There’s So Many Talented Black Women Out There, Stephanie Caudle, Podcast #133

Stephanie Caudle is the owner and founder of Black Girl Group, an online freelance marketplace that connects African American women freelance creatives to companies seeking to market and advertise to African American consumers. Stephanie and I got together over zoom to talk about how her company came to be, and the future of freelance in a post-COVID world.

You can hear this on iTunes here. And Soundcloud here.

We are getting back to the podcast world. Working on new concepts and conversations coming to you soon.

Storefront Leases Must Change

Since COVID hit, the cap rates deals with retail have been lower. Everyone who wants a brick and mortar space is looking for a deal. Some landlords are making it work. More than likely those are the ones that actually own their properties and don’t have to deal with the bankers. Other landlords are in a stand-off with possible tenants. Forward-thinking reality is not at play here in the world of commercial real estate.

What can we learn from this? Certainly, the market became ridiculously frothy and made it almost impossible for the store owners to make money. Someone told me years ago that it was the old-time real estate owners that understood downtimes and community. They think long term keeping rents that make sense while newer owners think short term grabbing as much as possible while leveraging their properties.

Perhaps this is true but even if it is, it is time to rethink how commercial real estate works particularly when it comes to storefront properties. In any city, we want to see every storefront rented. It creates a vibrant community. It isn’t a good look when a street is full of empty storefronts.

If you have a 10-20 year lease that is locked and escalates only so much a year, at a relatively good price, you can probably figure out how to make it work. The issue is many of the stores and restaurants don’t always evolve as the times have. Sometimes there are classic restaurants that for whatever reason make it that long but stores are much more difficult without change. The issue here is that storefronts become stale and that’s not great for the neighborhood either. So how do we change that?

There needs to be a partnership between landlords and tenants.  A percentage of the top line should be rent with a guaranteed minimum per month. I believe that those landlords and tenants will end up doing better in the long run. As a tenant, if you aren’t making it work, then you are forced to shake it up and think differently about your spot. As a landlord, you want to be more involved with helping your tenants be successful. It forces tenants to evolve. It keeps things new and happening.

Many of the stores on Bleecker Street, a street that runs from one end of the Village to the other, that have now closed surprised me that they were still open even a year ago. The customer that lived here 20 years ago doesn’t exist anymore. It isn’t that they don’t live here anymore but they aren’t going to head shops instead they want matcha green tea.

Community happens on many levels. Commercial real estate needs to change the way they do business particularly at the storefront level or in a decade we will be back to the same place that we left when COVID hit. I am convinced we can not move forward the way we have in the past. Nothing will be the same and it shouldn’t be. It is easier to change things when everything is in play.

The time for change is now.

A Day in NY, NY

We moved back into our apartment over the past two weeks. We had gutted the apartment and put it back together. First week was unpacking and placing everything. Second week was hanging art.

The people that hung tend to be artists themselves. I spent some time talking with them about their medium and how they ended up in NYC. I am always amazed how people come from far and wide to be part of this town. Many get here and for the first time in their lives feel that this is where they are meant to be. One person is from Kansas City and the other from Iowa. Neither plan on ever going back to their home towns. Now they are NYers.

Our first weekend we spent taking in the city. There are definitely less people on the street but for the most part the people on the street are locals. It really feels good. We began with a walk on the High Line. I sit on the board so we snuck in a bit early to enjoy the beauty and serenity of the place.

I followed this yellow bird who blended in with the scenery.

I truly love the High Line.

A walk up the High Line and then down the West Side waterfront back home. The transformation of the West Side below 23rd Street is epic. George Pataki set up the fund to create the Hudson River Park and the rest is history. This plaque sits behind Chelsea Piers acknowledging the 93rd Mayor of NYC, George Briton McCellan, Jr. In first years he was able to acquire 277 acres of park space, complete the construction of the New York Library, build Grand Central, presided over the opening of the subway, licensed the first taxi cab, opened the Queensboro and Manhattan bridge, installed the first water pressure system to fight fires, replaced the city’s gas street lamps with electrical lamps, built 19 new firehouses, 110 school buildings, 11 new high schools, constructed 35 miles of new wharfs and 51 new piers. Think about that. 5 years in office. We need a new mayor like that. Just think about the economic impact this mayor made.

Our next stop was where else? Brooklyn. Emily wrote about two places that I couldn’t wait to try. Two lunches? Why not. The first piece was about Ha’s Đậc Biệt. Sadie and Anthony were serving up delicious food at a community event that had raised money for three Black founded businesses including SavingOurBabies, a parent supported organization rooted in an Afrikan curriculum that teaches children 2-5.

Here is one of the fridges you can see through out Brooklyn where people place excess food. I so love this. We should have one every few blocks that are serviced and cleaned by city. It is good for everyone.

We got our meal and made our way to a local park where we watched kids play basketball and sat at a picnic table. Smoked pork shoulder with a sweet spicy tamarind sauce, corn bread, grilled cabbage mixed with roasted slices of pumpkin, and a papaya salad. Wow. What a joy to dig into this meal.

Next stop was For All Good Things standing on the corner of Franklin and Greene. It looks like they have been cooking before they were even able to unpack. We just had a squash blossom tortilla to share. The Oaxacan cheese oozes out as you take a bite. Dipping it into the green tangy sauce on the side is a must.

I brought home some of their dough. You can buy 1/2- 1 lb of blue, red or yellow masa. I made fresh tortillas for breakfast the next day.

Dinner was back in the city as we returned to our new local sushi spot, Sushi Teru.

There is noticeably less traffic but there are plenty of people on the street enjoying the city that I love. It couldn’t have been a more perfect day.

The Divided States of America

The divided states of America.  That’s what my friend calls this country.  I’d take it one step further which is the divided people of America. Remember Rodney King when he said, “why can’t we all just get along?”

Jon Stewart said something the other day that I can’t get out of my head.  He has been a tremendous advocate for the responders of 9/11. Stewart told Congress “Welcome to another exciting episode of, ‘When is America going to start acting like the great country we keep telling ourselves we are?’”

Cynthia Nixon wrote that her TV show is a very safe place to work. Her son’s school —not so much. She wrote that the school might check air circulation with a yardstick and toilet paper. Why such a disconnect?

A friend of ours who is from the Netherlands has lived in the US for years.  He chose to raise his daughters here for a variety of reasons.  His taxes in Europe would be around 47% and that includes education, healthcare, and the opportunity for his kids to go to graduate programs.  Here he is paying 43% and education, healthcare, and graduate school is an additional cost. If you think about it, financially it makes sense to stay in Europe.

I listened to the Daily podcast called “What Happened to Daniel Prude“. His brother did what he was taught to do. Call the police when something goes beyond your power to subdue a situation. When he read the hospital records on how his brother died, it read by asphyxiation. He did not know what they meant and had to look it up. The speaks volumes about our education system.

The one thing that Trump has done is amplified the reality of racism, anger, and hatred in this country.  It is painful.  There was a time when we could agree to disagree.  Now many feel entitled to unleash their hatred on others.  These feelings have been under wraps for years. Our country was built on racism and hatred.  300 years later and we have to wonder has anything changed?

How do we change the anger and hate? How do we educate everyone equally? And for our system, a 4% tax delta in the Netherlands to have a healthcare and education system that comes with it sounds pretty good to me.  What does our budget go?  Why aren’t we taking care of our own?  The social inequities in this country are overwhelmingly large. When we take care of ourselves mentally and physically, it is better for all of us.

Look at Boeing who put greed over people.  Look at PG&E in California that created the fires last year because of poor management and short-sighted financial decisions. No wonder we are all feeling such malaise.

The election is less than 50 days away. The narrative is fear. The reality is something very different. I want to be proud of being an American. It isn’t so easy these days.

Our country is huge with countless communities from a variety of different backgrounds and beliefs. It is one thing not to connect or understand those that you have never been exposed to but it is another thing to dismiss them and hate them for no reason but they don’t look like you. Hate is an ugly word.

Is it possible to become the United States of America again? These days I am not so sure.

Summer Salads – 2020

The eating has escalated through COVID but August is the month to just eat. The vegetables and fruit at the farmers’ market is peaking with flavor and color. It might be September but I am still thinking about these salads.

These salads have been some of my faves this summer. Number one is probably this one. Soft, warm, luscious mozzarella balls are a staple here. Putting the mozzarella in the refrigerator is sacrilegious. Slices peaches, chunks of mozzarella, cherry or Sungold tomatoes sliced in half, tossed with a fresh pesto sauce. If you have croutons, they could be a nice addition. Toss with a little bit of Maldon over the top.

Chickpeas are a good staple for the vegetarians in your life. Canned or dry chickpeas that are soaked overnight and boiled down can be used. We used the latter. Chickpeas, sliced celery (including the fronds), tons of chopped basil, chunky slices of a crumbly Parmesan cheese. Dressing: Whisk together 3 tbsp. sherry vinegar and 1/2 tsp. honey or maple syrup. Slowly keep whisking in olive oil (1/4-1/2 cup) depending on how vinegary you like your dressing – salt and pepper and mix again. Can hang in the fridge for a few days too.

Blue cheese wedge is a classic and can be enjoyed at any time of the year. But the tomatoes can not. Big chunks of iceberg lettuce doused just enough in a blue cheese dressing and topped with sliced cherry tomatoes and or Sungold tomatoes. For the carnivores out there, just add super crispy bacon or pork belly to take it up a notch. Mix together 4 ounces or more if you desire of blue cheese or Roquefort of your liking with 1/4 cup buttermilk, 2 tbsp. mayo, 1 tbsp. olive oil, 1 tsp. hot sauce, 1 tsp. lemon juice and a shot of Worcestershire sauce. Pour.

Tuna Nicoise. You can see everything there. Sliced rare grilled tuna, capers, chopped Nicoise olives, sliced beefsteak tomatoes, blanched green beans, chunks of soft Yukon gold potatoes, thick sliced cucumbers, and a bunch of mix baby greens on the bottom and for good measure chopped fresh basil over that. Make a classic French vinegarette (1 T. Dijon mustard, 3 T red wine vinegar, 9 T olive oil), and toss. Close your eyes and have a glass of Rose and pretend you are sitting on the French Rivera.

The good memories of summer 2020. There had to be some.

Masked Exhibit NYC

AJ Stetson got knocked out by COVID-19. After 25 days in solitary confinement, he finally went out in the world. As a photographer, he filled his creative appetite by taking over 500 photographs of New Yorkers in masks. Most were taken at Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ+ rallies. The photos led to the project

The exhibit runs through October 7th at the Friends Meeting House in the courtyard from sunrise to sunset. There will be two dozen four-foot vinyl panels that will revolve so each piece gets seen.

I love this. We must document these times.

Meals on the Sidewalk

We weren’t here during the hot humid days of Summer so I can’t say I would have felt great sitting outdoors dining then. When the weather is cool it is really quite nice.

We are trying to make the rounds to our favorite downtown spots. A few more to go and then we will make the loop again. The ones that have survived will make it through this. They have renegotiated leases, cut back on staff (sad but true), played with their menus (less is best) and are so happy to provide the hospitality that runs through their veins.

Here are some of our hits of the week. Sushi Teru opened in June. Inside it looks beautiful for now we are eating on the street. We could become a regular here.

Da Toscano is the last spot we went to before leaving in December. So good to be back. Michael makes possibly the best pasta in NYC. Shrimp, roasted corn, basil tossed in a jalapeno pesto.

Our neighborhood spot, Anton’s is up and running. We gobbled up this salad with a light lemon vinagarette. You can never go wrong here. Everything on the menu is so good.

King is such a gem. Black and white fig salad with shaved ricotta tossed with large leaf arugula. So delicious.

We wrapped up the week at Pastis. What can I say?

What a joy it is being back in NYC.

Back to NYC

No doubt this is a strange year. We got back to NYC wondering what the city will feel like particularly our neighborhood.

We have lived in NYC since 1983. There was a 5-year move to the burbs for the one reason only which is we couldn’t really afford to live here. Most of Brooklyn wasn’t an option for us at that time. We all forget how the city was a different place then.

I remember going to a party in the East Village deep in Alphabet City. In order to get upstairs to the apartment, the top floor, we were tossed the keys from the window. We made our way up the stairs to the roof stepping over a few used heroin needles here and there. It was dirty, there was a homeless encampment in Tompkins Square Park, the place felt eerily like the movie Liquid Sky.

We soaked up the grit, the energy, and the joy of being in the city. It was our own magical dream life. We lived on 28th and Madison among the SRO’s. We walked definitely around not through Madison Square Park almost nightly as we would head down to Greenwich Village for some food or a drink after work. We would talk about the endless opportunities in front of us and how owning a car lot would be a win.

The parks have changed, the city has changed and it will change again. I am almost oblivious to the graffiti and storefronts that have boarded up. After all, it isn’t all of them. I am not quite sure how many even remained open in good times. Same for restaurants who were barely making it. COVID has killed the businesses that were barely surviving to begin with. The virus is forcing change.

We left the city in December ( yes December to LA ). The city was so shiny then. Hudson Yards was the pinnacle of an edgeless chain store mono-culture which is the exact opposite of what makes NYC so special and unique. It was one of the biggest opportunities of development turned into something that the city dwellers I know shunned. I hope it becomes housing for the professionals that work in this city who can’t afford to live here any more such as teachers, police, social workers, firefighters, and others. The best part of that area is the Shed and the High Line. It deserves better.

We have been out and around our neighborhood, the West Village, having dinner out and walking the streets. This past week and weekend the streets were humming. People were out in force, with masks, having dinner, and being social. It feels amazing. There is a beat on the streets.

Perhaps it isn’t the same beat but people are resilient. NYC will recreate itself and evolve as it always has. Slowly things will begin to return in a different way as the creative people in NYC will rebuild theater, restaurants, galleries, museums, concerts, and all that this city has to offer.

It is why people flock here. And that will never stop. At the end of the day, no matter where I travel or hang my hat for an extended period of time, I am a New York girl at heart and always will be.

The Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies

I have been making chocolate chip cookies for decades. The recipe has morphed over time. Just a tweak here and there over the years. It has taken time but hands down this one is the best. I usually make a double so that is what I am going to post but it can easily be cut in half.

  • 4 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2 cups light brown sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. vanilla (I don’t measure vanilla so this is an estimate)
  • 4 1/2 cups pre-sifted flour
  • 2 tsp. baking power
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 eggs at room temperature
  • 2 egg yolks at room temperature
  • a mixture of chocolate chips (3/4 bags) – bittersweet, milk chocolate, and dark
  • Maldon salt

In a standing mixmaster beat the butter until soft and whipped. Add both sugars and continue to beat. More beating is better than less at this point.

In a separate bowl add the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt). Whisk the ingredients together.

Add in vanilla to the butter mix. Beat until incorporated. Add in the eggs and egg yolks one by one beating each time in between.

Add in 1/3 of the flour mixture, beat. Continue until all the flour is mixed in.

Add the chocolate chips. It is nice to have a variety of chips sizes too. Chunks, tiny ones, regular-sized ones, etc. Mix it up. Beat these in until they are mixed in throughout.

Put this in the fridge for an hour or even more to set. It does make a difference but you can go directly to baking them too.

Preheat the oven to 400.

Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Using a medium-sized ice cream scoop to make the cookies and put them on the paper.

Take the Maldon salt and sprinkle over the cookies. This is a really key component.

Bake for 8 minutes or until starting to get browned. More of the cookies will be browned and will look almost not done but they are done enough.

Take out of the oven and put on a cooling rack. Let them cool a bit so they can keep cooking and firm up.

Soft, chocolatey, salty and just perfect.

C’mon Over for Dins

Watching the food world reinvent themselves was bound to happen. For a restaurant to stay in business when they can only accommodate 25% of capacity is not a win. Some have attempted to do delivery but many of them are not set up to do that or have the true skills to do that. Creativity is abound.

We have been in NYC just a few days am have been out. The restaurants are so thrilled to have us there as they always have. There will be some strong nimble survivors but it is not easy making the numbers work.

Many chefs and just people who have worked in the industry have started making food, bread, or pizza from their homes. They have created their own mini home restaurants.

Years ago there were a bunch of start-ups that had created marketplaces between an at-home chef and the local neighborhood. There was a pick-up component and then delivery began too. So if I had made a double batch of spaghetti and meatballs I could post it and let people know and people could buy it. This was not something the FDA applauded.

Once the Government got wind of this, everything was shut down. You can’t sell food to people from your personal kitchen, they want to make sure the place is sanitary. The times have changed.

In Los Angeles, one county gave people the ability to get a permit to operate micro-home kitchens. Pull a permit and get certified by the public health office. This is game-changing.

This will be a whole new type of restaurant. Small, communal, and more than likely amazing food. They have to be good to get customers just like restaurants have in the past.

Again….not great for Commercial real estate. If it works there, we will begin to see shifts in other places too. If we want some of the restaurants back then rents will have to go down dramatically. Taxes have to change for restaurants to succeed and pay their employees fairly. The cost of running a restaurant was killing the industry pre-Covid.

We will begin to see a super creative group of people rise up from the ashes in the food world. It is inevitable. We all like to eat out.