Meet Sephrah, tour guide on our Original Greenwich Village Tour. Read on to learn her tips for the ultimate New York experience and where to find the best New York cheesecake.
How did you get started with Foods of New York Tours?
I became friends with Todd [owner of Foods of New York Tours] back in 2002. Years later, when I was not working, I remember he said tour guiding seemed like a good thing for me to do, so I reached out to him, and he said “let’s see how it goes.” That was several years ago.
What do you think differentiates Foods of New York Tours from other tours?
The involvement and passion of not only the founder, but also the people in front of and behind the scenes. I don’t know of many other companies that operate the way we do. It seems from the outside it is all very simple, but the amount of work that goes into it is incredible, and it’s ongoing. Although our world seems very autonomous, we have a connection with one another as guides that I have never seen with any other company. When we run into each other, or go to events together, there is a real comradery that I cherish.
What do you think is so special about the businesses we work with?
The shops and restaurants we work with and the people that we see on a regular basis are our tour. It enhances my experience as a guide, and legitimizes what we’re doing, which is showing off the wonderful things about this community and what it has to offer to people from all over the world. When I see someone I know from one of the shops, it feels like we’re not just friends but we’re co-workers. We have a very strong relationship. If that wasn’t there I can’t imagine how we would be able to do what we’re doing.
What’s something that your tour guests might not know about you?
I’m writing a book on happiness…it’s a parody. I’m giving myself 10 years to write it. You can get advanced copies now…
I’ve been skydiving Upstate New York. I feel like if you’ve been skydiving, it’s a pass for everything else ever. Somebody offers you something creepy to eat that you don’t want you just say, “you know, I’ve been skydiving.”
What is your favorite NYC neighborhood?
It’s changed over the years. When I lived near Stuyvesant Park that was my favorite place to be, but since I moved to Brooklyn, the West Village is my favorite neighborhood. It’s the most familiar to me even though it’s changed over the years, and it has the most community feel for me. That’s what I find people are surprised by most when they first come to New York, that there really are neighborhoods. This one feels like my neighborhood.
Do you have a “non-Manhattan” favorite neighborhood?
Of course that would be where I live now in Brooklyn. I live in South Slope, which is just past Park Slope. Since I moved there it’s become my community. My husband works at several of the neighborhood restaurants, so I know the people who work at the restaurants. As I’m walking around with my kid, everyone says “hello.” And with Prospect Park so close I can explore new places everyday.
What’s one place that everyone, New Yorker and tourist alike, has to go to?
I can think of a few places I really like: Rock Center. Chinatown. I like a bike ride all the way down the Lower East Side, along the water. There are some fantastic bike paths there. Ok, number one place… walk over the Brooklyn Bridge! That’s the ultimate New York experience. I’ve done it with people who’ve visited from all over the country and I’m like “this is so great!” and you get both views [Brooklyn and Manhattan].
Are you a savory person or a sweet person?
I’m a trained pastry chef, so I would automatically say I’m a sweet person. I don’t cook savory food, but I enjoy savory food that’s cooked for me. I am a big critic; I always order dessert because if it’s good, it’s great and if it’s not good I’ll know right away. I don’t like overly sweet desserts and I still bake, but not professionally.
Any sweets we should check out in New York?
I spent just under a year working as a cheesecake baker at the Oyster Bar Restaurantin Grand Central Terminal. So I am a stern critic of cheesecakes. I used to make 50 a day. I still eat cheesecake and I really like chocolate cheesecake. I find it’s hard to track down a really good one, but I believe the Oyster Bar makes the best. Aside from Rafele cheesecake, which is TOTALLY different. Italian vs. New York. Oyster Bar’s is absolute classic New York Cheesecake, the best you can get.
What’s a place that’s not on one of the tours that you’re totally in love with?
Russ and Daughters! It’s where my grandparents shopped and would bring food to every member of our family when they would visit. Years ago, before tour guiding, I had a friend from out of town visiting and my husband and I took him to Houston Street. I stopped to tell him about Russ and Daughters and my connection to it. One of the owners came out and talked to us, he said, “I’m sure I know your grandparents.” It meant a lot to me. I also crave the food.
If people venture to Russ and Daughters on their trip, what do they have to have?
First look at everything, because you will see things you have not seen before if it’s not your culture. My favorite is baked salmon—not to be confused with lox—with cream cheese on a bagel. If you like, it you’ll love it. You won’t find better.