It’s a late Friday morning, and in New York City’s Tribeca district, a line has formed with people who are willing to wait in the sticky Summer’s heat. Amongst the line revellers, some have chosen to brave the strong waves of warmth and are sitting outside, sipping (iced) coffee, Instagramming (camera eats first), and of course, devouring the most wonderful assortment of colourfully plated food.
Look up, and amongst bright blue window panes, you will find a matching bright blue cafe banner adorning a scribbled “two hands”. Sydney raised Giles Russell comes out to greet me, amongst the now growing 11AM crowd.
Giles Russell came to New York City with the hopes of creating a community style cafe like the ones that are prominently scattered across Sydney and New York City. Noticing the gap in the market for healthy, yet delicious and wholesome food sculpted from a base of simplicity, Two Hands was born. Two Hands is a haven in which you will find your basics done right - your flat whites, acai bowls, and of course, smashed avocado lined with chilli and poached eggs. With fresh Australian produce and good coffees being a commonality, being a cafe/restaurant owner in Australia can be seen as a risky profession. In New York City however, when done right, you can really stand out in the crowd - Giles and his business owner Henry Roberts set out with the aim of achieving this in 2012.
An acai bowl is placed in front of me - a purple smoothie mix topped with fruits and an assortment of seeds, the type that sit in your pantry and you aren’t quite sure of how to use, however when scattered artistically amongst the fruitful palettes, looks just right. “Australians grow up eating healthy and delicious food that is sourced well, grown well and simply tastes good,” said Giles, “At the end of the day, you should eat food at Two Hands and leave feeling good - food is meant to be your fuel, it’s not supposed to just fuel you up but it should also power your brain.” Having come from a week of eating where flavours were exquisite, but large portions left you sluggish, I understood. His favourite places to eat in New York otherwise? “The crabby shack, Brooklyn crab, Roberta’s in Bushwick.” - diversity seems to be key.
Food these days is not simply made to be eaten - with almost a solid 80K followers on Instagram, their social pages are a beautiful concoction of flat lays and social cafe scenery. Similar to fashion, food now is about being on trend and trend forward. “Both food and fashion are highly opinionated,” says Giles, Giles is wearing a simple sky blue shirt and cream linen pants—simple, but worn with purpose. What is fashion to Giles Russell? “Fashion means feeling comfortable in yourself based on what you’re wearing—it’s an expression of personality, and it’s telling the world who you are.” I asked Giles to describe his personal style—“Relaxed but stylish and simple with signature staples—ironed, and consistent.” What does Giles think about the perfect fit? “Most people go into a clothing store and makes sure that they get the right size, not larger or smaller —it’s a deliberate choice when you are choosing the size that best fits you and the smallest, most simple, and one of the most important fashion choices you make each day.”
Two Hands is not the only successful Australian Cafe in a city densely populated with food venues crowded into a hectic and tumultuous grid. There’s Good Thanks, Blue Stone Lane, Ruby’s, Little Collins, all with a similarity of bringing good Australian food and creating the concept of community. Two Hands is exactly this - the room is buzzing with a conglomeration of Australian and American accents as fashionable diners enjoy their meals against an airy room filled with interiors inspired by Australian Beaches on this hot New York Summer’s day. If good food, close community, and an eye for trend is what Giles Russell was envisioning for his business in 2012, this was most definitely achieved - a sunny slice of Australia in a bustling, booming city.