july 19th, 2015 | 3 hours ahead
“SoHo is like the artsy part of Manhattan, right?” I asked George. He looked at me incredulously. Not because of this question but because of the sentence before. I had told him that I’d never heard of Greenich Village, which apparently in his day was a much more well-known and populated place than SoHo — which is now at least on the same level of trendiness.
My friend Sam recommended a few of places in the area for me to visit:
- dominique ansel bakery
- chobani store
- little italy
Apparently, Dominique Ansel is the bakery that invented and kicked off the “cronut” craze. For those of you uninformed of such a delicacy, it is pretty much half croissant, half doughnut. She said arrive early because the line gets really long in the morning. I believed her, but I figured, well how long could the line get? It opens at 9 am on Sundays, so I worked out then made my way over to the shop. I got there at 8:50 am, and the line was around the block. I walked up and down the line once, as if to get a more intimate feel for the coming and inevitable pain of waiting in such a long line, and took my place at the end. I estimated that it would take maybe 20 minutes to go through the line, so I waited patiently, then at 9:05, they opened the doors, and like 20 people went in. I waited for another 15 minutes, and the line didn’t move an inch. I gave up frustrated and amazed with people’s persistance.
Full Disclosure: I’m reading a book called All Marketers Are Liars, which talks about customers creating a story in their head, so this is having heavy influence on my thinking.
I spent a significant portion of this time thinking about the fact that in today’s world, people go through life creating stories about the lives that they want to live and the lives that they should be living. That’s why social media is so popular: it’s a medium for people to share their constructed story with their friends. It also makes people feel like they are actually becoming the story they’ve created in their heads because when you tell people that you are a certain way or live a certain life, you begin to believe that you are living that life. I would know — I’ve been writing a blog for the last month.
Back to the pastries:
Many companies nowadays — especially gourmet or unique food stores — are taking advantage of this medium. They understand the power of helping people create a story that involves their social media. Here’s the kind of dialogue I imagine Dominque had with his shareholders
“how can we boost revenue?”
“let’s make an insanely viral dessert”
“okay, what should we make?”
“I got it. Let’s put a dougnut and a croissant together, and wait! here’s the good part. We’ll call it a cronut.”
“But how do we market this?”
“I’ve got it. Step 1, get the New York Times to write an article about this crazy new dessert. Step 2, make sure there’s a huge line in front, so people feel like they’re getting a quality dessert. Step 3, build the suspense by opening not at the opening time, but five minutes later at 9:05 am. That way people will have time to take photos and post them on social media.”
Places like these have mastered the growth hacker approach to marketing: a strategy that relies entirely on viral growth. These places have manufactured an experience that manipulates your feelings and controls social perception. This is why people want to share pictures of this product on facebook. This is why people are willing to wait 1 hour to eat a sugary pastry. The story that a customer tells himself is that he needs to get this thing because it isn’t — as I said before — just a sugary pastry, it’s so much more. Getting that pastry is now a symbol of my sophistication; it’s intrinsically linked to my interesting concept of self; now people will see me as a cultured person who has worldly experiences; people will like me more, and furthermore, I’ll be happy. Therefore, I am going to wait in line no matter how much of my day it takes.
Needless to say, I left and went to the second item on my agenda: the chobani store. These are two of my favorite things in the world: 1. greek yogurt parfaits and 2. cappuccinos. Non-fat greek yogurt is probably the cleanest source of protein ever, not to mention the abundance of micro-nutrients present in the fruit and nuts.
The greek yogurt was an ideal post-workout food — especially in contrast the the cronut — but I also met some pretty interesting people. First, I met a very nice Persian couple from Canada. The lady was a store owner and the man was the leader of some architectural firm. They were very friendly and the lady said that I have an “exquisitely unique and beautiful face.” I was flattered; no one ever says anything like that, especially to a stranger in a café.
Next, I met a girl from a Sydney, Australia who was traveling alone here in New York before heading to Hawaii. I actually learned a lot from her. First off, she was on winter break because the seasons in Australia are switched. I mean it makes sense, but I never thought about it. I assumed — foolishly — that every kid in the world had summer break when I had summer break. I also learned that if you live in Australia it’s crazy hard to get anywhere else in the world. It was a 24 hour plane ride from there to here. Compare that to the Canadians I met, for whom it was a mere 1.5 hours.
This whole time I thought she was my age, but I found out later that she’s 26 and working as a veterinary nurse. So mind blown. Anyway, after the Chobani store, I walked around soho some more, but nothing was really open, so I made my way to the pizza place that George had picked: Lombardi’s. Apparently there are very few pizza restaurants in New York that still make pizzas using real coal ovens because they’re a fire hazard to the city. This place was one of the original pizza restaurants that was able to retain their license to make pizza using real coal ovens.
I took Natalie’s advice and brought George and my Grandpa to Chelsea Market. We walked around and had a good time looking at food and restaurants. We went to a produce store and for the first time, the entire trip, we bought some amazing fruits: green grapes and lychee. They were spectacular.
After that they went back to the hotel, and I decided to head out to a famous book store called Strand. I perused the aisles, amazed again, at the feeling one gets when immersed among the stacks of books containing infinite wisdom.
I don’t really have anything deep to say here, so I’m just gonna sign off with something nice instead.
Next time you have nothing to do, take a nice stroll, enjoy great food, and find awe in places you usually do not. Feel like a kid and marvel at the world again.
Originally published on from sea to shining sea by Aaron Yih on Medium.com. For more travel blog posts, go to travel section of my blog. Find more up to date info on my Instagram and video-based content on my Youtube.