lower east side
Life is never predictable. No one knows this better than Denise Porcaro, who came from the streets of Queens via an education in film and broadcasting to become one of New York's favorite flower girls.
You grew up in Queens. What kind of memories do you have from your childhood?
I have a bazillion memories from childhood. My parents are divorced so I kind of have the best of both worlds in a way. I grew up in Queens and I was a city kid and then I had the weekends with my dad in Long Island.
Did you go to college in New York?
I did. I went to college in Brooklyn at St Francis College. I studied communications with a concentration on film and broadcasting.
When I left school I thought I’d be in the product design world. It’s crazy to think that I have a flower business now. What’s even crazier is that I wanted to be a journalist. I thought I was going to do reporting but then I fell in love with the film part of it and now I have a flower business! [Laughs]
I studied abroad for one semester, which was great. I travelled a bunch.
Did that give you a different perspective on New York?
Absolutely. I think part of it was also that I worked from a very young age. When I worked during college there were a ton of 20-something year olds that would come here with this heightened sense of excitement. For me it was like “where do we go?” If you grew up here you’re kind of already “there”.
When I was traveling there was something so exciting about being on my own and exploring the world. When I came back I definitely appreciated New York but I also struggled a lot on where to live and what to do (as many 20-somethings do). Studying film I thought I was going to move to LA, my best friend was out there at the time and then this whole flower thing happened.
How did it happen?
The long and short of it is that I started to do flowers for some of the restaurants I worked for.
I was working in the restaurant business. I worked at a Danny Meyer restaurant as a hostess and I also worked for Sean MacPherson and Eric Goode as a cocktail waitress. I started to dabble in flowers around then.
How did you start doing the flowers?
It was kind of funny. That job had passed a lot of hands at The Park, and then it kinda just stuck with me.
Did you have any background in it?
No. I’m a super creative person though, so whatever medium it is I commit across the board, whether it was set design during college or make-up in my late teens.
My grandmother, who helped raise me, was also creative and very hands on. My mom is creative and dad is in construction. I was always around people that built stuff. I think it was just in my bones.
I was at work and we were chatting about who was doing the flowers and I said that I would do it because it was fun. It wasn’t just flowers though, it was these humongous bale and branches.
I had a red Volkswagen Passat that I would shove the bales into. That’s also when I was working until 4am as a cocktail waitress, it was a fun time in my early 20s.
Were you like “I don’t know what the fuck I am doing?”
Pretty much. I would go and talk to the wholesalers and ask a lot of questions. I was super interested in it. It was a very male (and still is) dominated industry. So you’re this cute, young, 20 something-year old girl coming from Queens and high on life and just asking a bunch of questions, and people were willing to answer and help. There was a lot of trial and error.
The good news was that there wasn’t a lot of pressure. The restaurant owners were like “this is your flower budget. This is how much we’ll pay you to do it …” I figured the rest out as I went along.
Did it feel right while you were doing it?
Yeah, it kind of did. There were parts I hated too. It’s a ton of work, a lot of heavy lifting, stinky water. When you come back to that same water in a week it’s disgusting. [Laughs] It’s very labor intensive. My hands were always gross and a mess.
The other side of it was that I started working with Roberta BenDavid, who does the flowers for all the Danny Meyer restaurants. That was awesome and I got to learn a lot.
It was just when I moved from Queens to the city on my own. It was definitely a transitional period and really fun. That was the beginning of it all.
Being a goal-driven being I still wanted to work in film and I tried for a while but I was always doing the flower thing as a creative outlet. I was working on small projects in the film industry, but they would end and I would go back to cocktail waitressing or bartending.
My boyfriend at the time told me that it's hard to try to do two things at once, and do them well and why not focus on one. He was right. So I went down the flower road and thought that I would always have film to fall back on.
Was that a really difficult decision to make?
Yes. I think it was more because of my age. I was young. Had I known I was going to have my own business I would have gone to business school. I would have taken business classes as electives if I even had an inkling this would happen.
So there was a lot of learning as you go.
Totally. I was a one-woman show for a very long time in the beginning. I did all the market purchasing, the actually arranging, meeting with all the clients, the invoicing.
Did you ever have a moment when you thought “is this what I should be doing?”
Not really. When the business went retail, I may have had that moment but it was more “holy shit! This is another monster.” It’s open 7-days a week, there are a lot of employees to manage, you’re dealing with a lot of personalities, and them dealing with each other and time management becomes a bigger thing.
When it comes to the actual flower arranging, how do you approach it?
I don’t even think about it anymore because I’ve been doing it for so long. We teach classes here so I definitely have to take people through the steps.
For a time my office and the retail space were quite removed from each other so I was pretty adamant to find a way to make the retail space work with minimal supervision.
I looked to hire people who could put together arrangements that were beautiful and a representation of Flower Girl. This meant selecting flowers and colors that were well-curated to start - interesting pods, different types of blooms, different sized blooms, and shades of one to two colors. Everything was priced individually so you could put stuff together pretty easily and it would work. It’s still what we do.
It’s different now though, because we’re bigger so we’re bringing in different flowers for weddings, events and special orders so theres a bunch more organization and logistics involved.
How would you describe your tone?
Our tone is lush, beautiful, seasonally-driven, and then there’s always some sort of pop.
We always try to have a heavy-hitter bloom , something like peonies or ranunculus. For instance right now we have narcissus, which is in the daffodil family. So depending on what’s going on there’s always a highlighted element.
Our signature Flower Girl arrangement goes in a mercury glass vessel, it’s very old meets new which is definitely who we are when you look around the store. It’s reclaimed fun stuff but still modern and fresh.
Being in the Lower East Side and now our new location on the West Side, we definitely try to have fun things that are affordable at any price point. Also things that are not only fresh flower related because we have a ton of tourist foot traffic and want them to be able to take Flower Girl items home too.
I’m super excited because we’re launching a whole line of items that are “Flower Girl” the brand. We’re doing cool pencils, click pens that say “Girl Power”, we have a lip balm, we had a candle for a while but we’re repackaging it and doing a girl and a guy version. We’re doing flower chocolate bars. We always had a feminine apron and we have now added a guy version that’s more straight and made from black denim.
Just fun little things that I'm hoping people love as much as we do.
People love the brand aspect these days.
It's true, coupled with people very much wanting to hold artisanal or entrepreneurial jobs. There are a bazillion flower people around right now, lots of café people, restaurant people, etc...
Everyone’s doing their thing and that’s cool. Who’s to say where everyone is going to land? But it’s not about that for me as much as, about where Flower Girl is going, and where can we go?
People are responding to it. You have a huge Instagram following!
You mentioned a new location, where is it?
We’re at Gansevoort Market and it’s been open since October 2014. As you know it’s been a brutal winter in New York so I think this spring people are really going to be able to enjoy it.
The market has these beautiful glass garage doors that roll up so it feels very open-air market style. There’s a local NY farm stand nearby so you can get all your local produce, there’s a butcher in the back, there’s a Luke’s Lobster, Tacombi Tacos …
The Whitney is also opening right there.
Meatpacking was not one of favorite neighborhoods to walk through either because at times it seemed a bit congested and coincidentally also seemed to be missing things. I just think that all of this new stuff, including the market has really enhanced the neighborhood.
Was the winter really hard with the flowers?
We are now buying directly from Holland. That’s the nice thing about being in the industry for sometime that we don’t need to go to the market that often. We’ll go if we need specialty stuff or last minute things. I have a great relationship with the guys at the market because I’ve known them for forever.
What advice would you give someone going into business?
I think ultimately you have to go easy on yourself. There are times when I am my worst critic, I know that for a fact. Just trust yourself. I’ve said this before but make sure that if you do know that you’re going to own your own business it will be your everything. Know that and make sure you have the time for that.
I think some people might work better with a partner because you’ve got somebody who’s got your back. But I’ve heard from friends that sometimes that’s a pain.
We don’t all have it figured out and I think that unless you went to school to become a lawyer or a doctor and if you’re in a creative field it’s kind of all up in the air.
A big thing is self-worth. I learned that the hard way because I love so much what I do that I would not budget time or money for myself. That’s also something to be mindful of.
Do you have a creative outlet that’s not your business?
I love to cook. I want to be in the kitchen more than anything else. [Laughs] Ultimately that’s my release.
Do you have any favorite spots in the Lower East Side?
I’m partial to Russ & Daughters café. The food’s amazing.
One of my favorite places opened up around the corner, it’s kind of a girl thing but I definitely need it in this industry, it’s a nail salon called Lush Life. The woman who owners it and I became fast friends, both being business owners, and having a ton to talk about!
Estela is also another one of my favorite restaurants. It’s fine dining food but you’re not in that kind of atmosphere. The food is just exceptional.
What do you think of when you think of New York?
Home. It’s just home. It’s exciting, it’s inspiring, it’s comforting, it’s crazy.
Do feel like you know it? I just feel like it must be changing all the time.
It definitely keeps me on my toes and I think that’s the beauty of New York for everyone, whether you just got here or you’ve been here forever.
I am always fascinated when I turn the corner and think “when did that go up? Or when did that close down?”
So it does keep me on my toes in that way, but at the same time I do really feel like I know it. I know the ins and outs and know where to get the best “something,” at least I think I do.
I will say that you do get very stuck in your neighborhood. If you were having this conversation a couple of years ago I probably would have given you completely different answers to favorite spots.
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