An Interview with J-Pop and Cosplay Phenomenon, Reni Mimura (a.k.a, Reni-Reni)!

Though she arrived on our shores only four short years ago from her home in Japan’s Yamaguchi prefecture, singing and dancing dynamo Reni Mimura has already made quite a name for herself in the Big Apple. She has performed all over town, on NY8 TV, and as a featured act at Asian Power! Summer Festival in Queens.

Reni Mimura (courtesy of Reni's Facebook)

Reni-Reni, as she nicknames herself on her website, blends the related anime subcultures of J-Pop (vocals performing hits from Japan’s world-famous, Anime-crazed entertainment industry) and Cosplay, a related trend in which otherwise ordinary folk transform themselves into whatever animated, video game or comics character they are obsessed with through the magic of hand-crafted costumes.

Reni’s performance and event schedule at shows and comic conventions nationwide tends to be packed, but I managed to get her to sit still for an email interview recently to explain just how she managed to break into New York’s tough music scene.

beejmckay: Hi Reni! Thanks for responding. So, where are you from?

Reni Mimura:  Reni came from the future!!\(>w<)/. 13 hours ahead of the United States, from a place called Japan!

What exactly do you do as a J-Pop singer, for people who might not know?

People say Reni is a “J-pop singer,” or Japanese Pop singer.

J-pop coexists with Anime, Japanese Animation, games and the internet. These days,  there are more and more followers of Japanese Anime and games in the U.S. I think that’s the main reason why my activities are getting a lot of attention.

My music is 100% POSITIVE Electro music. One of my events that I organize is a famous Japanese “Maid” cafe style event where everybody can enjoy being an idol of their own imagination by wearing costumes and participating in the show! This, in Japanese term, we call “COSPLAY”.

If you go to any of Anime conventions which you can find anywhere in the U.S., you will know what I am talking about. In my events, people enjoy being in virtual reality – a fantasy world, away from reality for a while. I think it’s a very futuristic concept!!

How do you incorporate dance into your show?

Reni has a strength in dancing because I’ve been formally trained since I was seven years old. Singing and dancing together with costumes is my artistic style. I change my costume often. By doing that I transform from one persona to the other.

Reni, being Japanese, would like to introduce this whole new concept to people in the U.S.  I like to have fun with it and share love and joy. (^w^)v

Who are your fans in New York City?

Reni calls my fans Angels. I have about 20,000 Angels worldwide. And since I started a event called Japanese “Maid” Cafe and Show in New York in 2009, a lot of angels are in and around NYC. I have an average of 70 to 100 people coming to my show every month in NY now.

I am glad people find my concept interesting. After my activities were spread by word of mouth, I started to be invited to Anime conventions across the U.S.  I have been to Boston, Virginia, Tennessee, Texas, and so on.

Also, I was featured in a Japanese fashion TV program, so many people who are into Japanese fashion became my Angels. Since it’s hard for me to physically go everywhere my Angels live, I interact them on my website, and Facebook.

What are your costumes based on (Anime characters, comics characters?)

Reni at Arlene's Grocery (courtesy Infinite 7 Productions)

I have established my own character, a “Maid” outfit with bunny ears. Maids represents cures and healing, but I added bunny ears because I think it’s simply cute!

Why do you think Cosplay has
become so popular?

The Internet generation is very shy. Actually, I am also shy as a person. By dressing in costume, you can be whatever character you want.

Have you ever experienced this? If you wear something different, people treat you differently. You also feel different and act differently. For example, if you wear a hero costume, you’ll be strong instantly. Can you believe Reni?

I hope that the fashion industry adapts more of Cosplay culture.(^^)

Who are your favorite characters to dress up as?

My favorite character is  Sailor Moon. I used to wear this costume in my acting classes while I was in Japan. I made the costume by myself(^^)

Sailor Moon is cute but strong, and I like the tension between the two.

What do people not understand about J-Pop and Cosplay?

Cosplay culture in Japan tells you that no matter how old you are, you can be as unreal and fantastic as you want. It’s so hard to do in this society, but please, do not forget about the innocent mind in you.

Since you are leaving behind your original persona for a while, you are also leaving behind whatever you are taught is “important” in reality – like competing against other people. You just simply imagine what you want to be, and you become that one. Just know who you are (^w^)

Who was your craziest fan and why?

Reni Fan Art (by Clarice Garcia)

My Angels all have good manners! But taking pictures of all the moves that Reni makes on stage might be strange to general people in the U.S. (^w^)v

My Angels protect me all the time. I’m soooo lucky to have met them(*w*) I believe in my Angels, who support Reni all the way. \(>w<)/

What have been your favorite places to sing in New York City?

Even though I have performed in some very famous clubs and live music halls in New York –  like Arlene’s Grocery, Living Room, Sullivan Hall, and so on – I love to perform in unique places, like art spaces/galleries, cafes, and even museums. I think it goes well with my style. (^0^)/

What was your favorite show in New York?

That’s very easy! Reni’s Maid Cafe and Show!! I enjoy being in a fantasy world and interacting with my Angels.

When you enter the cafe in the West Village, the Maids will greet you by saying, “Welcome home my Master and Princess.” (*w*)v. And you will always be treated as “Masters” and “Princesses” by the Maids.

Now I’ve added a Reni’s Maid Cafe & Show in Boston and D.C. every month, so if you are around those areas, please COME BY…!

Thank you for support!!(^0^)/

Reni is looking forward to seeing you!

Thank you Reni!

(In addition to her semi-regular Maid Cafe & Shows at the Amber Village in Manhattan, Reni can be seen on her very own UStream show every other Tuesday here, and she’ll be performing at the upcoming 52nd Annual Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival in downtown Washington, D.C. on April 14th.)


06.05.2011 – Stumptown Coffee Making Inroads in New York

Stumptown Coffee Making Inroads in New York

by Benjamin J Spencer

The Stumptown Brew Bar in Red Hook.       Photo:

Red Hook, Brooklyn –  In a sparsely-populated industrial corner of Red Hook, Brooklyn, within sight of sprawling docks and looming ocean-bound freighters, sits a small, unassuming brownstone building. From its looks, it probably used to be an auto shop. Now, from inside wafts not the stench of axle grease, but the thick, dark tang of roasting coffee.

Some might deem the Brooklyn working waterfront an unlikely place for a coffee roaster. But actually it makes perfect sense, since these Stumptown beans, green and oily when delivered, hail from around the world – from small family and co-op coffee estates where owners and workers are paid a premium for their product that is unmatched in the industry.

Steve Goodwine is a barista behind the counter at the Brew Bar, which takes up a small storefront adjacent to the roasting garage here in Red Hook.

“There are two guys in our company who spend about nine months out of the year travelling to different coffee farms around the world,” he says.

At these small farms, batches of coffee are rigorously tested for quality. The conditions of the farm (organic methods, plenty of shade) and workers (well-taken care of) are checked, and new business relationships are forged with small growers. Stumptown set up this year-old Brew Bar specifically to educate the public on the uniqueness of that model in the coffee importing world – and of course, sell some more coffee.

The beans are also roasted with a care and consistency rare in the world of coffee, and at an exceedingly small scale compared to the mega-conglomerates that feed Manhattan’s endless train of Dunkin’ Donuts.  It seems improbable that from this modest and laid-back feeling roasting facility, every wholesale and café- bound order of Stumptown Coffee in New York City is delivered.

“The roasters are just really efficient,” says Brian Philippi, another barista here. “They work really hard.”

So do the brewers, if today’s demonstration is any indication. As he talks, Philippi, bewhiskered and lanky, stands behind a wooden counter currently decked out like some kind of mad doctor’s lab. The Brew Bar coffee is all ground and brewed to order right in front of sometimes bemused customers, but you won’t see any familiar drip machines here.

Overhead racks of fat glass beakers, plastic plunger tubes and presses of all sizes, and other technical paraphernalia attest to Stumptown’s painstakingly scientific approach to creating the perfect cup. Visitors can test four different labor-intensive methods of brewing up to 16 varieties of single-source, direct-trade gourmet beans.

One simple method involves slowly pouring near-boiling water over a pile of dark, coarse-ground joe, while another, called the Aeropress, resembles a large syringe with a stopper that squeezes hot water through wetted grounds with a column of pressurized air.

As the afternoon wears on, bicyclers enjoying the mild weather chain up and file inside in chattering groups. A sense of community takes hold in the little bar. One man tells the three brewers behind the counter that despite his best efforts at home, he can’t quite get his own Aeropress to make a cup as perfect as theirs.

“The difference between here and home is that here, everything’s precise,” he says. “Maybe because there aren’t three kids shooting soccer balls at me.”

Although anyone can order Portland-based Stumptown’s whole bean, direct-trade coffee  via the Internet, New York and Seattle are the only other localities where the company has a physical presence –  and New York’s inclusion was based more on serendipity than any business plan, according to Matt Lounsbury, Stumptown’s director of operations in its Portland headquarters.

Lounsbury explains that the success of Seattle-based boutique luxury Ace Hotels inspired the chain to start another hotel in Portland in 2007, and they asked Stumptown to run a coffee bar in their lobby. The hotel, and the bar, was a great success, and when Ace set up on 29th Street near Madison Square in mid-town Manhattan two years ago, they asked Stumptown to work the old magic again.

“At first we were like, what? New York City?” says Lounsbury. “We’re just this little coffee company from Portland. For a while we couldn’t quite put our minds around it.”

When they did decide to take the plunge, immediate problems arose. The biggest problem: finding space for their roaster.  Normally, Lounsbury says, if Stumptown can’t build a roaster in a location, they won’t even consider moving any operations there, and for space and financial reasons, Manhattan was simply out of the question. “It’s a freshness thing,” he says.

So they scoured Brooklyn instead, and found the perfect location in Red Hook.

Though the recently opened Brew Bar and the Ace Hotel lobby are so far the only company retail locations in the city, Stumptown does an increasingly brisk wholesale business to area restaurants. In the two years since Stumptown’s introduction to New York City, the business has grown to include wholesaling to dozens of cafes and restaurants in the five boroughs. Several locations in the East 20’s near Baruch College serve at least a Stumptown house brew, including Star Café and the the Mexican chain Dos Caminos on 27th Street and East Third Avenue. In fact, it has become rather a badge of honor to serve Stumptown.

Craig Cochran, the owner of Terri, a successful new vegetarian, vegan and organic sandwich café on West 23rd St. and 6th Avenue, says in an email that since he and his business partner had named their café after their moms (both named Terri), “we only wanted the highest quality products to be associated with us.”

Cochran says that as he relied on his “coffee connoisseur” friends for advice, Stumptown came up again and again.  He had crafted Terri’s menu carefully to appeal to vegetarians and non-vegetarians, with sandwiches that come off like healthy comfort food while being something he could feel proud to serve. So he knew they had to get the coffee right – and preferably socially responsible.

“When I found out that Stumptown also has the highest standards associated with every aspect of their coffee production,” says Cochran, “I knew that this was the right brand to serve at Terri.”

Lounsbury says Stumptown simply got to New York at the right time. Even if their research shows that the term “direct trade” hasn’t quite penetrated into the coffee lingo around here yet, nevertheless, in the past few years, more direct-trade coffee has made it into independent cafes city-wide.

Competitors include North Carolina’s CounterCulture Coffee (served at midtown’s Café Lucid, among other venues) and Chicago-based Intelligentsia Coffee, – along with Stumptown, one of the pioneers of the direct-trade model – with vendors like 9th Street Coffee in Manhattan’s East Village and their own small coffee bar in the Chelsea Market.

“We are definitely responding to a lot of energy around local food in New York, especially in the last year,” said Lounsbury. “We’re starting to see a lot more traction. All across the country there’s a lot of interest in specialty coffees and brewing methods. It bodes well for us as roasters, but also it bodes well for coffee lovers and for independent farmers.”

Not to mention the coffee-lovers on this sleepy stretch of Van Brunt Street in Red Hook. The customers, who might pay up to four dollars for their mug of fresh-ground, exactingly-brewed Stumptown Coffee (depending on the brewing method), don’t seem to mind the extra cost at all.

As one bearded and square-spectacled gent explains to me,  “You pay for precision.”

06.03.2011 – People to Watch in Silcon Alley – Slideshow Profiles – CRAIN’S NEW YORK BUSINESS

The Video Guy





05.27.2011 – Crowds to Storm NYC for Summer’s Start – CRAIN’S NEW YORK BUSINESS

Crowds to storm NYC for summer’s start

Grab your sunglasses, sunscreen and MetroCard—this Memorial Day weekend promises to be city’s busiest ever.

By Benjamin J. Spencer
May 27, 2011 3:22 p.m.
tour bus

Buck EnniS
Tourism is expected to thrive this Memorial Day weekend.

With fair weather forecast, the start of Fleet Week, and new attractions this year on the waterfront and Governors Island, the city is gearing up for an unusually crowded Memorial Day weekend.

Hotels are at around 88% capacity, according to Chris Heywood, a spokesman for NYC & Co., the city’s marketing and tourism organization.

“Last year was a record” for Memorial Day weekend lodging, he said, “and so far, we’re on track for another record year. Demand is very strong.”

Travelocity, a leading online travel agency, has seen bookings for Memorial Day weekend flights to the city soar in the past few years.

“New York City is the No. 4 destination for Memorial Day weekend, coming in behind Las Vegas, Orlando and South Florida,” said Genevieve Shaw Brown, senior editor at Travelocity. “It also happens to be the most expensive of those, in terms of hotel stays.”

New York was also the No. 4 destination for Memorial Day weekend in 2010 and 2009, Ms. Brown said.

The city is promoting revamped waterfront attractions at Coney Island, with its new Scream Zone, and expanded activities on Governors Island, where officials are hoping two new public sculpture exhibitions and free outdoor concerts will draw crowds.

A new smoking ban took effect this week, for the first time covering city beaches and parks. City Parks Department Commissioner Adrian Benepe said the city introduced the smoking ban partly as a result of public pressure, and partly because cigarette butts, which he said represent up to 70% of the pieces of garbage picked up on beaches, are “a particularly long-lasting and pernicious form of litter.”

Although 19 million visitors crowded New York’s shoreline parks last Memorial Day weekend—three times as many as in 2009—for the first time in years there are enough lifeguards, more than 1,300, to cover all of the city’s beaches and pools, according to Mr. Benepe. The lifeguard jobs pay $13.50 per hour with 48-hour work weeks through the season.

Tourist attractions, businesses and cultural institutions are also launching into high gear.

A spokeswoman for New York Water Taxi and the downtown Circle Line said the company had expanded its popular hop-on, hop-off tours from weekends only to seven days all season amid growing demand, and have also seen especially high interest from resident New Yorkers in the company’s newest tour, “Bike the Brooklyn Bridge/Water Taxi Back.”

And a costume exhibition of Alexander McQueen designs has drawn lines since 10:30 a.m. Friday at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, according to museum spokeswoman Elyse Topalian.

05.23.2011 – NY’s Top Public Companies Are Roaring Back – CRAIN’S NEW YORK BUSINESS

NY’s top public companies are roaring back

Crain’s list shows a collective 75% spike in income last year for the region’s 250 largest public businesses. The group’s $2.44 trillion-with-a-T market cap is now so big that it rivals the GDP of France.

By Benjamin J. Spencer
May 23, 2011 12:15 p.m.
New York Stock Exchange

Buck Ennis
The finance sector was the biggest winner, with companies in the financial field accounting for 47% of all the revenue reported by the Top 250 companies.

Big business in New York is bouncing back from the Great Recession—big time, according to the latest Crain’s ranking of the region’s top publicly held companies.

The total stock-market value of the 250 biggest public companies in the New York metro area, for instance, climbed 11% last year, to $2.44 trillion, compared with a total market capitalization of $2.19 trillion for the top 250 in 2009.

To put that $2.44 trillion figure into perspective: The total market cap for New York’s 250 biggest public companies exceeds the gross domestic of the United Kingdom (around $2.25 trillion last year, according to International Monetary Fund estimates) and comes in just under the GDP of France ($2.58 trillion).

Total revenue for the Crain’s 250 also rose 11% last year, to $1.75 trillion (that would be around the GDP figure for Canada), while overall profits soared 75% to $158.9 billion (somewhere between Peru and Romania).

Revenue winners last year included health care and consumer goods companies, such as Pfizer and PepsiCo, with gains of 35% and 33.8%, respectively.

But the finance sector was the biggest winner, with companies in the financial field accounting for 47% of all the revenue reported by the Top 250 companies, mostly due to stronger markets and more acquisitions than in recent years.

Bank of New York Mellon, mainly a custodian of corporate assets, saw revenues shoot up more than 75%, to around $14.5 billion after its 2010 acquisitions of PNC Financial Services Group and BHF Assets. And at BlackRock, the world’s largest money manager, revenues soared 83.2%, to more than $8.6 billion, in a year that saw BlackRock’s merger with Barclay’s Global Investors finalized.

05.15.2011 – Week on the Web – Hedge Funder Found Guilty – CRAIN’S NEW YORK BUSINESS

Hedge funder found guilty

A jury finds Raj Rajaratnam guilty, while the city debates the cause of an alleged Census undercount and Goldman Sachs takes some heat.

By Benjamin J. Spencer
May 15, 2011 5:59 a.m.
Raj Rajaratnam Galleon

Bloomberg News
A jury last week found Raj Rajaratnam guilty of all 14 counts of conspiracy and securities fraud.

The federal government netted its biggest hedge fund fish yet when a jury found Raj Rajaratnam guilty of all 14 counts of conspiracy and securities fraud. Jurors deliberated the insider-trading case for weeks, after listening to damning testimony from Wall Street bigs such as Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Chief Lloyd Blankfein and former McKinsey & Co. director Anil Kumar. In the end, the government’s unusual wiretaps likely sealed Mr. Rajaratnam’s fate, as jurors repeatedly listened to more than 40 tapes of the defendant milking various industry players for inside information.

The Sri Lanka-born hedge fund executive faces as much as 25 years in prison; sentencing is set for July 29. Mr. Rajaratnam, 53, plans to appeal the verdict and will wear an electronic monitor during his house arrest in the interim.

At the peak of his career, the Galleon Group founder managed more than $7 billion and was revered on Wall Street. In his defense, his lawyers tried to convince jurors that Mr. Rajaratnam was simply well-researched and only moved on information that was publicly available. Prosecutors, however, painted the hedge funder as the very definition of an inside trader.

Undercount debate

A Census official said a “processing issue” was one of many possible causes for a population undercount in the city—not that Tony Farthing, the bureau’s regional director, would confirm said undercount. He spoke at a City Council hearing in response to a Brooklyn councilman’s incredulity over Census-reported apartment vacancies in Bay Ridge. The city, which has yet to officially challenge the 2010 census count, hopes to reclaim 80,000 residents it says were missing from the rolls and thereby boost federal funding by $2.4 billion over the next 10 years.

A tough week for Goldman Sachs

Not only did Goldman get the heads-up that the Commodity Futures Trading Commission might soon charge it with civil fraud relating to its clearing services for a broker-dealer, it also admitted to receiving more subpoenas concerning its ill-fated mortgage product Abacus 2007-AC1. That piece of work has already attracted global scrutiny.

AIG starts selling

Uncle Sam wants to unload a thin slice of its 92% stake in American International Group Inc., offering 200 million shares in a sale that commenced last week. The government’s breakeven point is $28.72. Just 1.6 billion shares to go.

Met names board chairman

Daniel Brodsky was named chairman of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s board. The developer admits he’s no expert when it comes to art, yet he was a driving force behind Lincoln Center’s recent renovations, and he’s a trustee of not only the Met but also the New York City Ballet and New York University. In his spare time, he manages 6,200 apartments in 68 Manhattan buildings.

Battery Park City residents relieved

Many Battery Park City residents are breathing sighs of relief after their managing agency agreed to cap the neighborhood’s total ground-lease rents at $525 million over the next 30 years. The agreement prevents projected hikes that could have cost the community $279 million more than that. A product of the 1980s, ground leases require tenants to pay a rental fee on the underlying city-owned land, in addition to apartment fees.

A version of this article appeared in the May 16, 2011 print issue of Crain’s New York Business.

05.03.2011 – Asian-Americans Dominate NY’s Top Minority Firms – CRAIN’S NEW YORK BUSINESS

Asian-Americans dominate NY’s top minority firms

Latest Crain’s ranking of minority-owned businesses shows Asian-American firms accounting for 10 of the 25 largest names. Top Asian-American firm? ASI System Integration

By Benjamin J. Spencer
May 3, 2011 3:00 p.m.

Asian-American firms are making it big in the Big Apple, accounting for 10 of the Top 25 minority-owned companies in the New York area, according to a new Crain’s list.

There were nine Hispanic and Latino-owned companies and six African-American firms on the Crain’s list, which ranked the region’s 25 largest minority businesses by their 2010 revenues. The No .1 company was Goya Foods Inc., of Secaucus, N.J., with an estimated 1.7 billion in revenues last year.

The top Asian-American firm on the list was information technology company ASI System Integration, which reported $175 million in revenues for 2010, placing No. 5 overall.

Six of the 10 Asian-American-owned companies on the list operate in either apparel or construction and construction supplies, industries that have struggled during the recent recession. Indeed, seven of the 10 Asian-American firms on the list lost revenue from the year earlier.

By Design, a Manhattan-based apparel wholesale company, was founded in 1994 by Korean-American Chief Executive Jay Lee. Though still successful enough to make No. 10 on the list, the company’s revenue last year dropped to $77.1 million from $87.1 million in 2009. By Design’s director of human resources, Richard Eagan, said the continuing lull in the economy, paired with some retailers’ desire to save money by sourcing their own apparel overseas, made things tough last year.

The company is banking on innovation to help blunt the impact of falling revenue, acquiring a partner last summer in Los Angeles-based jeans-maker-to-the-stars David Kahn. Their high-end denims should appear in New York boutiques soon, Mr. Eagan said, noting that the move is “totally new” for a company that sells mainly knits and sweaters for young women.

One apparel wholesaler appears to have emerged unscathed: Lafayette 148 New York. The women’s apparel company ranked No. 8 on this year’s list with $100 million in revenues in 2010, up from $95 million in 2009.

Chief Executive Shun Yen Sui said Lafayette 148’s success in rough times resulted from a refusal to compromise the brand and the product. Favorable manufacturing locations also helped: “Certainly,” Mr. Sui said, “our vertical operations, with our own production facility in Shantou, China, give us a competitive advantage.”

Despite individual success stories, John Wang, president of the Manhattan-based Asian American Business Development Center, said apparel manufacturing has been falling for years. “Much of the manufacturing has moved to Asia, Vietnam,” he said. “And Americans are not spending as freely as before.”

Construction services also continued to slow in 2010: Though all three of the Asian-American construction and construction supplies firms on the Crain’s list moved up in the rankings, their total revenue dropped anywhere from 7% to 22%. (Overall construction spending in New York City plunged 12% in 2010 alone, and it’s off more than 20% from peaks seen in 2007 and 2008.)

Mr. Wang said whatever the sector, local Asian-American businesses will need to continue expanding into unfamiliar territory—even international markets—to stay competitive. He mentioned Latin America and Africa as potential markets for expansion, a trend growing for decades in Chinese business. But he also pointed to a growth market much closer to home.

Previously isolated minority groups are starting to put aside language and cultural barriers and are “developing each other” as potential customers, he said.

“On the smaller scale, people have been teaming up from the neighboring minority communities,” said Mr. Wang. But he said Asian American-owned companies “could be marketing much more heavily to Hispanic, African-American and gay and lesbian markets.”