One of Our Favorite Manhattan Restaurants Debuts a Cookbook
Dimes, the all-day café, bar, and market founded by Sabrina De Sousa and Alissa Wagner in downtown Manhattan, has always done things a bit differently. Here, De Sousa tells us about their new cookbook, Dimes Times: Emotional Eating (Karma Books)—which she says is the first in a series of more publications to come.
Dimes is a café, but more than that, it’s a total vibe—and you also work on fun side projects. How did the idea for it all first begin?
Alissa and I are from a restaurant background—she was working as a chef, and I was working front of house—but we met many, many years ago, before that, working together at a place in Nolita called Lovely Day. The one thing that I always took from Lovely Day was the sense of community and friendship that emanated from there. We were thinking about opening something together and had many conversations about it. At first, the idea was to do a juice bar, but then grew from there. It kind of happened organically. I would say the reason we even wanted to do this, for the most part, is that there wasn’t anywhere in the city that was offering vegetable-forward, fresh, seasonal food. Farm-to-table had existed for a while, of course, and there were places like Angelica Kitchen, with seventies, hippie kind of crunchy food—which I love so much—but at the time, there wasn’t really a more modern and casual take on that.
Emotional Eating is such a fun twist on the typical cookbook. Was it always in the cards to come out with one?
We were approached about doing a cookbook early on, from year one. At the time, we held off on that idea—we felt like we didn’t yet have a story to tell, and if we were going to do something, it had to be right. But we would think about it every now and then, and it became a thing that incubated between Alissa and me. I sat down with a close friend of ours, Cynthia Leung, just sharing our love for books—we were talking a lot about children’s book design, and we kind of shared the same aesthetic—and she said, “Well, why don’t we just make a cookbook, but a different kind of cookbook?” It made sense: The world doesn’t need another regular cookbook. I obviously love to collect cookbooks, so I’m not trying to fault them, but I felt like if we were going to do something, it’d have to go against the grain a bit. That conversation started in 2016 or 2017, and it took a long while for us to really figure out the voice of the book, and the actual narrative of it. It really worked so beautifully in the end, because everyone that was a part of the creation of the book is a regular at Dimes.
What inspired you to organize the book by times of day?
The hardest part for us was figuring out the organization, part of the recipes, and where they would all fit. We were really answering questions along the way—we weren't like, “This is how it's going to be.” There are two voices in the book: the first voice is us, the restaurant, and the second is the reader, and they revolve around the day in the life of Dimes—that’s structured from the hours of the restaurant. We open at 8 a.m. and close at 11, with an in-between closing, from 4 to 5, which is noted in the book with this funny little relief of 4:20. [Laughs] Each section cycles through the time of day and the dishes we make, and the thing I love about those sections is that you’re getting all five senses in the copy and the way the words interact with the overall design.
Dimes has such a distinct aesthetic. What role does design play for you?
Design, for us, plays a huge role. We were very careful with all of the pieces that we chose when we were building out the space. Mostly, because it was my chance to really have fun with something that I love, and having a blank canvas to do it. That extended to the website, our fonts, the postcards, and everything else—it was really a chance to have fun, to build the brand but also not limit it to just the food. It’s a sensory kind of feeling when you come into Dimes. For me, at least, it’s important to just not be stuck in the monotony or operational side of running a restaurant, and to also have these creative outlets.
Are you cooking up any other side projects at the moment?
The book is part of a series, so we’ll probably be working on the next book. It’s whatever we want it to be. The weirder, the better, in a way. We haven’t really finalized what the next one will entail. We’ve also talked about maybe opening up another space, but we’ll see. It’s hard to imagine another space, because I just love the little community of people that we have here now.