Despite being one of the lone neighborhoods in Manhattan to preserve its heritage and verve, Chinatown sometimes seems unaware of its cultural cachet. Whether it’s because it has shunned the branding that raises rents or because of the anti-curb appeal of hanging carcasses and crates of seafood along the streets, the hood has maintained status as a lowkey downtown enclave for creatives and families alike.
At the same time, there’s been an uptick in uptown influence, most notably André Saraiva’s Café Hernie on Forsyth Street, as well as several boutique businesses. Despite the abundance of new options, local creatives Alberto Chapa and Riley Metcalf flock to Chinatown’s authenticity, specifically the place named the second most essential restaurant in New York by Eater.
“Spicy Village is everything I love about my neighborhood,” says Chapa. “It’s affordable, relaxed, and family-run. It’s intimate, unique and unpretentious. And it’s BYOB.”
The restaurant quickly becoming a “little institution for a circle of friends” when he moved to the neighborhood a few years ago. Along with that, the look of the signage, architecture, and even the T-shirts and ephemera sold there act as ongoing design inspiration that informs his personal work and sometimes the brand work he does for creative agency Team Epiphany. Sparked by their mutual love of the restaurant’s homemade noodles and laidback atmosphere, coupled with an appreciation for Chinatown’s actual look, Chapa and his roommate Metcalf decided to create an homage to their haunt.
They pitched the idea to Wendy Lian, who owns the shop with her husband. “To our surprise they actually liked the idea,” Chapa explains. “After several rounds of design feedback from Wendy and Ren we were able to nail down a design we all felt good about.”
Rather than leverage the look and feel of Canal Street for their own line, as fledgling streetwear brand Chinatown Market successfully did last year, they decided to actually incorporate Spicy Village for a true collaboration that will only be sold in the restaurant for fans and patrons. This weekend they’ll release their first drop. While the duo hope to continue to release more items, including hoodies, hats, and a photo tee featuring a portrait of Wendy, right now it’s one run, limited stock that they produced on their dime, to limit any risk to the owners.
“We aren’t really trying to start a ‘brand’ here and doing e-commerce or trying to get it stocked ‘cool’ places just felt extra,” Chapa says. “Doing this as a collaboration with the restaurant under their brand name lets me design stuff in an aesthetic I find really cool and interesting to work with and I get to put some money into the pockets of those local businesses at the same time.”
The Spicy Village Pop-Up shop launches this Saturday, April 22. Event details by RSVP only to firstname.lastname@example.org.