Changing the small-business game.
Many will agree that being your own boss sounds like an appealing lifestyle, but few have what it takes to make it as a small business entrepreneur.
We sought out the freshest, most innovative businesses in New York City, focusing our search on places that have opened within the last five years.
Though we included some tech startups, we mostly focused on brick and mortar shops, since we already published a list on the hottest startups in New York.
Some of these businesses, like a mobile app designed to help you find parking, aim to make your life easier, while others, like a cat cafe, will just make your life more fun.
Did we miss any cool new businesses? Let us know in the comments section.
What it is: A superior professional networking platform for college alumni.
Why it's cool: Many college graduates don't take advantage of their alumni networks, but they should, as nine out of 10 alums would prefer to hire fellow alums. Alumnifire aims to offer a more usable alumni network. Alumnifire allows users to post discussion topics and to private message one another with the end goal of helping connect more job hunters with those hiring.
What it is: A bacon, egg, and cheese mecca.
Why it's cool: The mac-and-cheese of breakfast foods has found a home in NYC. Bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches have long been a comfort food, but B.E.C. is taking it to the gourmet level.
B.E.C. combines toppings like tomato compote with pickled jalepeños to make its bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches desirable far past the breakfast hour. They also offer a selection of hearty soups and salads throughout the day.
What it is: A heavy-metal German-style beer hall.
Why it's cool: Queens' new beer bar offers 10 beers on tap, delicious German food such as bratwurst and pretzels, and live music.
If you're not feeling the meat and potatoes, never fear — the bar also offers vegan, gluten-free, and soy-free sausages. And it's all guilt-free, as part of Bierleichen's proceeds go to New York City's Coalition Against Hunger.
What it is: Handmade, small-batch craft gin.
Why it's cool: We can't think of a better way to raise our glasses to Brooklyn than with a gin that is made in the borough and named for it.
Brooklyn Gin is three guys and a copper pot still. It takes them three days to make 300 individual bottles of gin with fresh citrus peels and juniper berries, giving a richer flavor than the factory-produced stuff — a fact reflected in the awards Brooklyn Gin has won, including gold at the 2015 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
What it is: A shoe company that sells unique art for your feet.
Why it's cool: With headquarters in Chicago and a pop-up shop in Soho since 2013, BucketFeet has finally garnered enough buzz to set up a brick-and-mortar store on Elizabeth Street.
The footwear company has an open submission network of painters, illustrators, photographers, and graphic designers from 100 countries. Artists submit their work, then BucketFeet selects designs, manufacturers, and distributes the shoes worldwide. Artists are paid upfront and receive royalties for every item sold.
Butter & Scotch
What it is: A combination bar and bakery.
Why it's cool: After running a successful Kickstarter campaign, Allison Kave and Keavy Blueher opened Butter & Scotch at the end of January.
Specializing in unique takes on classic American desserts and cocktails, the retro bar is the first of its kind in Brooklyn. Butter & Scotch combines the best of both worlds, especially with its adult desserts like boozy milkshakes.
Claw & Co.
What it is: A fashion line based on graffiti.
Why it's cool: Graffiti artist Claudia "Claw" Gold is honored as one of the most prolific and legendary female graffiti artists of our time. Her signature three-clawed paw design was an NYC staple in the late 1980s and early '90s.
Claw & Co. is her debut fashion line — a collection of sport and streetwear for men, women, and children. The shop also sells stickers, keychains, art pieces, and home accessories with Gold's designs.
What it is: A sock company that fights for a cause.
Why it's cool: Conscious Step's unique business plan combines the knowledge of an engineer, a medical doctor, and a finance expert to design and sell socks whose proceeds benefit education, nature, and HIV and hunger prevention.
Each design "aligns with the world's to-do list" to provide quantifiable impact. The socks average about $15 for one pair and $50 for the entire collection.
What it is: A hyperlocal restaurant with a lot of Brooklyn pride.
Why it's cool: Cooklyn proudly partners with a slew of Brooklyn food-and-drink artisans to bring diners fresh and local cuisine. The chef is Greek, so there’s a hint of Greek influence in some of the dishes — like the lamb buns with feta cream — but it’s mostly focused on seasonal American fare.
The summer menu boasts a number of seafood dishes, such as squid ink cavatelli and lobster mac and cheese, and a few gourmet brunch dishes, like a key lime ricotta-stuffed French toast.
Danielle Trofe Design
What it is: A design company with a line of biodegradable lamps made of mushrooms.
Why it's cool: Danielle Trofe is a Brooklyn-based designer who creates sustainable and environmentally aware furniture and lighting. Her line of biodegradable lamps, called Mush-Lume Lighting, has won five design awards in the past two years.
She also creates and sells organic planters and self-sustaining, hydroponic gardens.
What it is: An app that's like the Tinder of apartment hunting.
Why it's cool: The housing market in NYC is notoriously difficult to navigate — an issue that 22-year-old Staten Island Tech grad Michael Lisovetsky and his partner Dean Soukeras aim to solve with their new app.
Apartment hunters can swipe left or right on listings, just as they would on Tinder. HomeSwipe, which recently expanded to Chicago, has been downloaded more than 62,000 times since its launch last year.
Loopy Doopy Rooftop Bar
What it is: A bar that makes alcohol-infused popsicles.
Why it's cool: Located atop the Conrad New York Hotel, this seasonal bar debuted in 2013 but is only open from April to November, weather permitting. Loopy Doopy's claim to fame is its liquor-infused popsicles served in a glass of Prosecco.
They come in fun flavors like thyme, basil, and ginger.
What it is: A cafe where you can hang out with cats.
Why it's cool: After jumping through hoops with the NYC Department of Health for months, a pair of pastry chefs and bona fide cat lovers have finally brought the cat craze to New York City.
Meow Parlour operates in two ways: as a patisserie and a playroom. Customers can purchase pastries with cat-friendly ingredients and then stroll over to the playroom filled with adoptable cats for $8 an hour.
What it is: A monthly subscription, gourmet ice-cream delivery service and tasting room.
Why it's cool: MilkMade's Ice Cream of the Month program quickly took over NYC when it launched in 2009. A membership gets you two pints of fresh ice cream each month, with unique flavors such as "Love Potion Number 132" and "Midsummer Night's Scream."
At the end of May, MilkMade opened its first brick-and-mortar tasting room in Cobble Hill, so now non-members can enjoy delicious ice cream made only from local ingredients.
What it is: An affordable and energy-efficient way to light your home or business.
Why it's cool: Michael and Susan Shea's company produces Solatube systems, which are one of the most efficient and eco-friendly ways to use natural sunlight to illuminate indoor spaces.
They're similar to ordinary skylights but are cheaper, easier to install, and provide a more consistent light source. NYC Daylighting has made strides in Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts — the company won the 2014 RISE competition for a grant proposal that allowed it to install Solatube systems in 36 businesses in the Rockaways that were affected by Sandy.
What it is: A "drinking den" in the Museum of Sex.
Why it's cool: The Museum of Sex is exploring art in a new form. The artist-crafted food and cocktails offered here are unsubtle aphrodisiacs designed to engage visitors in the museum's playful and sensual nature. The atmosphere is sexy, of course, with dim lighting, leather couches, and large bookshelves that section off semi-private seating areas.
What it is: Electric-assisted bicycles made for those with disabilities or who can't ride traditional bicycles.
Why it's cool: A veteran of the Iraq war, Chris Nolte gained inspiration to sell electric-assisted bikes after becoming disabled on duty and finding that he was unable to ride a traditional bicycle.
Today, his shop is one of the most innovative and cutting-edge places to buy or service e-bikes in the country. The shop had its grand opening in July.
What it is: The Warby Parker of toothbrushes.
Why it's cool: If you've ever thought a $2 toothbrush from the nearest drugstore would do, you've clearly never met Quip.
With a subscription to this online retailer, you'll receive a beautifully designed — and dentist-approved — electric or manual toothbrush every three months. The one-time fee runs between $5 and $40, depending on the toothbrush, and costs $5 every three months for replenishment.
What it is: The SoulCycle of boxing.
Why it's cool: This high-performance boxing studio caters mainly to women. It opened in May and comes complete with all the modern amenities — like a coffee and juice bar that takes your order when you arrive and has it ready as you leave.
Shadowbox is finding its place among the city's burgeoning boutique fitness scene. Shadowboxing is a way for boxers to prepare mentally and physically for a total-body fight workout. A membership isn't required to jump in on a 40-person or privately scheduled shadow-boxing or heavy-bag class.
What it is: A startup that helps bring independent women's clothing boutiques online.
Why it's cool: Olga Vidisheva launched Shoptiques in 2012 after she realized that many of her favorite boutiques had no web presence. Her website and mobile app hosts merchandise from third-party retailers, connecting boutiques with customers globally, and allowing shoppers to purchase unique luxury clothing and accessories online.
Shoptiques uses software that fully integrates stores' physical inventory, so online shoppers know what's available in real time.
Sid Gold's Request Room
What it is: An old-school karaoke and piano bar.
Why it's cool: Named for the showbiz vet, this piano-bar hangout gets going most nights after 9 p.m.
Though it only opened in May 2015, it has a decidedly retro vibe. Even its menu feels old school, featuring items like pigs in a blanket, shrimp cocktail, and deviled eggs. Sid Gold's also has a well-equipped bar for those in need of some liquid courage before stepping on stage for karaoke.
What it is: A mobile app designed to help you find a parking spot.
Why it's cool: It's notoriously difficult to find parking in New York City, and that's where SpotPog comes in. Users can send out an alert when they vacate a parking space and those looking for a parking spot are alerted when one opens near them.
The app also enables users to rent extra space in their driveways for others to park.
What it is: An all-vegetarian burger joint.
Why it's cool: Hyped-up and highly anticipated, this former pop-up shop has finally opened the doors to its permanent location. An announcement on Instagram invited diners to come enjoy a slim menu of vegetarian favorites, including a tofu wrap, quinoa-based burger, and burnt-broccoli salad.
The hole-in-the wall joint has already received rave reviews and two stars from The New York Times.
The CBK Perk Collaboration
What it is: A collaboration between two local businesses to bring breakfast to their neighborhood on weekday mornings.
Why it's cool: Locals have long bemoaned the lack of coffee shops around Lincoln Avenue — so Charlie's Bar & Kitchen, a local restaurant, and Morris Perk, a Bronx-based art gallery and coffee shop pop-up, opened CBK Perk together.
CBK Perk sets up shop every weekday morning from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. to sell its signature coffees, teas, and pastries inside Charlie's Bar & Kitchen. Customers can also order sit-down breakfasts from Charlie's. Two small businesses have come together to foster a local sense of community — just the thing to make Monday mornings bearable.
What it is: A brewery that lets a different restaurant take over its kitchen every few weeks.
Why it's cool: More than your average brewery, Threes Brewing boasts ample indoor-outdoor event space for rent and a rotating kitchen residency.
Every few weeks, a new restaurant takes over the brew pub's kitchen and collaborates with the brewery staff to create a unique menu and environment for patrons. The brewery also hosts its own events, including play readings, art exhibitions, and musical acts.
Threes has 20 beers on tap and a barrel-aged cocktail program for specialty liquor drinks.
What it is: A new, luxury South Bronx hotel contributing to the neighborhood's booming hospitality business.
Why it's cool: Proximity to Manhattan and lower accommodation costs often attract tourists to lodgings in the outer boroughs, particularly the South Bronx.
Umbrella Hotel is the second boutique luxury hotel to open its doors in the area, preceded by The Opera House Hotel. The hotel brings with it new jobs for local residents, a boost in local economy from its visitors and, not to mention, a fun and comfortable place to spend time.
Village Winery Club
What it is: A winery operated out of a 550-square-foot apartment.
Why it's cool: Matt Baldassano is a third-generation urban wine maker who decided his small apartment was big enough to house a few steel and wooden barrels, and about 4,000 pounds of grapes for his home wine-making venture.
Four years in, Baldassano produces 10 types of wine. More than 100 members currently pay Village Winery Club dues, which cover the wine and operating expenses, including labor — and Baldassano's monthly rent. Members also have exclusive access to tastings and events, like the biannual grape-stomping.
Will Letter for Lunch
What it is: A freelance graphic designer who letters local businesses' signs in exchange for a meal.
Why it's cool: In this economy, you have to be creative with your career in order to make a career out of being creative. Graphic designer Lauren Hom has done just that with her unique side business, Will Letter for Lunch.
She designs chalk signs for local restaurants and bars in the city in exchange for one of each item that she writes on the sign. Her business model has earned her repeat customers, word-of-mouth business, and professional relationships with many local business owners.
What it is: A wedding registry that operates like a Pinterest account.
Why it's cool: We wrote about Zola in December after it had received $2.6 million in Series A funding. Seven months later, it’s thriving in Silicon Alley.
The Pinterest-like feed allows couples to customize their wedding registries by curating their own highly visual wish lists. Zola's most innovative pull is encouraging couples to add "experiences," like cooking classes or outdoor activities, to their registries.
Disclaimer: Kevin Ryan is a cofounder of Zola and chairman of Business Insider.