Cuzin’s Duzin Mini Donuts Aiming to Raise the Dough

Cuzins Duzins Mini DonutsBROOKLYNITE TODD JONES CALLS HIMSELF A “DONUTOLOGIST.” You know, just as archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann studied archaeology, namely the archaeology of ancient Troy, donutologist Jones studies donuts, namely sweet, sticky, delicious mini donuts, each a deep-fried doughy circle. Not Dunkin’ Donut donuts, or Starbucks donuts, but hot, fresh mini donuts. “Glaze will come out of my skin if you cut me,” he says.

He’s not only mini-donuts, either, but popcorn, cookies, custom drinks, etc., etc., etc. While you’re munching on one of his highly addictive donuts, then a second and then a third, you’ll have time to see that he’s one of the most upbeat characters you’ll ever meet. “That’s the only way to be—upbeat,” he tells me. Not too long ago he catered his first million-dollar wedding, put together by famed wedding planner Mindy Weiss at the Hotel Hershey in Hershey, Pennsylvania. She loved his donuts so much that she tweeted her 46,000 followers, he says. From that tweet he has two more affairs to cater, and he’s approaching Puffy. And maybe Oprah. Why not?

But at times his luck has bordered on hellish. He had a 12-year stint going in Brooklyn’s Albee Square Mall until a developer sold the mall for $125 million. The developer took home $100 million and Jones was evicted immediately. He did some street festivals and catered a few weddings and bar mitzvahs until he was offered a place at Dekalb Market. He signed a contract for five years—“I knew it was temporary,” he says—and invested $30,000 in his shop. More developers arrived, and he was evicted again only a year and a half later —not long enough to recoup his investment. So he started working out of his bakery van again, and soon he was offered yet another location. But before he could move in, Superstorm Sandy hit, and the following Monday his van was stolen, along with $60,000 worth of equipment. Oh yeah: He had no insurance.

Sigh.

But now with his recent catering success, Jones is searching for another shop and he also wants to start franchises across the country. He’s started meeting with investors. “That’s what’s on the table. If I can get $250,000 I can put a Cuzin’s Duzin in every Walmart across the country,” he says. “It’s a billion-dollar industry, and we can carve out a niche.

“Once you eat a donut you’re a Cuzin for life.”

Executive Editor Phil Scott is the author of seven books and numerous magazine articles.

What Makes a Book ‘Rare’ –– And Do You Have One?

Heather O'Donnell at the Community Bookstore meeting, living-room style. Plenty of social skill goes into face-to-face book evaluations, and the rare book expert never knows what to expect. (Partially visible behind Heather is her young daughter, sitting sideways, absorbed by "The Guiness Book Of Records, 2013."

Rare-book advisor Heather O’Donnell at the Community Bookstore’s living room-style meeting. Plenty of social skill as well as professional knowledge goes into face-to-face book evaluations with the owners. (Partly visible behind Heather is her daughter, absorbed by “The Guiness Book Of Records, 2013.”) (Photograph by Brooklyn Artisan Photo Pool)

ON THURSDAY NIGHT AT THE COMMUNITY BOOKSTORE ON SEVENTH AVENUE, Heather O’Donnell set out to shine a little light on the subject of rare and collectible books for more than a dozen of her Park Slope neighbors. “Rare books are my passion,” she said, and hastened to reassure her listeners sitting with books on their laps that she also enjoyed seeing and evaluating all sorts of interesting or cherished books from personal bookshelves, no matter how modest, and hearing the stories about them. Literature is her specialty: Before founding Honey & Wax Booksellers in 2011, Heather earned a Ph.D. in English literature, taught at Princeton, and then worked for seven years for Bauman Rare Books, on Madison Avenue.

That location was open to the public, she said, and though usually she enjoyed the social contact and always cherished the occasional surprise discovery of a valuable volume, Heather allowed as how yes, as in any business, there were occasional bad days. In her business, a bad day can be opening the doors to “belligerent people with worthless books.” (Chuckles around the room.)

A pristine Gatsby jacket of the first edition,1925, can multiply the value 50 times over.

A pristine Gatsby jacket of the first edition, 1925, can multiply the value 50 times over.

The rarity of a book is determined by its scarcity balanced against its desirability, she said. In general, book collectors look for first printings of books of importance, in good shape and with the dust jacket intact. Ideally there would be no fading, heavy wear or tearing of the book jacket or its binding; no stains or coffee rings, please, especially not on the cover (note to self: buy more coasters); no loose or missing pages, and – god forbid! – no yellow highlighting or disfiguring scribbles on the pages. Daintily penciled notes in the margins okay? It all depends on the collector.

Heather gave the example of a first edition of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby: in pristine condition including its dust jacket, it would sell in the neighborhood of $200,000; without the jacket, not so much – in fact, probably around $4000. (A quick glance at nearby laps showed few intact jackets; Brooklyn Artisan felt a little better about the bare-naked books we’d brought.) Authentic author’s autographs may enhance value but don’t guarantee it, we learned, and inscriptions like “Happy birthday to the best boy in the whole world, Love, Grandma,” while certainly not sought after, aren’t necessarily disastrous, either. Again, it all depends.

We got some pointers on research we could do ourselves such as looking at the standard reference works by Allen and Patricia Ahearn and searching on AbeBooks, which a librarian can help with, or even using amazon.com or ebay.com just to begin to get a fix on availability and price. Looking at auction records is better yet; again, the right librarian can coach you. Once you’ve done some homework, if the signs auger well, then you may be ready for the next step: approaching a dealer.

The moment had come to show the books that had been brought. It felt just a little like an audition. There were some nice books: a first edition of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, by Gertrude Stein, still wearing its jacket. [Read more…]

Here’s to Orville and Wilbur: The Makers and Flyers

Yesterday was Kitty Hawk Day, which provoked this reminiscence.

THE WRIGHT BROTHERS NEVER TRUDGED UP THIS DUNE BAREFOOT. That’s what I’m thinking last spring as I try to negotiate the wings of a 1902 Wright glider up a sandy winding trail carved out of Jockey’s Ridge with Kitty Hawk Kites’ clean-cut manager Bruce Weber and assistant recreation manager Andy Torrington. This exact replica was hand-built in 2002 by renown Wrightist Ken Hyde and The Discovery of Flight Foundation–sort of an artisanal business for the aviation set. This glider’s heavy—about 150 pounds—and bulky—302 square foot of flexible, yellowing canvas wing built just like the original—the same ash and spruce and weatherbeaten,  cross-stitched canvas.

Speaking of kites: Wright Brothers 1902 glider

Speaking of kites: Wright Brothers 1902 glider

The Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur, were tinkerers; they came along before mass-production. They were the kind of guys who today would be found at the Makers Faire and the 3rd Ward or taking their kids over to the Robot Foundry in Gowanus. While the closest they ever got to flying in Brooklyn was Governor’s Island, they did own a small bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio, a city that produced more than its share of earth-shattering inventions. (The cash register? Yup, that was born in Dayton.) Everything the brothers did was hand-crafted, from their bicycles to their first powered airplane.  If there’s anything to learn about growing an artisanal business, just read a biography of the Wrights.

So far as the ’02 replica goes, fewer than 30 people had ever flown it, but last year Hyde loaned it to Kitty Hawk Kites.  It looks fragile, it flexes, creaks, but it always bounces back into shape. It’s tougher than it looks. [Read more…]

Cookie Heaven

Day Eleven 12 Tastes of Brooklyn
The window at Betty Bakery one recent December evening. Cookie heaven.

The window at Betty Bakery on Atlantic Avenue one recent December evening.

dec16I WAS INVITED TO MY FIRST COOKIE-EXCHANGE holiday party this year, but alas, now it’s been cancelled and all motivation to cover myself in flour and sugar has gone out the window. Luckily, Brooklyn is rich in cookies—beautiful ones made by hand with the finest ingredients by the most ingeniously creative bakers. Here are just a few to tempt you.

Vintage Santa Postcard Cookies and Holiday Cookie Tin, from Betty Bakery
Bakers and cake designers Ellen Baumwoll and Cheryl Kleinman entice you with their beautiful store window and win you over with their delicious flavors and inventive designs. A large vanilla sablé decorated with a vintage Santa postcard image will be available during the holidays. I have my eye on the Holiday Cookie Tin, filled with 40 chocolate-chocolate trees, small gingerbread men, walnut linzer wreaths, lemon shortbread stars, sugar snowflakes plus a decorated cookie. Or how about gingerbread girls and boys, or some adorable little marzipan penguins and snowmen, or rugelah? Happy times.

Ninjabread and Mustache Cookies, from Butter + Love
We met Alison Walla of Butter + Love at Brooklyn Flea and fell in love with her Mustache gingerbread cookies, which have bits of crystallized ginger rolled into the dough—and her fun Ninjabread cookies, gingery and sweet.

Butter-Love-Ninja-Mustache

The Ninjas were named as one of the “Best Holiday Cookies”  this year by Timeout. We have to agree. And we love the story of how Alison, who came to New York to be a Broadway actress and singer, developed her cookie business.

Macarons, from Vendôme Patisserie
The Parisian pastry house Ladurée is credited with having invented the macaron—two airy almond meringue confections united by cream in the middle. Now we have Brooklyn-based Vendôme Patisserie, whose macarons “are the only ones in New York to rival the French forebear’s…Ladurée and Vendôme touch the hem of heaven,” a New York Times reviewer effuses.

Vendôme Patisserie macarons at Brooklyn Flea

Vendôme’s macaron flavors roll off the tongue: Campari Pamplemousse, Limoncello, Black Truffle and Roasted Chestnut, Kaffir Lime, Champagne Cocktail, and then melt in the mouth. We spied the beautiful red and green tower above at Brooklyn Flea. Vendôme Patisserie doesn’t have its own shop, but you’ll find their macarons at Bacchus Patisserie on Atlantic Avenue, and at the Columbus Circle Holiday Market until, yikes, December 16. Macarons are gluten-free.

Holiday Tea Collection and Whoopie Pies, from One Girl Cookies
The holiday season is always busy for bakers, but One Girl Cookies founder Dawn Castle and co-owner Dave Crofton really have had their hands extra full since last month when their second store, in DUMBO, which had been open just nine months, was damaged by Sandy flooding. One Girl Cookies is back up and running now, turning out their sweets.

Holiday Tea Collection (Photo courtesy One Girl Cookies)

Holiday Tea Collection
(Photo courtesy One Girl Cookies)

The cookies all have names—Lucia, Lana, Sadie. You’ll find descriptions (and can buy them) online.  For their Holiday Tea Collection, the bakers came up with three limited edition tea cookies with flavors inspired by the season: Lena, a rosemary shortbread named after One Girl’s mom; Kris, a chocolate cherry crinkle cookie and Fiona, a “sugar plum” thumbprint cookie filled with plum jam. And for a true Brooklyn experience, how about a Whoopie Pie—cream cheese frosting sandwiched between pumpkin or chocolate cake? You’ll find the recipe in the One Girl Cookies Cookbook, along with 66 others. Maybe I’m feeling a little motivation coming on after all.

What’s your favorite Made in Brooklyn cookie?

Betty Bakery
448 Atlantic Avenue, Boerum Hill
718-246-2402

Butter + Love
Fort Greene
info@butterpluslove.com
Butter + Love Etsy Shop

Vendôme Patisserie
Available at Bacchus Patisserie
411 Atlantic Avenue, Boerum Hill, and at Brooklyn Flea
917-892-2127, 917-602-2251

One Girl Cookies
68 Dean Street, Cobble Hill
212-675-4996
33 Main Street, DUMBO
347-338-1268
Photographs (except One Girl Cookies) by Basia Hellwig. Date stamp typographic design by Joy Makon Design. The font is Industria, by Neville Brody, Linotype, 1989.


The Comforts of Tea

Day Nine 12 Sips of Brooklyn
Michael Shannon of Bellocq Tea Atelier

Michael Shannon of Bellocq Tea Atelier brewing tea so visitors can taste.

dec14TAXONOMY, CLADISTICS, SYSTEMATICS, PHYLOGENETICS—so many ways to group and divide living things. Darwin famously sundered the world into “lumpers and splitters”: those who are happy with the general gist, and those who are obsessed with specifics.

The tea trade is one where splitters can run riot: green or black, white or yellow, oolong or pu-erh—all the varieties of Camellia sinensis that have descended through 3,000 years of recorded history. But even within those broad categories, there are nuances piled on subtleties, geography and climate, blends and additives, methods and styles of preparation. Japan and China have elaborate and precise rituals of preparing and serving tea that can last for hours. Even the pragmatic English have woven the drink into their culture and mythology.

bellocq-christmas-1422

Bellocq Christmas blend in its silver plate caddy

Visit Bellocq in Greenpoint during their limited shop hours and you immediately recognize that here be tea splitters. The neat rows of silver containers with the bold yellow and white labels signal that tea is taken very seriously in these precincts. Yes, you think, this is what a tea shop should be. It is a transport to a quiet and calm that seems centuries and leagues away from the busy streets of North Brooklyn 2012.

It can be a bit daunting. I admit I remain a bit of a lumper and my knowledge of tea is an inch deep and an inch wide, but I stand in awe of the level of awareness and sophistication about the product that is evident at an emporium like Bellocq.

On the day we visited, co-owner Michael Shannon presided in an unhurried manner that was helpful and deeply informative. He brewed tea and explored the intricacies of sourcing teas to avoid the hucksters and scams that abound in that market. He methodically poured samples while revealing a refined sense of the aesthetics of his product. He cracked open canisters to appreciate the aromas while speaking in the same calm fashion about the frenzy the business endured when it was recently cited in O, The Oprah Magazine as one of Oprah’s favorite things. An hour at Bellocq is as warming and refreshing to the spirit as the product they sell.

P-and-S-Teas-1197PS Coffee Tea N Spices in Park Slope is a different cup of tea. This store might appeal more to the lumpers among us. Stacks of boxes, cans and jars filled with teas and tisanes and infusions jostle for attention with spices and coffees. Here you feel awed less by the depth of tea esoterica and more by the breadth of stock in a little space. When asked how many teas the store carries, the manager responds, “Two hundred”, which I suspect is a conservative guesstimate. This is a diverse collection, with the old-fashioned packaging of Ty-phoo hard by the elegant boxes of Republic of Tea.tea-pot-p-and-s-1201 I am certain you can find your heart’s desire, a tea for every condition of the spirit. But I like it because most of the time I remain a lumper: “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.”

Bellocq Tea Atelier
104 West Street, Greenpoint

800-495-5416

PS Coffee Tea N Spices
368 5th Avenue, Park Slope
718-768-5561

Photographs by Basia Hellwig. Date stamp typographic design by Joy Makon Design. The font is Rockwell, by Morris Fuller Benton and Frank Pierpont, Monotype, 1934.

Wednesday Night at the Movies: Soda Fountain Series

OUR GANGNEIGHBORHOOD MOVIES DISAPPEARED FROM THE BIG APPLE in the 90s, bankrupted by mega-Loews showing this week’s poorly acted action films in eye-splitting 3D. Forget about finding old-timey silent movies that have stood the test of time and reached across language  barriers, except late at night on Turner Movie Classics. And except at the Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain.

Strange? Maybe not. Ben Model, silent film curator and accompanist and the evening’s host, says the earliest movie theaters were converted storefronts like the wonderfully preserved turn-of-the-last-century Farmacy. Wednesday night was the last in the Farmacy’s 2012 soda-fountain film festival, and by the time the show was about to begin, the place was packed with people in their 20s, begging one another for their tables’ empty chairs, sitting on the step where the almighty pharmacist used to hold court, leaning against the soda fountain, and slurping down their famous chocolate egg creams and hot chocolate.

The show Model assembled consisted of four comedy shorts, each 20 minutes in length (or 2 reels long), each converted from flammable acetate to 16 millimeter film (which, he explained, once were mailed to private homes, shown in parlors, then returned—a service much like Netflix). Then decades later each was converted from 16 millimeters to DVDs like the kind sent out by Netflix, and exactly what we would be watching. Before the movies started the Farmacy’s Gia Giasullo warned everyone that fountain service would be suspended during the movies, and then the lights went down.

big business posterCharlie Chaplin’s silent short Behind the Screen kicked off the festival. The print, crisp and clear, shows the hero’s antics as an assistant at a movie production company, with typical Chaplin slapstick. The next, Buster Keaton—the Human Medicine Ball, Model labeled him—was up with The Goat, featuring a mistaken identity and police chases galore. Then it was Good Cheer, a sentimental Hal Roach comedy featuring The Gang (sort of a prototype of Our Gang), an archetypical bunch of tenement-dwelling kids who wonder if Santa Claus really exists. This print was poor, but it was a lesson in film preservation, and how acetate film stock decays when the original is not copied to a more permanent material. A huge percentage of silent films have been lost, mostly because there’s no profit motive. (By the way, according to Good Cheer, Santa’s the real deal.) The last on the bill was arguably the most hilarious: Big Business, a rare Laurel and Hardy silent two-reeler (most of their movies were talkies), and a portrayal of Reciprocal Destruction: The pair’s attempt to sell a Christmas tree starts with an irate would-be customer clipping the tree’s top and ends with his house and their car reduced to rubble.

After the show Model took a couple of questions from the audience, and said that like most accompanists back in the day, he doesn’t play by a score. Fascinating stuff for the film buff, and a cheap date for the twentysomethings: the night at the movies was free. If you’re lucky, you can get to go next year.

Executive Editor Phil Scott often writes about travel and aviation.

Ask the Experts: Food and Drink Entrepreneurs Dish About the Hard Times – and the Good

WHAT’S IT TAKE TO TRY TO MAKE IT AS A SMALL FOOD MANUFACTURER in New York City? That was the theme of a panel discussion last Tuesday at Leonard Lopate’s popular annual event series about the New York food scene. Three entrepreneurs came together with the broadcaster at WNYC’s Greene Space in Manhattan: Steve Hindy, cofounder of Brooklyn Brewery, Mark Rosen, a family member from the second of three generations making Sabrett hot dogs, and Anna Wolf, founder/owner of My Friend’s Mustard.

Lopate and Locavores: Discussing the ups and downs of running a food or drink business in NYC, with (from left) Steve Hindy of Brooklyn Brewery, Mark Rosen of Sabrett hot dogs and Anna Wolf of My Friend’s Mustard.

Later in the evening, Scott Bridi of Brooklyn Cured gave a lesson in sausage making, and Siggi Hilmarsson demo’d how to make Siggi’s Icelandic strained yogurt.

Sometimes, you do want to see the sausage being made. Before launching his company, Brooklyn Cured, Scott Bridi ran Gramercy Tavern’s charcuterie program for two years, then moved to Marlow and Daughters butcher shop in Williamsburg. Born in Bensonhurst, Bridi says “the borough with all its diversity is endlessly beautiful and important to me.”

The evening’s conversation frequently circled back to two pressing issues: distribution and struggles finding the right space to work in. Here are some snippets from the conversation:

How’d they get started?
Anna Wolf began making beer mustard as a hobby “for fun, shopping it out at the favorite watering hole,” she said. ‘You’ve gotta’ try my friend’s mustard,’ the bar owner would tell his customers. Hence the name. “He became my partner. We did a Kickstarter campaign. I made my first kitchen batches in March 2009, and we delivered them to the first six customers in his jeep.”

Steve Hindy was a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, where he worked in Beirut and Cairo for six years. It was in Cairo that he met American diplomats who were avid home brewers—a skill developed “out of necessity” when they were posted in Saudi Arabia. Hindy got interested. Back home in Brooklyn, he began to brew beer at home with his young downstairs neighbor Tom Potter, who had an MBA. They founded Brooklyn Brewery in 1987. “We raised $500,000 from colleagues and friends, but that wasn’t enough to build a brewery. We contracted out to a brewery in Utica and then trucked it down to an old warehouse in Bushwick. We went out in a van with our name on it and delivered to our first five customers.”

Mark Rosen is part of a family business started in 1926. Founder Gregory Papalexis, Rosen’s father-in-law, was the son of a baker who also had a hot dog business. Sabrett now manufactures 45 million pounds of frankfurters a year out of two plants in the Bronx, selling them up and down the east coast and wherever “New Yorkers are hiding out throughout the country,” said Rosen, but most visibly from pushcarts with the iconic blue and yellow umbrella all over New York City.

Their biggest challenges?
Hindy: “It took a lot longer to get licenses than we planned—six months instead of three—because NY State hadn’t approved a brewery in decades. There used to be 48 in Brooklyn alone, but the last one closed in 1976. To get approved, our investors had to reveal their deepest, darkest financial secrets, they had to be fingerprinted, which turned a lot of people off.” [Read more…]

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