When thinking of the name for their restaurant, friends Sabrina De Sousa and Alissa Wagner wanted to go tongue-and-cheek… with a hint of street cred. “We wanted something a little esoteric, something that means nothing and a bunch of things at the same time,” Alissa explains. They thought back to the early 20th century when small convenient-type stores sold everything for five and ten cents— “five and dimes” they were called. From that, an idea was formed: “Dimes. A perfect 10. It’s what you call a girl. And we are girls,” laughs Sabrina.
Alas, they had their name.
Sabrina, 32, and Alissa, 37, both from New Jersey, sparked up a friendship 13 years ago when they were working at a restaurant together in Nolita. Sabrina had hopes of opening a place of her own— a juice bar— and Alissa had just graduated from the Natural Gourmet Institute. When Alissa offered her expertise in the kitchen their minds started churning out possibilities. Both healthy eaters, and disappointed with the lack of clean-eating options surrounding them, the two sought to create somewhere that was reflective of the way they lived. “We wanted to make a menu for a place where we’d like to eat every day because we figured there were other people like us that would respond to it,” says Alissa.
When looking for a location they initially thought Soho, but were quickly discouraged by the high rent prices. Sabrina lived across the street from a place for rent in Chinatown however, and thought it looked like it held promise. She explains, “I remember looking out the window and there were all these For Rent signs. I called Alissa, and was like ‘Let’s just look at the place. Why not?’”
They were intrigued by the small space. “It actually made sense. We figured we could take risks and learn from our mistakes.”
Now, just three years later, they’ve done so well that they’ve upgraded the restaurant to a larger location on the edge of Chinatown and the Lower East Side. They’ve also expanded their brand to include a market and take-out deli, cementing their status as much more than just a NY hotspot run by “dimes,” but more of a friendly– and defining– neighborhood staple.
Sophie Helsby, 26, from London, runs the market and explains, “From the beginning the business has always been frequented by regulars. We all lived in the neighborhood so that kind of drew out all the other people that lived here who were also looking for something. It was a very natural thing that became a big extended network without necessarily trying. Moving into a bigger space, and having the grocery store and take-out is kind of rounding out all the corners.”
It hasn’t been a walk in Central Park though. There have been learning curves since the beginning… and also a bit of getting used to the whole #girlboss thing. “At first when something needed to be prepared people would look for the owner, and we’re like, ‘You’re looking at her!’ People were perplexed a little bit,” says Sabrina. “Alissa and I definitely spent many times in the bathroom crying, holding hands, like ‘Why did we decide to do this?’ but you just forget and you keep going because it can be so rewarding.”
Their friendship is what has made their business partnership so strong. “Having a business partner that you work super well with is important because we kind of bolster one another. We’re never in that down place at the same time. We always have the other person to motivate through it. We’re not afraid to be vulnerable and there’s not a lot of ego. It’s just like ‘How can we work together and how can we make this happen?’”
Together they’ve created something that has taken on a life of its own, and something they are incredibly proud of. Their restaurant, market, and take-out has garnered rave reviews from everyone from Vogue to The New Yorker to Refinery 29. It has become a lifestyle for the former Jersey girls. Alissa adds, “Everyone who works here is a friend. When I come to work everyday I’m seeing everyone in my life that I love.”
Which sounds to us like a Perfect 10 kind of life.
Lindsay DeLong is the Managing Editor of The Fullest. Lately she’s been looking at dimes in a whole new light (although, quarters are still pretty cool as well). Find her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on social media via @lindizzaster.