we’re not financially driven: Be open to new ideas, travel, share what’s important, always being open about what your passionate about and pursuing that.
We recently had quit our jobs, and I think that because it came from a deep place inside of us, it was very human emotions we were thinking about. It was not specific to a certain organization or a demographic. This was just like in life, what things are important. And those things hold true no matter where you come from in life, no matter what language you speak, no matter what age you are.
Riley:Was The Manifesto’s success unexpected?
Radparvar: If anyone would have told us when we wrote it what would happen, we could never have guessed it. It’s taken on a life of its own. We’ve been totally blown away by that.
Riley:That was 2009. Do the founders still live by those original words?
Radparvar: That is something we’re trying to make a point of every day. It is the basis of how we are building our company. It’s the basis of what we’re doing, the products we’re designing, and it’s the common thread between our products and the lifestyle they encourage.
Riley:Explain more about that idea of products encouraging a lifestyle.
Radparvar: If you were to look at our shop, there are no specific product categories on our site. It looks like a mash up of a lot of different products—we have a water bottle, a bag, a belt, a tee shirt, a poster. After someone relates to those products a little more you begin to see the thread of not so much what those products are but the type of lifestyle they encourage.
Anytime you buy anything you’re voting with your dollar and you’re sending a signal to someone somewhere all the way up the supply chain saying do more. I totally approve of this, and this is how I’m showing it. That is a very powerful way to drive change—people understanding what is the impact of how they’re spending money.
Riley:Holstee has been experiencing amazing growth. As you bring new people on board, can you tell readers how you select the ideal employee?
Radparvar: Every new hire is a big deal to us. We take it very seriously. It’s like bringing someone into your family. We want to build something long term with our employees. Every single person on the team can change the dynamic. We look for someone who is not afraid to do anything. Open-minded. Interested in creating positive impact through good design.
Riley:Speaking of family. I noticed your mom’s comment on a recent blog post, which I thought was pretty cool. Has your family been supportive in this venture?
Radparvar: At first our parents were a little cautious of our quitting our jobs.
The recession was getting worse. The company I worked for was laying off people. My mom was really happy I didn’t get laid off and the next week I was telling her I was planning on going in and quitting. But I think we flew under the radar because my sister was getting married in a couple of weeks. So all the attention was on her.
There was a little bit of ‘are you sure this is a good idea?’ We just explained how this was important to us. We had been setting aside money. And we told her this is what we’re going to do now for the next few months. When you really think about it and say what’s the worst thing that can happen to me in the next 2 to 3 months, all of a sudden you’re free to take some risks. When you’re in a position to take a calculated risk like that, a smart risk, you almost have a responsibility to do so.
Now our parents are our biggest supporters. Anytime we post anything on Facebook our mom’s the first one to like it. Her Facebook profile has been the Manifesto for the past two years.
Riley:Your site is uniquely diverse. Do you keep that in mind when you create or promote products? Or does it organically happen?
Radparvar: It kind of organically happens, now that there are so many great companies with a kick ass purpose.
Riley:I know from our last interview that you’ve been working on the product story. What exactly does that mean? And how will it impact the end user?
Radparvar: Looking forward we want to do something that helps build the story of the products you buy. The yarn came from this place and the button came from this place . . . Building a platform.
A lot of the products we have probably traveled more than most people have traveled in their lives. And they come from more places and have been touched by more hands. There’s such an incredible story of how they got to where they are. If we really knew the story, from raw material to its current state we’d have more respect for that plastic bottle.
Riley:What can we expect in the near future for Holstee?
Radparvar: We’re looking into milling our own paper. We are letter pressing a lot of posters and cards. We’re cautious about the types of paper we’re using. We’ve built a very strong relationship with those we’re sourcing them from. If we do our own milling, then the options really open up—Paper made from tee shirt scraps, jeans. People could send in their jeans, or we could work with a large company that makes jeans and take their dead stock.
Riley:Okay, I’m just gonna ask: How does it feel to be so cool?
Radparvar: It’s kind of surreal. So many people know the Manifesto.
People come over to our place for dinner, and we have the manifesto in a frame when you first walk in. And they say, oh the Manifesto, you’ve got that too.
And we say actually wrote it. And they’re amazed. If we’d ever tried to create something with the intention of it going crazy it never would have. It’s because we wrote it for ourselves, and it came from a very real place—people connect with it. You have to just do it and do what feels right.
I went to work for the last time today. My final commute to New Jersey–I am certainly happy about that. What will I do tomorrow? That is the question.It’s never easy changing routine, even if it’s welcome change. But I do have an agenda.I will go to Alvin Ailey for my dance class.
I will spend time with my dog and cat.
I will buy an iPhone—finally.
And I will write–something.
God-willing, I will continue to write and I will not look back.
And I will probably watch “The View”.What will I miss? People and a paycheck.
But I will focus on the positive. I still live in the greatest city in the world, and the possibilities are endless.The future is my own.
Tracy Kaler is a columnist/freelancer for Metro.us, a contributing editor for The West Side Rag, and writes for small businesses. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, Mike, a neurotic Chocolate Lab, Bogey, and a food-obsessed cat, Mimi. Tracy’s also working on her first book. You can read more about Tracy’s New York adventures on her blog Tracy’s New York Life.
An authentic piece of Portugal shines right in the middle of Midtown Manhattan near the corner of East 52nd and 3rd Avenue. After spending a decade in the trendy West Village, Alfama, named for the oldest district of Lisbon, has relocated and settled comfortably into Midtown East, recreating a unique dining experience, which offers the best of both worlds—modern flair surrounding treasured tradition.
Accompanied by a passionate, dedicated staff, owners and partners Tarcísio Costa and Miguel Jerónimo provide hands-on management with attention to detail, every little detail. From weekend brunch, featuring freshly baked breads and pastries, to weekday express lunch that includes a delicious sandwich—tuna on house-made focaccia with roasted bell peppers, onions and parsley with a piquillo aioli, steak sandwich with Monterey jack caramelized onions and bell peppers, or the pulled pork sandwich—a soup of the day and a choice of green salad or homemade Portuguese potato chips (to die for chips that should come with an extremely addicting warning), Alfama strategically juggles a variety of culinary hats.
I discovered Alfama during the holidays and admit I’ve become quite a fan. Sampling much of the menu and visiting during different times of the day and night, including Wednesdays for Fado night, I’ve tried to capture the overall vibe of the place. And I am confident enough to share with you the sum of its allure . . . duality. Fine dining that feels comfortable. Menu options that juxtapose the exotic with the basic. A mixed crowd of East meets West, old friends meet new. A relaxed atmosphere dripping with verve. Recently I met with Costa, who gave me a tour of the restaurant as we discussed the key ingredients to Alfama’s success.
Life of Riley:The restaurant décor is as unique and wonderful as the food. Can you give us a little background on all of it?
Tarcísio Costa: Our design and décor, although modern, are totally Portuguese. The glass mural with a world map in the main dining room is not just a decorative map but a map of the Treaty of Tordesilhas dating from 1494, when Portugal split the world in half with Spain. The oil paintings are by Isabel Pavão, a contemporary Portuguese artist who’s based in New York, but has her work hanging in prestigious galleries in Oporto, Lisbon and Paris, France.
LOR: Do you find it challenging being one of the few Portuguese restaurants in the city?
Costa: It is a blessing and a curse to be us! I say that because there aren’t that many Portuguese restaurants in the city, so people who are not familiar with Portuguese cuisine don’t really have a point of reference as to what our cuisine is all about. This presents an opportunity to win them over and to hopefully have them fall in love with Portuguese food and wine.
The challenge is if they come in with pre-conceived notions of what the food should be instead of accepting what it is. The best example is when we explain salt cod to people. Many times they assume it will be salty, because the word salt is in the name. Or they assume it is like fresh fish. Well, it is not! Salt cod is a hearty, meaty fish that can sometimes smell quite strong—it may have a pungent smell, but that is just the nature of the fish. It is a cured fish and there is nothing wrong with it. Traditionally, the Portuguese enjoy their salt cod with a medium to full-bodied red wine.
LOR: Explain the Flavor of Portugal.
Costa: Alfama offers a unique insight into the world of Portuguese flavors, starting with the olive oil – Esporão, from the Alentejo in Southern Portugal. Not only is it the olive oil the chefs use in the kitchen, but we also serve it at the table to accompany the bread we serve, which is baked on premise. We have our own bakery and once again, some of the breads we serve are traditional Portuguese breads such as Broa, a dense corn/wheat peasant bread, pão de bico, which is the equivalent of a baguette, and our own focaccia with shallots and mushrooms.
As for the food, salt cod, being a staple of the Portuguese table, is always present on our menu, as well as grilled octopus, and our Mariscada Alfama, a rich seafood stew made of lobster, mussels, clams, shrimp, monkfish and baby potatoes in a lobster wine broth. Also, when they are in season (May through October) we have our sardines flown in from Lisbon twice a week. They are grilled, served whole over roasted bell peppers, garlic, onions and olive oil with a sprinkle of sea salt. Another typical dish we serve is our Frango no Churrasco, a Portuguese-style barbecued Piri-Piri half chicken served with our homemade potato chips and salad. Piri-Piri is an African-based chili that provides a lovely amount of heat, but it is not too spicy, so it does not “kill” one’s palate. Speaking of spice, one misconception I’d like to clear is that a lot of people assume Portuguese food to be spicy. Well, it is not! Typical condiments used in Portuguese cooking are garlic, onions, cilantro (very commonly used in salads and in fish stews, especially in the Alentejo region), coarse salt, bay leaf, thyme and, of course, the delicious olive oil.
LOR:Any other unique ways that Alfama stands out?
Costa: Our wine list, comprised of about 99% of Portuguese wines, sets us apart. There are only three non-Portuguese white wines on the list.
LOR: Speaking of wine lists, New Yorkers love their Happy Hour. What can we expect at the Alfama bar?
Costa: Happy Hour is a thing of familiarity. Besides good drink and food, it’s about feeling the vibe of a place, feeling comfortable there, recognizing familiar faces . . . it’s like ‘Linus’ blanket’ for after work. At Alfama we offer Sagres, Portuguese beer on draft and wines at half-price (beer for $3 and wines for $5), plus complimentary in-house cured olives and our crunchy potato chips sprinkled with fresh garlic and parsley. The chef also sends out a few amuse-bouche for guests to try from time to time.
LOR:Normally I prefer wine to cocktails, but I love your Portuguese Margarita. What’s the inspiration for creating these signature cocktails?
Costa: My signature cocktails, most inspired by Portuguese history or current events, are infused as much as possible with Portuguese liqueurs, wines and spirits. Also, the names of the cocktails are for the most part in Portuguese or related to Portugal. For example, Bairro Alto is the name of a bohemian neighborhood in Lisbon; and based on that I created a “Portuguese Margarita.” Oh well, we all know there is no such a thing, as the Margarita is a tequila-based cocktail and it’s typically Mexican. But being that Bairro Alto is an area where one goes out with friends to go barhopping and there are clubs and cafés where people gather until the wee hours of the night, I thought it’d be an appropriate name. What makes our margarita Portuguese is the use of a blackberry liqueur from the islands of the Azores. I recently created a cocktail with Ruby Port, which is something VERY Portuguese, as Port can only be considered Port if it comes from Portugal, from the Douro Valley, the oldest demarcated wine region in the world. I decided to call it “Port of Call,” a play on words, but the ingredients highlight two very Portuguese flavors: Amarguinha, a traditional Almond liqueur from the Algarve, the Portuguese Riviera, where there are lots of marinas with private yachts and sail boats, Ruby Port, fresh lemon, vanilla-flavored vodka and an orange peel. It’s a refreshing cocktail, which I hope will provide the palate a seaside escape.
LOR: You definitely see the behind-the-scene collaboration at Alfama. Tell us about the team.
Costa: We are like a small family at Alfama and as such we each have our responsibilities and hold each other accountable. We all want success for one another. During daily staff meetings, we talk about specials, new cocktails and/or wines, menu changes, service – what’s good, what’s not, what needs to be improved and how we are going to go about it.
Denise Costa is the manager and in charge of these meetings. Miguel Jerónimo, my partner, is the overall operations manager. I am in charge of the wines, spirits, our cocktail program, and I try to be on Twitter and Facebook as much as I can to promote Alfama.
Francisco Rosa, our executive chef, and Carlos Arriaga, our chef de cuisine, are both Portuguese and as such, they “drive the culinary bus” in terms of controlling the food costs, menu development, seasonality of ingredients and training their kitchen on traditional Portuguese cooking.
Not sure what to order on your first visit to Alfama? Here are my top picks:
–The Grilled octopus with smashed potatoes, garlic, onions, sautéed broccoli rabe and olive oil. It’s always tender, savory,and grilled to perfection.
–Portuguese style barbecued Piri-Piri half chicken served with Portuguese potato chips and salad. The best barbecued chicken I’ve ever had–a huge portion that’s juicy and sweet complemented nicely by the fresh, crispy salad and those amazing chips.
–A traditional sweet cream mousse layered with a crumble of “Maria” cookies served with lemon curd and Madeira-poached prunes. The combination of such interesting flavors of sweet and tart from the prunes and curd literally make your mouth water. A beautiful dessert.
We started thinking, what would the world be like without physical books. And how would we want to keep those pieces of the physical reading experience alive.
~Todd Lawton, Out of Print
The year was 1984. Second graders Todd Lawton and Jeff LeBlanc met for the first time and became fast friends, sharing many common interests, but most particularly a love for books. Fast-forward to 2010, and the long-time friends took their love of books to the next level by starting Out of Print Clothing, a company based on a project encouraging people to talk about books.
Today, Out of Print, located in the heart of New York, works closely with authors, publishers and artists for their ever-expanding collection, which now includes iPhone cases, totes, greeting cards, and shirts for the entire family. The Out of Print tees cover an impressive bookshelf, featuring beloved literary works—The Great Gatsby, Lolita, Fahrenheit 451, Invisible Man and Moby Dick. And with celebs like Margaret Cho and the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea sporting their shirts, the staff is excited to see where they’ll show up next.
I spent some time recently at the Out of Print office and must admit I feel honored to be the first writer to do an in-house interview, bragging rights for the year. Todd and I sat down to chat about the company’s start, the tedious creation process, and of course, their fabulous fans. We all have a story to tell, and here Out of Print shares their story of keeping the physical reading experience alive with books, art, passion, and giving back.
Life of Riley: How did you and Jeff become business partners and decide on this specific business?
Lawton: We met in second grade, hence the 1984 on the logo. The business incubation stage took a little longer than most companies. We’ve always had a good interest in books. We’ve always wanted to start a business. And we’ve always wanted to use that business to do good. We think we’re doing good through raising awareness about books. Getting people talking.
LOR: What’s the Out of Print mission?
Lawton: We started out as a project to get people talking about books. It was when things were changing so fast with the way people were reading. The experience of reading was going from being this paper tactile kind of experience where you had the smell of the book and these great covers to a digital format, which has its own benefits like increasing the ease of reading.
We started thinking, what would the world be like without physical books. And how would we want to keep those pieces of the physical reading experience alive. Our focus landed on the great book art. It’s something in the digital age that has a much different meaning. When you look at a cover that’s been on the shelves for decades communicating what that book’s about compared to a thumbnail image on a website, the impact originally intended becomes lost.
We thought about how to make a statement with books. How do we celebrate great books and great book art? We thought that the ideal conversation starter would be a line of graphic tees that give a certain fashion to being bookish. We started to reach out to different publishers, artists and authors and found out a lot of people were interested in supporting this mission.
LOR: In a short amount of time, you’ve built quite a collection.
Lawton: When I look at the collection I’m really blown away by the canon that’s represented.
LOR: What’s the process of selecting the next book and the cover art?
Lawton: It’s funny, because we’re actually going through that right now. It is a process. When we first started out, it was just a guess, because we didn’t have feedback from anyone. Now we receive requests from our customers. We keep a list, and it’s massive at this point. We use that list like a guide.
We can’t just say, oh that’s a great book we should put that on a shirt. We have to go though the research and rights process. As many books as we’d love to have on our shirts, there are only so many that we can do. That’s the most important part of the process.
The other part: we look at the art. Is this cover attractive? Does it say something that’s in with our brand? We have some random covers that struck a chord in us. We thought it was an interesting statement or fashion piece or refreshing to see something you wouldn’t expect out there. It’s something that people react to and want to wear.
LOR: There’s also a really great philanthropic element to Out of Print. Can you talk a little about Books for Africa?
Lawton: This is a great part of the business. We feel it’s helping people who really need it in the communities that value the books. It’s helping them achieve a better life. We did a lot of research. When we came across Books for Africa, we really liked what they were doing. They operated extremely efficient. Their mission is to supply schools and libraries with the books that are needed. They collect those books from partners, publishers with overstock, and schools changing editions. These books are just continuing to have a life beyond their shelf life.
LOR: How does it work?
Lawton: You buy a tee, and we donate a book. 220,000 books and growing—it exceeded our expectations. We want to do more. We’d love at some point to say we’ve helped to donate a million books.
LOR: What stores carry Out of Print?
Lawton: We work with different independent bookstores like Strand Book Store, McNally Jackson, Powell’s, Vroman’s, The Tattered Cover, and college bookstores. We also work with a lot of boutiques. I like the way we have a foot in both worlds, bookstores and fashion boutiques. It’s two different audiences, and they don’t always cross over, but in this case they’re interested in the same thing.
We continue to appeal to stores that are doing things a little different, in a creative way. On the fashion side they’re really attracted to the story, but also the visual nature of the art; it’s stand alone in a lot of cases. If you took the title away, you’d still say wow, that’s really cool. Then when you put the title, the author and the story in it has more meaning.
LOR: Are you only in the U.S.?
Lawton: We’re starting to show up in different countries. We’re in some stores in Japan. We work in the UK. We hopefully are going to be in France soon. Even countries that don’t read in English are picking up these shirts . . . I guess they’re titles that mean a lot to them as well.
LOR: What are your thoughts on the constant changes in the book world?
Lawton: I think we can continue to be that nostalgia element for some readers out there. I personally like the paper reading experience. I hope it doesn’t leave us entirely.
LOR: I really love the creativity of asking your fans, What’s Your Story? It’s a great way to engage.
Lawton: It wasn’t our idea. It was our fans’ idea. They just started sending in pictures. From there we asked them to send in photos of them wearing the shirts, like Fahrenheit. They responded, staging photo shoots and all. It’s very cool to see how much this community wants to share their love of books. And how we’re a small piece in helping them do that.