NYC Journey – Days 2 and 3

The last blog post was about the first day of traveling in New York. Due to a lack of time, the decision was made to group day 2 and 3 into the same blog post.  Here are a few highlights of the two days.

Day Two’s First Stop – The High Line

After the first day of walking around nonstop, I woke up fully rested, and a little soar. After a few stretches and deep determination, I ventured out into the snow to walk the High Line. For those who do not know, the High Line is a reclaimed train rail system that displaces public art and is a beautiful walk way.

The first panaramic photo is from 11th Ave and 4th St. Due to the snowy conditions, the rest of this side of the High Line was closed. 

While walking to the other end of the High Line, there were nice pieces of art and political commentary.  Here are just a few examples:

The other end of the High Line ends in the Meat Packing District.

Once departing from the High Line, it was time to grab lunch.  Since I was in the Meat Packing District, it only made sense to grab a decent burger.

Near the exit of the High Line was a Bill’s Bar and Burgers location. Though I asked for a medium rare burger, the staff must have misheard and cooked it medium well.  Other than the overcooked meat, the meal was really good.  The pretzel bun was a nice touch; plus the pickles were a hybrid sweet-dill style. The chili on the chili fries came with chunks of ham, and the strawberry shake really hit the spot.

Madison Square Garden – AKA Mecca

The hostel in which I said was only a few blocks from Madison Square Garden, so it is only natural that I would have to check out The Garden.  Lucky for me, the Big East Championship was in town.  The bad news, Friday night’s semi final games were almost sold out.  By the time I got to the ticket stands, the only tickets left were $120…yikes!!

So, what’s a guy to do?  Haggle with a scalper.  The first couple of scalpers were a little too shady, but I finally found a man who was willing to bargain.  After talking him down $40, I was able to get a ticket before the first game started.

In the main lobby area, Villanova’s pep band was playing some great classic fight songs.

The first game saw Villanova battle Seaton Hall.  During the first half of the game both teams looked sloppy. Missed shots, missed opportunities both offensively and defensively. It was surprising to see Villanova play this way; but then again, I hadn’t watched a full Villanova game this season, so what do I know about it?

What’s funny is that a guy sitting in the same row as me wore a Villanova hat, but cheering for Seton Hall. Not sure if he was drunk, lost a bet, or a was a last minute band wagoner.

During the second half of the ball game ‘Nova came out stronger and Seton Hall started cracking under the pressure.  Even though Villanova got the win, both the Seaton Hall and Villanova fans sitting next to me were very respect of one another.  In fact, it was a pleasure and a treat sitting next to these fans.  I only wish I could say at the same about the next game.

What is it about Xavier fans!?!?!  Maybe it was just the three rows of fans that sat next to me, but DAMN!  They took annoying fanbase to a whole new level.

Seriously, these fans were worse than “Whoo Girls” at an all you can drink ladies night event! Every shot, and I mean every shot made by Xavier, in the first 8 minutes of the game, this group stood up, hands in the air, and reacted like their team won the Big Dance.

As you’re reading this, you may be saying, “Big Jer, you may be right, but it’s only a few friends.” No, this wasn’t a few friends.  Again, this group spanned three rows. THREE ROWS!!!  Here are a few examples of what transpired with this group:

  • 6 minutes into the game, the group talked about one of their friends that had a meltdown before the game.  I mean, could you blame the man for a meltdown.
  • While one guy went to get beer for him and his girl, the girl wasted no time hitting on the “friend” sitting beside her. It got so bad that I felt like I was an investigator on Cheaters!
  • On guy bragged about watching a couple making out for a long period of time.
  • Oh, and they all drank their beers from a straw! A freakin’ straw. Though I stopped drinking months ago, never (and I mean NEVER) did I drink beer from a straw.

During halftime of the Xavier game, the fan group continued to grow and starting merging into my row.  Deciding it was best for my mental health, I left and decided to walk around the lobby of the Garden.  Here are some great items I saw walking around the world’s most famous arena:

Day Three – No Sleep Till Brooklyn

For the last day in NYC, I expanded my geographical boundaries, and took the subway to the Brooklyn Bridge.  A good friend had recommended a pizza restaurant located underneath the bridge.

Grimaldi’s is a Brooklyn staple and a must for anyone visiting the Brooklyn Bridge. Their pizzas are cooked in a coal oven, which is appropriate given my West Virginian Italian roots.   As you can see, the place has a classic pizzeria theme.

When visiting Grimaldi’s be sure to bring your appetite; the restaurant does not offer pizza by the slice. Here are a couple of photos from inside Grimaldi’s.

After lunch, I walked around the area to let the pizza settled before crossing the bridge.  There were some great looking murals painted near the Brooklyn Bridge.

The view from dock outside of Grimaldi’s was awesome, and, of course, I couldn’t resist a typical tourist selfie.

While walking to the bridge, I was able to meet two young men from Japan.  They were visiting New York and had been in the city for less than three months.  Though these men had been living in the city, this was their first walk to the Brooklyn Bridge…in fact, it was their first time to Brooklyn.  The two men were surprised to hear I was only in town for a few days, but when I explained the flight is only two hours, the quickly understood.  What surprised them even more, was that I visited the city alone.  They applauded me for the courage to visit the city solo, and when I again reiterated the two hour flight, they didn’t flinch with their assessment of courage.  I, in turn, applauded them for their courage to travel to another country and live in it for nearly three months.

Walking across the bridge was incredible.  Even thought it was below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, it was still a great walk.  The see the people, look at the cars driving below me, and feeling a strong spirit of community was a lot to take in for me.


Closing Notes

Though there are other things I did at the end of my trip, this felt like a great way to end the story.  Not to sound too cheesy, but this vacation opened my eyes in different ways than planned.  In fact, the only plan I had for this trip was to take a few days and get away.  What it turned into was an opportunity to clear my head and gain new experiences.

If you have ever thought about taking a solo vacation somewhere, but never have, I strongly recommend it.


Creating Fans

Ali BabaWhat makes a business build a strong following?  Here’s one great example

If you live in Knoxville, by now you have heard about Ali Baba’s Time Out Deli and hopefully you were able to experience it before the owners decided to close the deli.  Every visit was an experience and no two visits were alike.  The two men who ran the establishment had a passion for what they did.  They loved talking to people, took pride in their work; and it created a strong fan base.  Here are three basic rules the owners of Ali Baba’s stood by:

Create a Great Product

Sounds simple, but many businesses fail because their product is too bland.  In the case of Ali Baba’s, they decided to have a menu that offered different items.

  • Traditional Deli Sandwiches: Pastrami sandwiches, roast beef and many more deli sliced awesome sandwiches.
  • Burgers and Such:  The Vol Burger, hot dogs and chicken sandwiches.
  • Middle Eastern Dishes: Falafel options, hummus and the infamous King Solomon Chicken plate.

By no means did I try everything on the menu, but the items I did eat, I loved.  They made the best pastrami sandwich in town and the King Solomon Chicken was a great dinner any day of the week.

Provide Excellent Service

A company can have the offer the best product every made, but without focusing on service, it is destined for failure.  The two men who worked at Ali Baba’s were always happy to see customers and went out of their way to show their appreciation.  They never made their customers feel like an inconvenience and were always willing to share suggestions to customers when customers were debating what they wanted to eat.

While waiting for the meals to be prepared, the guys would either be going on with some kind of banter, make you laugh at a quick joke or would have a conversation about what was on their television. There were a few winter nights I would walk in there tired and cold, but because of their warm personalities, I always walked out happy and feeling good.

Be Different

Ali Baba’s wasn’t for everybody.  It was a vibe that was all its own.  They didn’t try to be all things to all people.  It was a deli in East Tennessee with a Middle Eastern twist.  You couldn’t order a beer with you Vol Burger; though you could purchase a hookah.  They didn’t have fountain drinks with unlimited refills, but you could purchase exotic canned sodas.  People chose to eat at Ali Baba’s because they knew it was something they couldn’t get anywhere else in town.

These three basic principles helped sustain Ali Baba’s Time Out Deli for 40 years. It created a loyal fan base of people who flocked there on a regular basis.  For those loyal individuals who lived outside of Knoxville, they would always make sure to stop by when passing through town.  It was a deli, but more importantly it was an experience.

What was your experience at Ali Baba’s Time Out Deli?

Never been, then what experience have you had with a business that left you wanting more?

Rebranding vs Repositioning

When companies decide to perform a makeover there are a couple of ways it can happen.  Simple makeovers like rolling out a new service, can be subtle, while other makeovers can bring dramatic change.

Take the two following companies: JCPenny (aka JCP) and Taco Bell.  One company appears to be going through a rebranding metamorphosis while the other is hoping to upgrade their image into a higher class restaurant.

JCPenny (aka JCP): Last week I was having a conversation with someone and was quickly corrected when I said, “JC Penny.”  The person stated, “No, it’s now jcp.”  Later in the week, I saw one of their new commercials in which the company refers to itself as jcp.

The company has done more than just update their logo and shorten their name, in fact two of their most recent removals have caused some buzz:

  • Goodbye Coupons: No more coupon cutting to get deals at jcp.  The company decided to stop coupons and embrace a simple pricing scheme for sales.  This also included the removal of .99 cent pricing and “Every day” low prices.
  • So Long Cashiers…sort of: The idea of a cashier behind a cash register is being removed from the new jcp.  The staff at jcp will start carrying mobile devices that have credit card readers.  This will allow customers to check out anywhere instead of waiting in designated lines.

Both of these ideas stem from jcp’s new CEO, Ron Johnson.  Mr. Johnson found success with this with his former employer Apple, and even though Apple has seen success with this in their retail stores, these two changes at jcp have been criticized by competitors and long-time jcp customers.

On a positive note, not all changes have been cloaked with negative feedback.  In fact, one change has caught the attention of competitor Macy’s.  In September, Business Insider reported that Macy’s liked the idea of jcp “transforming itself into a into a collection of 100 shops within its large department stores.”

Let’s hope the short-term pains will result in long-term success for the clothing chain.

Taco Bell: For the past few months Taco Bell has been taking a stronger approach to shifting the image of their food.  “Fast Food” in general has a negative impression that it is not a high quality meal nor do people perceive the food as healthy.

Taco Bell has taken a two-punch combo to address these two impressions.

  • The Fresco Menu: People may not realize it, but Taco Bell has had a healthy choose menu they call Fresco.  The Drive Thru Diet® has been available for a number of years, but now Taco Bell has increased it’s in-store and drive-thru advertising of this menu line.
  • The Cantina Bell™ Menu: Taco Bell has kicked it up a notch by hiring celebrity chef Lorena Garcia to create and promote their new gourmet line, the Cantina Bell™.  Currently there are only three items on the Cantina Bell™ menu, but Taco Bell plans on expanding it due to it’s success and popularity.

Taco Bell hopes this will help position them to compete with Chipolte, and so far, it appears to be working.  In fact, investor David Einhorn has added Chipolte to a short sale list due to Taco Bell’s aggressive movement into the high quality/gourmet approach.

Hopefully these two companies will see long term success with their different approaches to shake up their organizations and their respective industries.  Who knows, maybe Taco Bell will become one of the shops in jcp…as long as your bean burrito doesn’t ruin any unsold Levi jeans.

Good Mood Food

When my wife and I moved to Knoxville nearly four (4) years ago, I fell back in love with Arby’s. I know this sounds cheesy, and typically I don’t stand up for fast food chains, but come on, it’s Arby’s!

Growing up we didn’t have much money, and going out to eat at Arby’s was a nice treat. There was an Arby’s right by the mall we would visit and, as an eight year old, I thought it was awesome.

As I got older, my fondness for Arby’s faded away. But then Jenn and I moved to Knoxville.

During our first year in Knoxville, we lived downtown and Arby’s was walking distance from our apartment. In fact, it was right in between where we lived and where I worked. Slowly my love for Arby’s returned.

Though Jenn and I no longer live downtown, and I no longer work at the same place, I still visit Arby’s. Luckily, there is an Arby’s right down the street from my office and every once in a while, I will treat myself to lunch there.

After experiencing a bad dinner experience at a, high-end restaurant, I figured a lunch at Arby’s would hit the spot. While eating there today, I thought of the two reasons why Arby’s stands out over the other traditional fast food stops.

  • Different Menu: For starters, there are no hamburgers; instead they offer roast beef. The roast beef is sliced and cooked on site, which is nice change to frozen patties being reheated. They have seasonal sandwiches, like the Pecan Chicken Salad, that you would never see at a fast food burger joint. Plus, who can resist their horsey sauce?
  • Customer Service: The Arby’s I now visit (6903 Kingston Pike) is always clean and everybody always says hello. The cashier makes sure to call everyone by name, every time. Even the guys who clean the lobby have a smile on their face. Everyone truly wants to be there and they truly care about the customers who come in the building.

A restaurant can spend an astronomical amount of money on marketing to get people into your restaurant. A business can hire actors and famous musicians to be in their television advertisements. These tactics can get new people in the door, but ultimately it’s the food and service people receive inside the building that keeps them coming back and builds brand loyalty.

Hey, if it’s good enough for Puddy…

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