This feature spotlights a wide variety of people who live and work on the Lower East Side. This month, we are featuring Joe DiNoto of Orchard Street Runners. This story originally appeared in the April 2013 version of our print magazine.
How long have you lived on the Lower East Side?
I’ve been in the area since 2006. I was on Sixth Street and First Avenue from 2006 to 2009, in Alphabet City from August 2009 through December 2009 and then on Orchard and Grand in the Pink Building.
Why did you move here?
By chance, in a way. After a breakup forced me to bounce around Alphabet City, moving into a different apartment month to month, I finally landed in the LES. A friend told me of an opening in a sick loft space in the Pink Building on Orchard and Grand. I took it and haven’t left the neighborhood since.
What do you do?
Primarily I organize a running group called OSR (Orchard Street Runners, orchardstreetrunners.com). We host weekly runs that leave from Lost Weekend NYC (45 Orchard St.) on Tuesday and Thursday nights. As an organization, OSR does some fundraising for the Lower Eastside Girls Club which includes a yearly silent auction that just happened on Feb. 28. We raised about $10,000 and generated a ton of awareness in the neighborhood; it was a huge success. We also help organize the Red Hook Criterium which is on March 30, and we collaborate with Trimble Racing on the “Midnight Half,” a half-marathon that takes place at midnight on May 31 that goes from the LES into Red Hook and back. To pay rent, I work with a tech startup called Breakfast NY. I manage Instaprint for them, and I also bartend at Barrio Chino.
Tell us about your apartment – the good, the bad and the ugly.
The thing I like about my apartment is that it’s huge — well, in the context of the tenement buildings that comprise the neighborhood it is. I am fortunate to have found a great living situation with two great people as roommates … Having lived in way worse conditions at different points in my life in this city, I have to say the bad isn’t really that bad. The noise on the street in the morning generated by forklifts and tractor-trailers isn’t ideal, but it’s part of the charm. As well as the funeral band that sometimes wakes me up from down the street.
What’s your favorite spot on the LES and why?
There used to be a bench in front of 83 Orchard St. I would sit there all day in the summer and watch the neighborhood go by. It is by far my favorite spot in the entire city. It was an apex, a meeting point, the kind of spot where if you go, in 15 minutes you’re surrounded by all your friends and you all just end up hanging out for a few hours.
Favorite cheap eats?
My favorite spot is An Choi, my old friend Tuan Bui’s restaurant at 85 Orchard Street. It is home to me, the kind of place I go to too much. It has an amazing vibe, the staff is made up of some of my best friends, the drinks are amazing and the food is authentic. The pork chop and the “Shaken Beef” dishes are ridiculous. Their pho is the best I have ever had. I basically live there.
Favorite place to splurge? (Or go for a special occasion)
I wouldn’t call it splurging, because its not crazy expensive, but my go-to to step it up a bit is Cafe Katja. Special occasions, or for something a bit more intimate and refined. Homemade Austrian sausages and other amazing dishes, great wine selection, amazing staff and a beautiful decor make it one of my favorite spots in the neighborhood and in the city. Their dumplings are a must-have, as well as their homemade pretzels.
How have you seen the neighborhood change?
I got here just after Good World closed, now Sweet Paradise is gone, Motor City and Max Fish are on their way out, and so on. These places were the foundation of the LES’s vibe and character that we all associate with. I think a lot of the current residents who complain–say, residents from the last 10 years, hipsters or whatever–forget to take into account that there were people here before we got here. People who probably complained about Barrio Chino, Max Fish, Good World opening up. I think change can be good for the LES. I hate to see rent go up, forcing out the artists and the people who have lived here forever–that’s definitely unfortunate. The influx of outside people and businesses trying to cash in on the LES and its vibe is like watching a parasite at work. Luckily, these business seldom last. People need to realize that they need to be a part of this neighborhood before trying to open up a successful business here, if they were then they would know what would work and what would fit.
What do you miss from the old LES?
I miss Good World’s Swedish meatballs.
Is there a new arrival (restaurant, shop, attraction) you love? Why?
I really like Forgtmenot, 138 Division St. A perfect example of good people coming into the neighborhood and adding to its integrity. I don’t get there as much as I would like but when I do it’s usually a burger and a plethora of pickle backs and Tecates. That place is great.
Who’s the best neighborhood character you’ve met and why?
David “Shadi” Perez. He let me live in his amazing loft the first three years I lived [down here]. He became my mentor, older brother and one of my best friends. He is an amazing director, photographer and he volunteers his DJ skills and his sound equipment to all of the events that OSR does for the Lower Eastside Girls Club. He cares about everyone, he is a social prodigy and he would gladly take the shirt off his back for any one of his friends. I attribute that to his being from NYC. He is from the same part of the Bronx as my parents and I like to pretend that’s why he and I speak the same language. Without him Orchard Street would be a little less vibrant.
Tell us your best LES memory.
My best LES memory was the first midnight half-marathon OSR put on last May 31 with Trimble Racing. About a hundred of the city’s urban runners, from all different running groups (North Brooklyn Runners, South Brooklyn Running Club, Bridgerunners, etc.) hiding out upstairs at 141 Chrystie, waiting for the green light to hit the street from David Trimble while he kept tabs on the undercover cops that were sent to monitor us on the street corners. Once he deemed the coast was clear he called us out. We all ran down the steps, then followed Chrystie Street south to the Manhattan Bridge. The course was designed using checkpoints, with no set route. Shortest distance was up to the individual to find. You would end up alone at times depending on your decision-making, then there would be a convergence of runners as you approached main arteries of the course. It was amazing. People who were behind you would all of a sudden come from out of nowhere and be in front of you, having found a straighter line to run. It was amazing to see it come to life and have people compete.