Posted by: Jeffsayyes | March 30, 2016

Grad Student Interview about tours and Vayable

Here’s an interview I had last year regarding my tour philosophy and working with Vayable. I’m putting out the info here because the info many times gets lost in the ethers, and it deserves to see the light of day.  NOTE: I have since retired.

Without delay: 

I’m a graduate student doing some research on the activity and tours industry,and was checking out connection platforms between locals and tourists, and came across Vayable and your profile and liked the way you described your experience being a participant in a culture rather than as a tour guide.

Was wondering if you can share any insights whatsoever about your experience using a system like Vayable, and if it’s the only one you’re on?

Basically I’m trying to better understand people who offer a unique meaningful experience in their local area, such as yourself, and your customers. If you think that there’s anything that would either help you better promote your offering, help you connect better with potential customers, or benefit the experience for both of you overall.

Would greatly appreciate any insights at all that you can share.

This is great. It’s an emerging industry, I get new companies contacting me all the time about joining up. I have been on vayable for over 3 years, so I’ve gotten many impressions about the company and the industry. Happy to help, and would love to hear your research when everything is done. So let’s talk:

Vayable is the only one I am on right now. I get booked about once a week, and that’s great for me because I don’t really have time to do it more often. I have worked out a way to have it seamlessly integrate with my life. The subject matter is in my neighborhood and in an area that I always want to explore more. I have atypical hours at my job, so I do the tours during the daytime when most of my friends are at work and the restaurants are not too busy. It’s actually the most optimal situation for tours of this sort – having a person who is not a professional, who is an expert, and has free time – and I wish there were more people doing it like me.

Sidetour is good for getting bookings, but I didn’t like vibe when I spoke to the owner and because of my regular job, I need to be much more flexible. Vayable is extremely flexible. Peek seems good and seems to work very well but I’m loyal to Vayable. I can’t handle any more business, and Vayable is extremely supportive of my tours. For instance, they get press opportunities quite a bit, as this industry is just getting to the minds of a lot of people. The owner frequently talks about my tours, but also they refer press to me and I might show them around or whatever. They not only process the money, but act as sort of an agent for me. I know this is not for every single person on there, but if you are doing great things this company will represent you and try to show you off. I think that’s worth something.

Another thing to note is that these are all start-ups. The goal is to build a business and have someone buy the company. Or get investors. Selling would mean that the entire business can change, so I always make sure to have my real name in the descriptions. There are some companies that want to hide your name so customers can’t find you offline, but that’s a paranoid position and it doesn’t sit well with me.

Right now I’m at a point where I’m at the maximum fulfillment of this industry for me. It got my name out there, and I have the seeds of a business going. If I get let go from my job, I can probably do this full time (though I don’t want to be a tour guide), but also it gave me credibility and a title. This helped make me an expert. It worked out very well for me, and unfortunately I think there are very few people in the same position – but I guess people can find their own things to get out of this that I haven’t thought of. The only bad thing is when professional tours get involved in this, which is inevitable b/c the internet companies want content that’s easy content.

What is missing from the market today?
I see a lot of parallels to AirBnB, especially with the recent issues of hosts operating what in essence are hotels – it’s just less real. With the ‘experience sharing’ thing, I see the problem as us having not as much real people and too many traditional tour companies. Even though they might be good, they are not as real as what I do. Really, it just needs to be understood as a more acceptable form of traveling: hiring a local experience through these websites. Also, it would be great if these companies got into hotels the same way the tour companies do. It is possible the hotel concierges don’t understand it, or aren’t exposed to it. If I were to do this full time, I would definitely talk to the concierges more. I guess the market is missing the link to the mass market. Hopefully this will come as AirBnB leads the way into acceptance.

Anything Vayable doesn’t offer that would make my experience better or more efficient?
Not really. They are always available if I have any problems. I can think of tools for other people, in order to build their own brands better, like ways for them to create their own webpage with the vayable listings on it, but it’s not a major thing. Peek did seem to offer some interesting tools and a low fee, but other than that, not much. Really, the only thing I would like to see is a better cast of experiences on there.

Customer feedback about the site: People haven’t been complaining lately. They are excited they found such a thing. Most people there aren’t that demanding yet. It is a little annoying that they try to angle us to talk through the website by blocking email addresses in the messaging system, but it’s not a huge deal.

Even if they promote other people more, and I do encourage that because I want other people to be highly regarded, I would definitely still stick with them. I like how responsive they are and I trust the owner. I definitely prefer to go with an American company too.

I do get requests with less than 24 hours notice. I actually prefer that because I like to fill in the blanks in my schedule with the tours. I don’t want to miss a regular work day for a tour b/c the pay is better and if I work more at my freelance job then I am more reliable there and I will get more work. It’s not a big deal money-wise, although I am not complaining at all. When I book too far in advance, it gets annoying because it interferes with other stuff I want to do. I don’t want the tours to run my life. I have a very irregular schedule, so it works out for me – or I’ve worked out a way for it to work with me and I don’t allow the scheduling to push me around. I do it when convenient, don’t let the scheduling drive me crazy with satisfying everyone.

Posted by: Jeffsayyes | October 4, 2015

Momo Crawl 2014 Wrap

It was amazing seeing lines 40 persons deep at every single Himalayan restaurant in Jackson Heights. I had never seen anything like it. The restaurants were overwhelmed, no one expected this many people to come. What a great problem to have. Some workers told me they wanted to wring my neck but most were laughing as they said it.

—————–

From 30 friends the first year to 80 people in the rain the next to 800 in 2014. The momo is an amazing ambassador for the Himalayan community. Whenever I mention to someone a momo, they want it – regardless if they know what a momo is. This momo thing has legs.

Photos from Sahadev Poudel and Joseph DiDio. I took some of the more rough pictures here.

Volunteers

My volunteers were so essential. We just made sure the plan was good and no one panicked and we let the people figure out the map and the event themselves. The event is purely what you make of it. Great crowd – I think everyone had fun.

Here is Joe Depace’s video. This is before the event officially started – I wish he would have stayed around for the whole thing! I love Joe but I had to corral my volunteers so I couldn’t give him proper attention. Joe is a prolific documentarian of New York City.

Here is an utterly complete video by Sahadev Poudel of Himali Sworharu. I love how the volunteers were able to fluidly react to the voting systems at the end.

Momo Map

Looking at the map of Jackson Heights, it’s really just a grid with Broadway intersecting it. That affords a pretty open representation of the neighborhood. The first version of this map just had Roosevelt Avenue as a space for titles, then a few horizontal lines representing the avenues, and Tibetan prayer flags coming down representing the streets.

Looking at a map of the border of Nepal and Tibet, I thought about the angle it was on and the importance of the Himalayas (whose peaks are the border itself), and I thought I would use that diagonal border as Broadway. Yes, it would be a little wobbly, and probably no one would understand it but me, but whatever, it was the dream and the dream must be done.

I thought a lot about trekking, the signs you may see would represent each momo place. There are also the rope bridges here representing the avenues, and clues to some of the special activities going on throughout the neighborhood like t-shirts and momo drawing.

Price

The pricing structure has been an experiment for the last 2 years. Instead of dictating a dollar amount, in 2013 I asked people to give 2 bills of any denomination in exchange for a momo map.  It was a great experiment, just to see the thought process of people coming to the crawl. Some were into it, and some were utterly frustrated when I refused to give them change. Also, the thought process of how much they thought they should pay is so interesting: How much is it worth? Should I give how much it’s worth or the least possible amount I can get away with? Very interesting psychology. I tried not to look at the dollar amount and was sure to thank everyone equally.

Last year’s Momo Crawl I increased the price to 3 bills of any denomination – they could give three 1s, three 50s, or two 5s and a 20. While the crowd swelled to over 800 people (from 80 last year) for various reasons, the average per person shrank dramatically. With 2 bills of any denomination, the average was around $4.50, this year with 3 bills of any denomination, the average was $3.30 — Almost all gave 3 single dollar bills.
Speaking to Professor Tyler Cowen of George Mason University, he writes “Do try one bill! I suspect it will do better.  People have to feel they are doing well along only one dimension, value of bill or number of bills, and making the latter easier perhaps diminishes the former…”
— Testing this out, I tried one bill at my Retirement Crawl last month. The average was over $5! The theory seems to have worked, but this is definitely confused because at least half of the attendees were in-person friends. I will try out one bill for the 2015 crawl. One bill for one map at the 2015 crawl.

Issues

The only issue was the participation of one vendor. The event really is a no-brainer for makers to participate. A normal set of momos is 8 for $5 or 6, and here we asking them to sell 1 for $1. At one cart the trouble was getting permission from the owner. At the time of the crawl, I was still dealing with the back and forth miscommunication so I ended up getting a volunteer set up shop at the cart, buying box by box of momos, then selling them for $1 each until the vendor got the hint. To keep us all honest and happy, all the extra money was a tip. This lasted for about 40 minutes until the vendor eventually started doing it himself. You gotta do what you gotta do….

Momo Trophy

This year’s trophy vision was a spinning golden momo atop a mountain. As always, I’m much more prepared with knowledge after I do the projects, but here was the process:

The trophy had a base of a tin can, buffeted by aluminum foil, then covered with clay to form the mountain. I tried not to overwork it too much so it would be rough like an actual mountain. I figured the painting later would take care of the snow aspect.

To have the floating golden momo spin, I bought a rotating dashboard device and put its guts inside of the momo trophy base. It did have a flimsy solar panel attached but it broke off so the batteries were the only power source. Overall the trophy turned out pretty janky but whatever, it was a dream and you gotta go with the dreams. Here is my father working his lathe on the trophy:

I only feel comfortable using spray paint, so I sprayed it as mountain-like as possible, having grass, dirt, and then snow on top. I believe it even has some texture to it with this snow paint I bought, though its hard to tell in the pictures. Before the crawl, it was stored at Himalayan Connection.

The Momo Trophy can now be found at Lhasa Fast Food AKA Tibetan Mobile. The batteries have to be replaced every week or so.

Voting structure

I definitely wanted a visual way of representing the votes. I knew this was going to be an almost unmanageable number of people, so it seemed that being able to count the votes quickly by hand would be impossible. I also wanted no lag, everyone to be active and joining together to create a moment.

I made these flags with every restaurant’s name on them. They were large enough so people could hold them up.

All my events I love things to reveal themselves. I want people to figure things out and discover. I just get the boat ready then untie it and see where it goes.

By the time it was night we were voting. It was cool how it was getting windy and weather was turning. The nightfall seemed like a transition from the crawl to the vote. The first people who came back to vote got to hold the flag. The next people who wanted to vote for this restaurant had to join that clan. All the flags eventually had holders and as more people came back to the plaza, the clans got bigger and bigger and the places who weren’t going to win began to emerge. After the growth slowed, I began to eliminate places from contention and asked their fans to join another momo crew. This continued until we were down to 3 crews which became too unruly to count.

To accurately count the final crews, I had all three line up next to each other. Still, this was too complicated and clumsy to count, so to create order and accuracy I had every person hold hands with a person of the crew next to theirs. This was totally breaking down barriers of touch-phobia and it felt like we were back in elementary school.

Here’s a great video capturing the voting procedure from the Asian American Writers’ Workshop:

GangJong Kitchen, Little Tibet, and Lhasa Fast Food AKA Tibetan Mobile were the finalists. In the end, it was Lhasa Fast Food taking the championship winning by ONE vote over Little Tibet. Every vote counts.

 

——————————————————————–

Poster for the Momo Crawl created by Zachary Katz. Everyone loved it and was proud to put it on their business. I even had a black and white version created that didn’t allude to Tibet like this one, but no one wanted it because this one was just too good. This year Zach is on again with a secular version. You can see more of Zach at http://www.zkdesign.biz/

 

Posted by: Jeffsayyes | July 23, 2015

NYC Street Food Map

Here is a map of street food clusters in NYC. It is clusters instead of every single vendor because:

A) This map is evergreen – the vendors may change but the clusters generally remain the same. The spots are not set up randomly. Vendors cluster where there are a lot of potential customers and in places of low resistance. You’ll see them near major train stations, at park entrances, outside hospitals and schools, and also large swaths of brick walls or general nothingness (no one to complain).

B) This maintains what is exciting to me: A sense of discovery. By knowing the locations and type of vendors, you’ll have an idea what to expect but you will still have to search and find what is available. I love discovery and I hope you do too.

The map includes outdoor markets because I really don’t care if food has wheels on it or not. The reason I like street food is because the vendors are our city’s first entrepreneurs. I believe anyone who wants to work should work, and many times this is the shortest barrier to entry into the market.

Legend:
Flag is permanent, single vendor
Picnic Table is a market

This map is not done, though I like to keep it correct.
If you have any updates for me, email me JeffOrlick – gmail

I love maps. I have a lot of maps in my collection. I’m going to make them public.

Posted by: Jeffsayyes | May 12, 2015

New Job: Little Tibet’s Beverage Director

I got a new job!

I’m very happy to announce that I am helping out one of my favorite restaurants, Little Tibet, becoming their beverage director. This is a dream come true.

I think I can do it. Beer has been my latest obsession. I have no qualms about not being into it before because there just wasn’t much to explore when I was younger. This new revolution of brew has really caught me.

For the menu, I love sours, farmhouse ales, and local beers so I will get them as much as possible. I also have a bunch of concepts that I want to accomplish; beer is just another source of inspiration for me. I don’t want to say what they are yet because I want to make them concrete and not just an idea floating in the air. I am drawing out the plans now though….

Reasons why I am doing this:
– Getting to know the business of beer, learning about distributors, importers, and the other people involved.
– Choosing the beers seems like fun. My home fridge is full of beer right now, so I might as well have a restaurant to fill too.
– Little Tibet are talented, progressive, and my friends. The owners, Tenzin and Lobsang, are always present and have been inspiring to me. I love their openness, and I want more people to know about them.
– Momos.

We’re having an event this Saturday, May 16th to celebrate Queens Beer Week while showing our support for the people of Nepal and also Students for a Free Tibet. We have every single bottled beer brewed in Queens for the whole week (until they sell out), and on Saturday we will have a raffle party to close out Queens Beer Week. For more information and to tell your friends, see the facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1651019968453125/

courtesy veronicaronica chan

The Queens beers are realllllllly high quality. And the beer week has been fun to plan for. I definitely want to do beer weeks from other states as well. Here we are currently limited to bottles, but we’ll see where the future takes us.

Posted by: Jeffsayyes | March 17, 2015

NYC Brewery Map

Here’s a map of all the breweries in NYC. This map also differentiates if you can eat at them or even if they make beer in NYC. Also important is if they distribute too. While it definitely is cool and respectable to brew for your own pub, it’s way cooler if you distribute.

Legend:
GOLD – Bar, food, bottling
GREEN – Full bar and food
RED – Beer only
BLUE – Limited hours
BLACK – Closed to public

Lots of beers are locally owned but actually brew in other parts of the state or country. Some have intentions of brewing here, but until then they are on this list:
Radiant Pig, Alphabet City Brewing, Braven, City Island Beer, Harlem Brewing Company, Third Rail Beer, Evil Twin, Coney Island Brewing, Staten Island Brewing, Folksbier

If you have any updates for me, email me JeffOrlick – gmail

I love maps. I have a lot of maps in my collection. I’m going to make them public.

Posted by: Jeffsayyes | February 17, 2015

Viva La Comida 2014 wrap-up

Thanks for all your support of Viva La Comida. For the past 3 years, this event was designed as a showcase for local businesses, small businesses, local flavor, and the people of Queens. The dream was to have a festival full of local legends of street food, aiming for Jackson Heights, uniting on 82nd Street and creating a well-rounded show for all people. In varying ways, I believe we did do that. The 1st year the craziest where, with only a small street closed off, we overwhelmed the block to show that there was support, the 2nd year with the realest street vendors, and in the 3rd year the most complete as far as all-around entertainment.

The first two years it was mostly the street food vendors of the city-abroad to supply the food and flavor;  but in this last year the restaurants and businesses on 82 really stepped up. They saw how much potential this event was, and they totally went with it more than I could have expected. From Coatzingo to Sabor Ecuatoriano Bakery to the new Peruvian chifa restaurant, they showed really well and possibly even outshone the vendors, I loved that.

Edits to this year was that I finally charged the vendors. It was controversial that I didn’t charge the vendors in the past, but truly my heart always said no.  A big part of it was to regard the vendors as entertainment, to acknowledge that they were the reason people were coming to the area. It was especially brave for the BID to agree to this, as it wasn’t me who was answering to the organization’s stakeholders, I just wanted to put on a good show. This year, we charged them a small fee – basically just they would take it seriously and show up. They needed some skin in the game.

After going to the Atlantic Antic last year, I saw probably the best street fair in NYC, probably more than just NYC. It totally humbled me and made me think Viva was just a thin being. In their 40th year, Antic had so many vendors, mixing local restaurants, local vendors, with a minority of typical vendors like mozzarepas. It worked harmoniously and gave people the choice. There was one main stage, but there were also bands playing on just about every block. And the beer! Beer was flowing and people were even taking it to the streets. I loved how the Transit Museum had a display of buses from the years (making their own adjacent festival there), and also the police having a booth showing off their equipment. Great vibes all around.

IF we were to do it again, we’d have to do it much larger. Since 82nd Street is a narrow street, we’d have to also take over 83rd Street and the Manuel Del Dios Triangle. It could be a true Viva La Comida if we incorporated many more food vendors. This year was tough with that, with the increased presence of the restaurants (which I loved), we had to thread the needle with how many street vendors and what type of vendors were brought in. Unfortunately, we had 3 no-shows, which was a pretty big percentage of our Latin American vendors (one had a permit issue, the other two I am still trying to figure out why they didn’t come).

 

————–The Festival————

People seemed to like this event better than all other ones, satisfaction all around. It wasn’t chaos like I always hope for, but it was very comfortable. I think people had a great time because we had so much going on, from the magic shows, to the hula hoops, to the RC Cars, to the music, food, dancing, and more, it was a day you could walk around and new things were happening all the time. For these activities, Seth and Sofia from the BID largely drew from the community and the entertainers they had hired during the year for programming at the Manuel Del Dios Triangle during the summer.

There were kids activities like coloring, drum teaching. If the kids are happy, we are all happy.

Loved having the Magician. Everyone loves magic. I would have magic at every event I do if I could. This magician was especially good because his show was done without language. Anyone from any country could be entertained by him.  Here is Master Magician Angelo Bermeo:

Aren’t murals such a waste if no one is there to watch it? We had a demo last year, and we were lucky to have a big one this year as well. It’s great to watch the process.

Loved the RC car demo. A big part of them being there was to draw people in. I knew they would want a street to do their thing on, and the attention. I knew that the sounds of the RC cars would draw people in. It brought me back to when I was eight and my brother was into RC cars. We were lucky that Good Guy Hobbies was right down the block – I’d been wanting to work with them for a long time, but consider it nearly impossible to get a street or even a park space closed off for such an activity.

Hula Hoop contest was great. It was something I’d been dreaming about for a year. I wanted it to be kids and adults competing against each other, but it turned out to be just kids. That’s okay because a few were REALLY good. I actually had no idea people could hula hoop for more than 10 minutes, but these 2 girls were hula hooping for way over 15 minutes. So much so that I was getting in trouble that the musical acts were waiting to go on. The finalists were so cute, it was two girls from the neighborhood, neither more than 8 years old. They were so skilled.

If I were to do that again (and I totally would), I’d have the band start playing after 10 minutes of the competition. Also would try to get more adults to compete, and maybe obstacles like water spraying and confetti to make the game go quicker. I can’t find a picture of the actual contest, but here’s a girl practicing:

——- And the vendors ——–

Very happy to have Potala Fresh Momos cart again. It has always been a delight to work with the Himalayan community. They did very well, as always. Everybody loves momos.

Funny how the Arepa Lady continued to garner such lines. They had just opened their new place a month or two beforehand, so this was great PR for the restaurant. This year, again we put her in the furthest spot and still the lines were extremely long, maybe 40+ deep. People were waiting for over an hour for an arepa. I said to my friend, “You know you could just walk 5 blocks and get it from the store, right?”  He then told me that he didn’t care, he wanted to have the experience. Which is really interesting. Here, I learned that people love lines. People want to be a part of something. Also, lines at food festivals work because it gives you a chance to rest between bites. If you just got what you want, when you want, where would the accomplishment be?

Mysttik Masaala did better in 2013. I believe this was because the owner, Yuvaraaj, is the lifeblood of this business and the biggest appeal of the cart. People love talking to him and seeing his smiling face welcome people to the cart. He couldn’t make the event and instead had his employees sell. As a result, people were less enthused. It only reinforced my enthusiasm for owner-present businesses.

There was a bit of conflict of interest with the street vendors who normally sell food on 82nd Street from shopping carts. While I truly love the ladies selling tamales and chuzos, the fact is that although they have licenses to sell, they don’t have permits and approved vehicles, so we couldn’t officially have them at the festival. How we were set up was that all the vendors had their own permits, which relieved us of having to go through the red tape for selling food. I had a heavy heart telling them that they couldn’t sell, because I was very concerned about the Department of Health arriving in swift moves of disregard as they are want to do on such high profile occasions (See Vendy Awards and the opening of Arrogant Swine). If these ladies were hit with fines and had their items confiscated, I would feel incredibly guilty, but also I was afraid of what I or some other street vendor-loving people might do. When dogged by the girls (who offered to pay to be a part of it), I told them that I wouldn’t say whether they could or could not sell – they would do as they wished but I couldn’t take the heat for them if the popo come down on them. Well, they sold, and they sold A LOT. They were very happy, and them having a successful day made me very happy and relieved. It’s amazing, the fortitude to sell on Roosevelt Avenue and 82nd Street. Through so many incidences here with the authorities, the vendors are still there every day, they will not be stopped. They always come back. Wherever you are, I encourage you to spend a dollar whenever you have the inkling at a tamale or chuzo lady.

Mamas Food: I had no idea how they would do. This was actually a vendor we had from the first Viva La Comida, who we found selling closer to her home in her new cart in Flushing. I was a little worried because I didn’t know how would people take to squid tentacles, but alas they loved it. They surprised me so much. It just affirms it: people love things on sticks.

Happy to have an Ecuadorian cart there (it was NOT EASY to get one to come). While selfishly I loved how their food was represented, I’m afraid they did not make as much as a normal day on Warren St & Roosevelt. I believe the main hole in that front was not having someone to advertise and approach people on the street. When we had people standing with them and showing people the way of the Ecuadorian cart, people were much more willing to buy.

Interesting how the Italian sausage truck did just okay. To me, they were one of my favorites but it may have been the wrong crowd, just like how the Chipper Truck may have been too ethnic for the crowd last year. Also, for the foodies, the truck may have been too typical and they thought it was a normal, filler truck you’d see at every other festival. Nope, it was there for a reason – I stand firm that D’Angelos Sausage & Peppers Truck is one of the best.

It would have been great to utilize the Chiva Bus more. We had them make a grand entrance down 82, but that was by far the best part of them being there – after that, there just wasn’t much to do. People could visit the truck, but if the bus isn’t moving and there’s no drinks to be had, it just isn’t as fun. Next year it should travel around the block with a big banner, proclaiming Viva La Comida!, so people inside can act up for those outside, and people outside can gawk.

I’ve replayed the event hundreds of times in my head. There is just much potential in here with engaging the people, and this neighborhood has so much flavor and content and challenges. I really do love engaging people. I’m happy we gave the people somewhere fun and fulfilling to be right in our backyard – We have so much, this should happen much more often.

Thanks for the support. Will I continue to be involved the event? I do not know. The director I worked with has gone to NoHo, and I need some added awesomeness to make it worth it for me. I believe the 82nd Street Partnership does intend to do another festival, so we shall see…

All photos courtesy Danilda Izquierdo

Thanks Seth and Sofia for running this show with me. Thanks Danny Dromm for the support.

Posted by: Jeffsayyes | November 20, 2014

Momo Crawl 2014 Update

Things are looking up for the Momo Crawl.

Saturday, Nov 22nd, 2-5pm – Jackson Heights Food Court marquee (73-07 37th Road)
Invite on Facebook #MomoCrawl

-$1 momos from at least 15 momo places in Jackson Heights, with the possession of a Momo Map (available in exchange for 3 bills of any denomination)
-Henna Tattoos at Hamro Bhims: 1 bill of any denomination
-Whistling contest at GangJong Kitchen: whistle after eating Chef Tenzin’s mind-numbing sauce and you win a dinner-for-2
-Momo-making at Little Tibet
-Lil’ Momo kids shirts at Tibetan Mobile

Vote at 5pm outside the JH Food Court, followed by Momo Trophy presentation.

Just look for this awesome poster, made by Zach Kaitz:

email me Jeffsayyes@gmail.com for queries and volunteer opportunities

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