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Ten years ago Alissa Wagner and Sabrina De Sousa were waitressing together at the Thai Nolita restaurant Lovely Day and daydreaming of owning their own restaurant. A few years later, they took a trip to Patagonia and were re-inspired to bring their dream to fruition so they started planning the perfect menu, ingredients and aesthetic. Upon their return, they struggled to find a location until Sabrina serendipitously stuck her head out of the window of her flat in Chinatown one morning and saw a 'To Rent' sign protruding from what is now DIMES deli and that was that.
Originally just a grab and go, the tiny deli has grown into a small restaurant group of three locations with Alissa acting as head chef and Sabrina in charge of business development and front of house. The original café remains the neighbourhood centrepiece offering all their bowls and dishes to go, then there's the marketplace which sells products the two "really believe in" and across the street is a sit-down restaurant filled with pastel-coloured art deco furniture.
When asked what the restaurant scene was like pre-DIMES in New York, Alissa tells us: "I don't want to say male-driven, but it was very dark." Sabrina adds: "It was very heavy and everything was sort of comfort-foodie." Since its opening, DIMES marked a shift in the paradigm towards 'lighter', more playful restaurants on the New York scene. (The name DIMES highlights the fact that this is a female-run business - dime is slang for girl.)
So what should you order when you go to DIMES? According to Alissa: "Some of our most popular dishes are our acai bowls, our chia pudding, our rice bowls for sure, we do a black rice pudding which is popular, it's a Japanese-style bowl, with pickled vegetables and seaweed. I think we are always looking for new ingredients, and different ways of approaching vegetables and food in general." Part of what has maintained DIMES' success is their unusual ingredients - you'll find them using garnishes such as apple blossom and at their marketplace you'll find an incredible perfume brand called Regime de Fleur, which is edible.
Despite the innovation, element of 'surprise' and intrigue that they pride themselves on, most important to them of all is that DIMES is and remains accessible, and an integral part of the neighbourhood.
A New York eating guide by Dimes
Soba-ya - part of a cluster of Japanese restaurants in the East Village. It's a fantastic soba restaurant that also serves other amazing specials using simple and very purist ingredients.
El Rey - a great vegetarian restaurant run by friends of ours.
Angelica Kitchen - the quintessential vegetarian restaurant in New York that's still relevant today.
Superior Burger - a really interesting take on vegetarian dishes.
Explore more of The Inside New York video series.
Photos by Nathan Ellis Perkel