Founder of the Center for New Liberalism and kidney donor, Jeremiah Johnson has lived in Hell’s Kitchen for the past 11 years and describes the neighborhood as his “favorite place in the city”. This is Jeremiah’s West Side Story.
So, what’s your New York story? Born here, or just arrived?
I grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. After going to college and grad school in Georgia, I realized I wanted something different and moved up to New York. I first moved to Hell’s Kitchen in the summer of 2012, and I’ve been here ever since. I’ve lived in Hell’s Kitchen for the past 11 years, and think this neighborhood is criminally underrated. I even moved during that time, but only one block over because I love this area so much.
What was your first job? What do you do now?
My first job ever was cleaning tables and taking orders at a hole in the wall BBQ restaurant. Like most people, I had a variety of odd jobs growing up and through school. I think it’s really important for people who plan on having white collar jobs/careers to have experience with more normal work and to understand what those jobs are like.
My work for the last few years has revolved around the organization I founded, the Center for New Liberalism. I’ve been fighting for a more liberal vision of society where there’s abundance for everyone. Most of our day to day work is in producing content (podcasts, social media, live streams, in person conferences and events, etc) or in helping to manage our 80+ chapters around the world (which includes the NYC New Liberals!).
What’s your favorite New York minute (or moment) so far?
I love the work I’ve done organizing here. We need more people in NYC advocating for politicians who will just get things done, and contributing to that is some of my proudest work.
On a lighter note, seeing Tracy Morgan rolling through the neighborhood in his Bugatti and doing a mutual Eye Contact And Nod Of Recognition was pretty fun.
Share with us why you love Hell’s Kitchen
9th Avenue is my home base and my favorite place in the city. From 42nd to 57th is just filled with some of the best restaurants, bars and interesting spots, and it still feels underappreciated. The food in Hell’s Kitchen can stand up to any neighborhood in the country in quality and diversity. 7th Ave is Times Square, and obviously filled with tourists. 8th Ave is still heavy on the “I ❤️ NYC” T-shirt shops. But 9th Avenue is its own world and wonderful — close enough that everything is convenient, but far enough away that it’s not overrun with the crowds.
What’s your superpower or hidden talent?
I’m a kidney donor! I donated my kidney four years ago to a stranger and love to advocate for kidney donation. Tens of thousands of Americans die every year on the kidney waiting list because we don’t have enough donors, and donation is very safe. If you’re out there reading, you should consider saving a life and donating!
What else should we know about you?
I love Hell’s Kitchen and New York, and want them to be the best version of what they can be! One of our biggest challenges is that rent is definitely too high — and if NYC is ever going to become more affordable we’re going to have to build a LOT more housing, and fast. I want to build more in Hell’s Kitchen to make sure that more people have the chance I did to move here and experience a really amazing neighborhood.
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Jeremiah’s Favorite Hell’s Kitchen Places
Poseidon Bakery — 629 9th Avenue (bw W44/45th St)
Lili and Paul are Hell’s Kitchen institutions and make some of the best Greek pastry not just in the city but in the country.
Hold Fast — 364 W 46th Street (bw 8th/9th Avenue)
One of my favorite places to grab a drink in the neighborhood. Good cocktails and bites, and the music is usually at a level where you can actually have a conversation!
Turco — 604 9th Avenue (bw W43/44th St)
The guys at Turco are friendly and the food is great. Just a good honest kebab stand with sizzling meat, great bread and fast service.
Schmackary’s — 362 W45th Street (bw 8th/9th Ave)
I like a good cookie and these are good cookies, simple as. Love the special styles with fruit in them like Strawberries and Cream, and the Dulce de Leche cookies.
HK Free Store — 401 W45th Street (bw 9th/10th Ave)
I love that we have a little place where I can drop off books and other things I don’t need and someone else can get some use out of them. I donate more than I take, but I’ve found some cool stuff there!
Totto Ramen — 464 W51st Street (bw 9th/10th Ave)
To be honest, Totto is a stand in here for ALL the ramen in Hell’s Kitchen. Totto’s is fantastic and was the first ramen joint I fell in love with. Ippudo is also fantastic. RIP to Ivan Ramen. Momofuku Noodle Bar in Columbus Circle is incredible. Hide-chan and Kohoku-ku are also great. EAK is very solid. Tabata has great cold noodles in the summer. I still need to try Master Tokyo Ramen and Toribro, but we are blessed to live in maybe the best ramen neighborhood in America.
Ariana Afghan — 787 9th Avenue (bw W52/53rd St)
Afghan food is incredible, and it’s a shame more people haven’t tried it. It’s got elements of Turkish and Indian, but it is it’s own unique thing and I highly recommend you give it a shot. Ariana’s been here forever and serves a great plate of Kabuli Pulao.
You can follow Jeremiah on Twitter @JeremiahDJohns and listen to his podcast at cnliberalism.org. If you know someone who would make a great West Side Story (or you would like to nominate yourself) please fill in this form — w42st.info/WSSnominations
You can check out more West Side Stories and reader recommendations on W42ST’s Hell’s Kitchen Local App.