Earlier this year we launched our Women-Powered with pineapple collection, where we teamed up with pineapple collaborative to make it easy to support the lady-led spots in your area. One of those NYC and very swoon-worthy spots was Dimes (we even have a crush on their site), and we were really excited to sit down — okay, email back and forth — with chef and co-owner Alissa Wagner:
Caviar: It’s pretty unique to have a restaurant/deli/ market combo. How did you and co-owner Sabrina De Sousa come up with that concept?
Alissa: Sabrina and I never set out to have three spaces. The evolution of the business has been really organic and left up to fate a bit. We started out with a small space on Division Street. We had good success there but the space was small and a bit limiting. So when a larger space became available across the street we jumped on it. The new space made sense as a full-service restaurant, so opening our original space for quick service as Dimes Deli was a no-brainer. Soon after that the storefront next to the Deli became available. We just thought the neighborhood could use a great place to get groceries that could also be a showcase for products we love and products our friends were making.
What were you doing before Dimes?
I studied fine art and worked in a gallery for a while, but have worked in restaurants since I was 15. I worked in a bunch of different New York restaurants before we opened Dimes.
How did cooking (and art!) become such a big part of your life?
I’ve loved drawing and painting since I was a little kid and always knew that I wanted a life surrounded by art. Cooking just seemed like a natural progression — I love to play with color and texture in the food that I make.
What’s your favorite dish — like to eat yourself — at Dimes?
Black rice bowl with seared salmon.
Do your kids have a favorite Dimes menu item?
My daughter loves acai bowls and my son is more of an egg sandwich guy.
How often do you let yourself not cook and order delivery? What do you get?
I cook most nights but there are definitely nights that I just can’t go near the stove. I live in Clinton Hill so I usually order Silver Rice or Bar Bolinas.
What do you love about serving the NYC crowd?
They are such savvy eaters!! If you can win over a New Yorker, you’re golden.
What’s one big inspiration behind Dimes?
Our biggest inspiration has always been our neighborhood in Chinatown.
What’s the coolest piece of press you’ve gotten lately (so we can link to it for you)?
In a New Yorker article about the Cactus Shop on Essex Street, the writer refers to the neighborhood as Dimes Square. That feels pretty awesome.
What was your first job in the food world?
I was a deli girl and grill cook at a bagel shop in New Jersey. Five a.m. wake-up calls and warm chocolate chip muffins.
Let’s pretend you didn’t go into food. What might you be doing right now?
In a dream world I’d be a painter.
What are you reading right now, food related or otherwise?
Vacationland by John Hodgman.
Favorite NYC restaurant that’s not Dimes?
I’ll always love Café Mogador.
We know Dimes often does cool side projects, like making your own lip balm. Do you have anything coming up?
We just got a new batch of our Dimes pepper mills. They’re designed by Sabrina, handmade in Pennsylvania, hand-painted in Chinatown — and they come in a bunch of colors.
If you could only eat 5 things for the rest of your life … go.
Oh, now you want to order Dimes? Weird. ❤