When it comes to geographical cliches, there’s none more ubiquitous than, “If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.” Some say it’s hackneyed, but those who live the daily grind in the Big Apple can attest to the endless “experiences” of existing in the world’s greatest city. Experiences that make you reflect on “community and family” from a micro view, no one is more qualified to speak to those ideals than the Lower East Side’s (often abbreviated as LES) savvy business owners.
LES Is More: Manhattan’s Orchard Street Business Owners Prize Community
Situated on the cusp of Chinatown and the LES is a neighborhood subsection referred to as Orchard Street. The locale, named after the eight-block street, is inherently positioned at the intersection of many cultural conversations that promote an inclusive community tailored for both the seasoned local and an atypical New York tourist. It’s a quality that has broadly defined the LES and Orchard Street.
Caraballo started his East Coast journey when he moved to New York in 2005 to attend Columbia University. He quickly realized that in a city full of dreamers, the nine to five office life wasn’t for him. So what did the philosophy major decide to do? Seek out the antithesis to corporate life and embed himself in the city’s heartbeat: the hospitality industry. Caraballo worked at one of downtown’s off-the-beaten-path mixologist destinations, Apotheke, for three years and learned how to serve some of New York’s most parched. He forged a great relationship with his current business partner of Boys Don’t Cry, Jake Daddow. As Caraballo says, “We definitely bonded over our love for mezcal.”
Life provided the pair with a quick opportunity to test their chemistry when Nom Wah Tu suddenly closed its doors in March 2018. Owner and friend Wilson Tang instantly tasked Caraballo and Daddow with flipping the space quicker than the time it takes to heal a minor wrist sprain. With hard work and patience, Caraballo and Daddow turned 22 Orchard St. into an elevated dive bar with the LES’ best wings and cleanest bathrooms. The turnaround time was less than ideal, but the duo knew they needed to execute. Today, if Caraballo had to recommend opening a restaurant or bar, he wouldn’t.
A hospitality career is inherently challenging. Working with people, at scale, in a service industry can be extraordinarily enigmatic and daunting. However, success can be found in a business owners’ willingness to invest his or herself fully into an undertaking by building equity in its base and spreading roots in the very foundation that keeps the entity growing—the customers. People think a bar’s assets are its menu or aesthetic, and that couldn't be more wrong. It's the people behind the bar, in the kitchen and the revolving door of faces that come in and out.
Roman Grandinetti—an entrepreneur who owns Regina’s Grocery across the street—often frequents Boys Don’t Cry. I’m biased, but those with more partial taste buds would say it's home to some of the best Italian sandwiches (or salads for those gluten-free). Named after his mother Regina, the menu boasts sandwiches inspired by Grandinetti’s family members. It doesn’t get more mom and pop than that. You might find the namesake mother hand-delivering your order to Boys Don’t Cry on occasion.
Caraballo isn’t territorial about outside food or collaborating with those who have a vision, like Helen Nguyen. Nguyen is a real estate agent from Seattle who doubles as a talented chef. She was introduced to Caraballo via Wilson Tang back in his Apotheke days. She owns Saigon Social, a pop-up Vietnamese restaurant that currently exists as a “test kitchen” within Boys Don’t Cry and curates the menu. Being able to function in a family environment successfully has allowed her to open a brick-and-mortar location in early 2020—coincidentally four blocks north on Orchard Street.
Wins like these, particularly as business owners, aren’t necessarily frequent. If a year’s gone by in New York and a restaurant's lights are still on, some would say the hard part is done. There is an adage that if one were to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at a different New York City restaurant every day, it would take 22 years to patron each. Familiar faces provide a nice level of comfort, while strangers can inject a caffeinated jolt. It’s these people, the community at large, that hold Orchard Street and its neighbors down. It’s a family of strangers and relatives who have no ego or patience for exclusivity. Don’t be surprised if you see Grandinetti playing pool in Boys Don’t Cry, or Daddow crossing the street to get fresh ink from Steve Avalos, owner of Evil & Love Tattoo, or the occasional Wiffle ball game in the middle of the road. The many faces of Orchard Street business owners have a love for this: the grind, opening up shop, conversing with the faces beyond a service transaction. There’s a genuine family bond that exists here, and I, for one, am thankful to be part of it.