Field Notes

Englishmen In New York – Part 1

I’ve been meaning to write this post for just over a week or so now, but with the studio running at full pelt it’s been difficult to find a spare moment. I’ve finally found time to have a breather and sit down to properly reflect upon Robot Food’s recent 4-day adventure across the Atlantic.

As cliché as it sounds for a designer to say this, it has always been a dream of mine to go to New York City, take in the culture of America, and experience the Big Apple from the perspective of the people that live there. So, when I had the chance to be Terry Tagalong with Martin, Design director, and Si, Creative Director, on a Robot Food research trip I jumped at the opportunity.

The primary focus of the visit was of course business. Our ‘mission’, if you like, was first and foremost to check out some food and drink brands in the States (owned by a global client we’re working with) and see if there was any way we could bring them to the UK and make them a success. One of our favourite clients and dog biscuit baking extraordinaires, Bocce’s Bakery, are also based out there, so it seemed only right to finally put some faces to names, have a chinwag (heh) and see how they’re getting on.

On a more personal level for us though, creatively, we were feeling a little burnt out. We’re very lucky here in Leeds in the sense that we’ve got a thriving creative scene that makes the city bang ‘on trend’. But after months of desk research, we began to feel quite blinkered in what we were seeing – nothing new was happening and we were bored. New York City is a place where things happen, filled with people who make those things happen and we wanted to become immersed in that. Find out what’s making waves in the food and drink industry, see what excites people and see how we could translate those experiences into our design work. We wanted to revitalise our thinking, get a fresh look on the world and experience something new.

The objectives of the trip were simple then. Research some brands, find out what’s going on and get the creative juices flowing by living life as a native New Yorker. So with flights booked, Airbnb sorted and itinerary nailed – the dream was finally happening and I couldn’t wait to get out there.

Filled with excitement, 2 hours sleep and a suitcase full of shoes, Next boxers and limitless expectations, we set off on Thursday morning. At 3:30am, myself and Martin bundled ourselves into the back of a taxi to Si’s before making our way to the MECCA that is Leeds Bradford Airport. After a relatively harmless trip through airport security and a quick stop off at the Camden Food Co for some yoghurt and a hot chocolate, we boarded a KLM Cityhopper bound for Amsterdam.

We touched down in Schiphol at around 8:30 local time and checked in with Delta for our outbound trip to JFK. With a 3-hour layover to endure, boredom soon set in and we decided to head straight to an Irish bar and let a few Heinekens help pass the time until our connecting flight. After being fully engrossed in conversation for a few hours, we headed over to our gate (perhaps a little bit late, but the less said about that the better) and tucked into some complimentary pretzels and a Sam Adams onboard our Delta flight to NYC.

8 hours later we touched down at JFK – finally in the concrete jungle (where dreams are made of), ready for action. Airport security again, this time with my new best pal Officer Velasquez, who really took the whole “bad cop” thing to a new level; I’d never felt so guilty to be innocent in my whole life. Besides that, the transition from airport to apartment went smoothly and we could finally get New York underway.

After dropping our stuff off, we spent the rest of the afternoon getting our bearings around SoHo. With no real plan, we aimlessly wandered around the streets of downtown Manhattan, absorbing everything, getting inspired by just being there and for me this was what it was all about. Taking in the culture, seeing things happen – even all the stereotypical ‘New Yorkisms’ were out in full force: fire escapes, yellow taxis and fixies. It felt incredible just to be in that environment, overwhelming in fact, but it was everything I’d ever imagined; it was honestly like walking around on a film set. Gushing aside, we soon found ourselves eating seafood linguini and drinking Peroni in Little Italy, watching the world go by. Our first night came to a conclusion with us ploughing through a few pints of Brooklyn Lager before heading to bed; myself on the sofa of course.

Friday morning and there were some hazy heads about the place. The sort of hazy, bruised-by-travel heads that only a wholesome breakfast could fix. Another aimless meander brought us to a quaint little café, not too far from Bleecker Street, that served up homemade breakfast muffins with eggs, bacon and a zesty tomato pesto that did just the trick. One of things I loved about New York were the moments like this – exploring and stumbling across hidden gems you’d probably never find on a “top 10 breakfasts in NYC” article on Timeout. Muffins inhaled and orange juice down the hatch, Friday could properly start.

A quick wander round the streets included a visit to a Liquiteria juice bar, before linking up with Andrea and Natalia from Bocce’s at an awesome little independent they’d recommended called Jack’s Wife Freda. With just two locations in NYC only a stones throw apart, Jack’s Wife Freda serves up delicious homemade food, fresh brewed coffee and cold pressed juices in a really wholesome, chilled out environment. It was a great concept that I think would work really well over here – genuinely friendly staff that really sold the whole idea that you were sat with Jack and Freda enjoying the food they’d lovingly crafted. We spent the afternoon talking shop over watermelon juice and chicken prego rolls, finding out what the Bocce’s girls had planned for the year and getting to know, from their perspective, what was happening in New York right now. After lunch we went to Murray’s Cheese Shop to do a bit of research into some specialty food brands.

From olive oil and boxed water, to live culture yoghurt tonics and gourmet ketchup – it had it all. For us, it was really interesting to see how many brands were jumping on the ‘whole foods’ trend and how receptive the Americans were to them. People were buying more expensive produce over cheaper, more processed alternatives and it was clear there was a demand for healthier food that wasn’t being met in the big, mini mart style chains that littered every street corner.

It was at this point we said goodbye to the Bocce’s gang, and headed for Whole Foods in search of Blueprint Juices. We ended up walking for miles and miles and after seeing everything that Wholefoods had to offer, we decided to call it a day and head home for a quick nap. After some much needed rest and recuperation, Friday evening called for burgers and waffle fries at Brinkley’s on Broome Street – another place found using the “wander round slightly aimlessly” technique. After dinner, we found ourselves in a really intimate, busy, live jazz bar – another American stereotype I’m glad we ticked off.

Look out for Part 2 of the adventure coming on Wednesday.



NYGraf Martin Murrays1 Murrays