Starting today, Colleen and Hailey Brooks are unveiling a short-term sample of their highly anticipated Lower Manhattan social house experience, High Court Happenings. The four-day experience will involve a contemporary curation of yoga, meditation, tastings, workshops and stimulating interactions including one roundtable discussion called, “Healthy By Design.”
Here, in anticipation, the Brooks sisters sit down with one panelist, Alissa Wagner, co-founder and chef of Dimes in Chinatown, to pick her brain about building a New York City business from scratch and bringing the modern health food movement to the forefront:
High Court: We’re sisters and co-creators and know you started Dimes with your friend, Sabrina De Sousa. How did you know that you would make good partners?
Alissa Wagner: Sabrina and I met about twelve years ago and hit it off from the start. Our relationship is very yin and yang. I have always been inspired by her openness, curiosity and sense of adventure. We met at a job, so I knew that we had the capacity to work together. From the early days of the conception of Dimes, we’ve always been able to talk honestly and respectfully with each other. We have a very symbiotic relationship.
HC: Where were you in your life when you developed the concept for Dimes?
AW: I had graduated from culinary school I think about a year prior to the beginnings of Dimes. This followed a few different career paths in both art and fashion. I had worked in restaurants since I was 15 and always found myself returning to that world in between other jobs. It was where I was happiest. I wanted to work for myself doing something hands on and creative. Dimes presented the perfect opportunity to put my fingerprint on something entirely my own.
HC: It seems like everyone is starting a tech company, but we’ve found brick-and-mortar like High Court to be a totally different beast. What was most difficult about opening a hospitality business?
AW: When we first opened, navigating the red tape and legalities of opening a business in New York City was a huge challenge. There are just so many permits you need to obtain and countless inspections to pass. I wish someone had told me to stagger our deliveries for our initial inventory. I just remember all of the trucks pulling up in the morning and having mountains of produce and dry goods to sort, clean and put away. Nightmare. It was hugely gratifying to receive the green light to open our doors. I will never forget our first day of service.
HC: So much about what makes Dimes great is the experience and photogenic environment thanks to strong design. How do you balance branding and becoming recognizable without being predictable—being original vs. becoming a scene? Did you turn to anyone for advice on those visual aspects?
AW: Our branding has always come from an honest and organic approach. We’re not afraid to have fun and do things our way. We don’t adhere to a rigid structure of what a brand should be. With no pressure to play by the rules, we are able to nurture creativity and growth, leaving room for the unexpected. We’ve always thought of Dimes as a platform for endless creative potential. We don't turn to outsiders for advice and have always done everything ourselves.
HC: One of the good things about understanding your company’s identity is that successful expansion becomes that much easier. When considering Dimes’ future, what are some branding elements that you find more fluid and changeable, and to what are you careful to stick hard?
AW: We’ve always stuck hard to a marketing approach that comes from being open to newness and fun rather than worrying about success or failure. We are continually inspired to make new things and are always following the energy that is inherent in Dimes. We’re never stagnant and find inspiration in everything around us, allowing our creativity to flow organically. This is the Dimes way.
HC: We love Dimes Market! Was this second door for curated shopping more necessity or experiment?
AW: It was a natural expansion of the brand, giving our customers the opportunity to explore the Dimes world through a different platform. It was experimental in that it was a new direction for us in terms of a business model. Since we opened, it has become [symbiotic] with the Deli in terms of functionality, since the Deli sources all of its ingredients from the market.
HC: Dimes has led the way for the new niche of high-design health. What do you think is the next “smoothie bowl” for you, so to speak? What do you love, but think the market isn’t quite ready for?
AW: Fermented and sprouted foods are definitely strong up-and-comers. We are always looking to incorporate these elements into our menu. I’m very interested in the idea of insects as a more sustainable source of protein. I’ve been making a line of housemade snacks for the Deli and have been wanting to incorporate chapulines (crunchy fried crickets). I’m very curious to see how they are received.
HC: When you look to recharge, what types of activities do you gravitate towards?
AW: I’m a nature girl: I love hiking, horseback riding, swimming. Anything outdoors and in the quiet of the countryside.
HC: What does it mean to you to “Live the Process” and how can we all do that more every day?
AW: I had a baby in March and this has redefined the way I look at my world in terms of health and wellness. While being healthy has always played a big role in my life, it’s even more critical to me as a breastfeeding mom. Being conscientious of everything I put into my body is super important, as I am the only food source for my 4 month old son. I think in terms of “living the process,” making small, deliberate daily choices towards wellness will point you in the direction of long-term healthy habits.
High Court Happenings can be found from July 13th to 16th at 75 Murray Street in TriBeCa. Alissa Wagner will be speaking at High Court Happenings on Saturday with Local Creative founder Nicole Steriovski at 3pm. RSVP for this and other events at highcourt.co/hch, including the speaker series, workshops, yoga and the Summer Friday party.