Down the Aisle:Dimes

Alissa, Sophie, and Sabrina of Dimes Restaurant, Deli, and Market Interview and Images by Aimee Brodeur

I met up with Alissa, Sophie, and Sabrina at Essex Street Market in the Lower East Side on a hot summer day. I'm a long time fan of these ladies. Not only is their food delicious and inspiring, I was clearly going to be in the company of ambitious women that know how to take a simple idea and turn it into a huge success. Although Dimes has no doubt influenced and inspired many like-minded individuals across the country to follow suit in their dreams of creating a health food "empire", nowhere is their success more visible than the corner of Division and Canal in NYC's Chinatown. It was my pleasure to talk with the three of them about what inspires them when they shop for themselves or their own market, the delights of pickling, and the occasional kitchen disaster.

How did Dimes Market come to be- and where did you find your inspiration for it?

Alissa:  I think a big part of the market was just to expand the Dimes vision to our customer.  It’s a bit of an extension of our menu.  It was an opportunity for us to provide our customers with the products we use in the food we create and to share with them foods and products that inspire us.  Lastly, we felt the neighborhood needed it. There isn’t a ton there. I had lived in Chinatown for 7 years before we opened it, and there wasn’t really a market that supplied fresh organic produce within 4-6 blocks.

Sabrina:  It was a huge driving force- the feeling that we were satisfying a need in the neighborhood.

A lot has happened for you in the last 7 years between starting Dimes, Dimes Deli, and Dimes Market.  How have your eating routines shifted during that time?

Alissa:  When I worked at restaurants I was almost always just eating what the restaurant gave me, which generally wasn’t healthy. The last place I worked served burgers, so I was eating burgers like 5 times a week.  Also, since I’ve always lived in NY without a car, I was subject to grocery shopping at whatever was close by and convenient.  It wasn’t always a proper grocery store.

Sabrina: I think that’s a big reason why we try to serve healthy food at Dimes. We weren’t able to get this kind of food anywhere else on a consistent basis.  I think we also listened to our community and our neighbors. It was a need that wasn’t being met for a lot of people, so it kind of grew organically.

How do you go about finding the items you put in the market?

Sophie:  We get inspired when we travel, or when we visit other small shops outside of New York, or from new vendors sending us samples of products, which is fun.  A lot of these places use distributors, so you find a product you like and they say, “Oh we use this place.”  And that place has a whole array of great products, so our knowledge just grows and grows.

Since we’re at Essex Street Market, can you tell us what places do you love to hit up here?

Alissa:  Formaggio Essex has amazing cheeses, spices, and speciality items that are hard to find elsewhere around the neighborhood.  Also, Pain D’avignon has great bread.

Sabrina: I pick up items here in the produce area to make Brazilian- inspired dishes- like this yuca.

What routines do you find yourself doing that involve food buying each week?

Alissa: I have a usual list quick and easy items to turn into meals.

Like pantry items?

Alissa: Yeah, exactly.  Canned chickpeas, nuts, sauces, and grains. Things that make for good bases.  Also sauces, to quickly season them so I don’t have to a million things on hand. Hot sauces and spices, things like that. In terms of produce, I pick up whatever is in season and looks good.

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“Color is really important for my appetite. When I make a plate, it needs to have like 5 different colors… I think that’s why I love pickled things.”

 

So are you a once a week shopper, or do you tend to make runs throughout the week?

Alissa:  It’s really varied depending on my work week. Honestly, I often order food from Amazon Fresh because I am so busy. It’s usually that, and our market.

How has your experience been with it?

Alissa:  It’s great- totally quick and easy.  I tried it when I had just had my baby and there was a point where I hadn’t left the house in like two weeks. It’s good for essentials- not so much for produce.

Sophie: Well I eat at Dimes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, so… (laughing).  Lately I’ve been more into fruit because I have been so busy and I can just pick it up and eat it.  It also looks beautiful on my counter.

Well when you do go to the market, what items are you grabbing?

Sabrina:  Usually it’s items to make a salad, or fermented veggies like sauerkraut and pickled red onions.  I like rice dishes, a nice rice with coconut milk and kale or broccoli.  Or I will add steamed veggies with a bunch of spices and pickled veggies.  One shelf in my fridge is just all pickled things.  We just pickled a bunch of plums.

How do you pickle them?

Sabrina:  We used salt, apple cider vinegar, water and some spices like cardamon and cinnamon.

Where do you get your inspiration to cook?

Sabrina:  Color is really important for my appetite.  When I make a plate, it needs to have like 5 different colors.  (laughing)  I think that’s why I love pickled things.

Sophie: I use the NY Times cooking website a lot. They do a daily “What to Cook” and it’s great for ideas.

Alissa: There is a book that I use often when I’m stuck. It’s called the Flavor Bible. It’s basically an encyclopedia. Say you have fennel, but you don’t have any ideas on what to do with fennel. You can just look it up, and it gives you a list of pairings!  In terms of bigger inspirations, it’s more cultural. I love Middle Eastern cooking, African cooking… Traveling inspires me.  Sabrina and I were in South America and I had the best chicken I had ever had in my life, and it was basically at a bus stop.

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“We are starting to make it a point to sit at the table together to have a meal… I want him to have that type of stability and sociability.  He is a little sponge so I hope it makes an impression on him!”

 

 

What rituals or traditions have you created over the years around food, either by yourself or with family and friends?

Alissa: Dinner has become more important since I have had a child. He is only 6 months old and just starting eating solid foods.  Now we are starting to make it a point to sit at the table together to have a meal. It’s new to me because I generally don’t take the time to sit down for dinner.  But I want him to have that type of stability and sociability.  He is a little sponge so I hope it makes an impression on him!

Sophie: I’d say I have a pretty good deal with my boyfriend since I am the main cook and he likes to clean.  Our deal is I am in the kitchen making the meal and then afterwards it’s his domain.  It works out pretty great.

Sabrina:  It’s funny because I have had so many chapters in my life with different boyfriends and things like that, but with my roommate right now- we always have tea together after dinner, which I think is really nice.

Favorite dishes to make for a dinner party?

Sabrina:  What I really like to do, more often than not, is to make a huge platter of roasted vegetables with a bunch of dipping sauces.
Alissa: I make a really good vegetarian chili.  I made a quadruple batch of it this weekend and froze it. It’s really easy to make, and it’s cozy and comforting.

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Do you have any cooking gurus?

Sophie:  Alissa!  When I first started working at Dimes, I was the only employee with her in the kitchen. That first week- and it’s her menu-  it was very inspiring to see the way she throws things together.

Sabrina:  I worked at Northern Spy, but they actually just closed down.  They taught me everything I know about farm to table. They were huge mentors of mine.

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“We basically had to figure out how to make coffee for 50 people with a quart container and a cheese cloth.”

 

What was one of your biggest cooking disasters?

Sabrina: I cooked a pasta dinner for 10 people and put it in a beautiful glass bowl. Everyone was seated, and it was the last thing I was putting on the table before we ate.  Right when it hit the table it shattered!  It wasn’t tempered. It broke into a million pieces…

Alissa: I have one… it wasn’t food related but I remember it because recently I came across a photo from this moment when Sophie and I were working a catering job. It was a really early morning call time and everyone was waiting on us for coffee, and our percolator broke. We basically had to figure out how to make coffee for 50 people with a quart container and a cheese cloth.

Macgyver style coffee- I love that!

Alissa: We took a kitchen cloth, poked holes in it with a knife, and put the coffee grinds in that. We brewed the coffee in this huge quart container. Everyone kept popping their heads in asking when coffee was going to be ready and we just kept yelling, “One minute!”

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Recipe Recipe

Recipe:

Pickled Red Onions by Sabrina De Sousa

I always keep pickled red onion in the fridge as a garnish. I love the flavor and it also adds great color to any dish you are making.

Ingredients:

  • 2 Cups water
  • 1 Cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 Tablespoon sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 Teaspoon chili flakes
  • 1/2 Teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1/2 Teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 Bay leaf
  • 2 Red onions, thinly sliced
  • Place red onions in jar.
  • Bring remaining ingredients to a boil.
  • Pour over red onions.
  • Let cool down for 15 minutes.  Store in fridge.
 
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