For Swedish espresso aficionados, or the merely curious, Konditori in Prospect Heights is on Washington Avenue between St. Marks and Prospect, where it projects a friendly attitude. “Keep calm and stay Swedish” is the message of the day. Cardomom Brod is a featured menu item. Or you could choose the hairy calorie bomb, aka the CocoBall. Other Konditori locations are in Park Slope, Cobble Hill, Williamsburg and Greenpoint (plus one on the Lower East Side in Outer Brooklyn). (Photos: Brooklyn Artisan)
YESTERDAY WAS PUBLICATION DAY for the new Ample Hills Creamery cookbook, and copies were stacked up on the counter at the popular premium ice cream store on the corner of Vanderbilt Avenue and Bergen Street, in Prospect Heights.
Proprietor Brian Smith, right, was on hand in a front booth to inscribe copies. He confirmed to Brooklyn Artisan that the company’s new location in Gowanus is scheduled to open by late June. Ice cream will be made right on site as at the Prospect Heights location.
“Our business is more than an ice cream store, really,” Smith said. “It’s a neighborhood hangout.” The Prospect Heights store has a toddler play area, just visible over Smith’s shoulder.
The familiar Ample Hills ice cream carts will be back out in their locations near playgounds and parks this summer also. Smith co-founded the business with his wife and cookbook co-author, Jackie Cuscuna.
OF COURSE THE WEATHER TURNED FREAKISHLY WARM a few days after this sign was put out by Fleishers, the artisanal butcher on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope that specializes in grass fed, organic meats. But a timely menu suggestion has been made. Dust off the trusty stew pot or set out to acquire one, for chilly days will soon be here.
TRAVEL THE WORLD AND THE SEVEN SEAS, EVERYBODY’S LOOKING FOR SOMETHING: Today it might be a cheese or a chalk sign that makes you laugh in spite of yourself! After this, the Eurythmics’ song may never sound the same. (Photo thanks to Don Stitt)
TODAY WAS LAUNCH DAY FOR THE NEW BARCLAYS CENTER GREENMARKET, in cooperation with GrowNYC. The market’s regular hours are 8 am to 4 pm on Wednesdays now through November. (Food stamps are accepted, even incentivized, at GrowNYC partner-markets.) Brooklyn Artisan braved today’s extreme heat to browse the farmstands and talk with the vendors, but didn’t stick it out for the mid-morning food demonstration of corn salads.
The new greenmarket is at the crossroads of Atlantic and Flatbush (look for the huge inflated rat), just outside Atlantic Terminal, so commuters-special shopping is definitely an option. Because of the heat, most stands closed early today, around 3 or 3:30, but they had opened bright and early, definitely ready to serve customers by 8. The familiar truck farm offerings included a few surprises such as nicely cleaned fish presented in well-iced cases (Hint: A sprinkling of salt on the ice makes it hold up better in the heat, the folks from Suffolk County’s American Seafood told us. If you’re planning to pick up some of their fish next week, though, best bring a cool pack and insulated bag to get it home.)
John D. Madura Farms had the biggest spread, from corn to carrots to kale plus potatoes (see photos above), radishes, and plenty more, grown at Pine Island in the Black Dirt Region of Orange County, NY. Staffing the booth was John D.’s young son Skuyler, who spoke with pride of the community-supported agriculture part of the family business.
The Body & Soul Vegan Bakery booth offered yummy-looking fancy breads and gluten-free items, many made with locally grown ingredients. James, behind the counter, was more than ready to explain the options and thought special orders could be arranged for pick up by particular customers. Body & Soul is long-established at the Union Square Market Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, where a dozen reviewers on a food site gave top marks to this year-round regular. (BTW, job shopping today too? Check on the bakery’s Brooklyn-based food prep and production jobs at indeed.com.)
Matt in the Applestate Hilltop Family Farm booth knows his bees, or at least their honeys, the way a vintner knows grapes. He was ready to share his expertise — the sweetest honey came from the clover-fed bees, he said, whereas the wild-flower nourished bees produced a more nuanced flavor. The pure-honey complexities are interesting. (As he talked, Brooklyn Artisan imagined friends-and-family brunches built around honey-tastings.) The Applestate Hilltop aviary is in Calicoon, Sullivan County, NY.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Brooklyn artisanal without pickles! Rick’s Picks of Dutchess County has been producing hand-packed and all natural pickles “since 2004” and today was pushing Rick’s Picks’ Hotties – referring not to the smiling gentlemen in the booth, but to their crenelated cucumber and julienned veggies bottled with special hot (“but not searingly so,” one New York Times writer judged) pickling spices. Rick’s Picks pickles come in sweet flavors (4 choices), savory (6 choices), spicy (3 — hotties, mean beans, and smokras) and several special proprietary blends. Gift packs can be ordered from Rick’s Pics and you can even get low-sodium pickles from them.
GrowNYC’s handy credit-card sized fold-out of greenmarkets and farm produce outlets that take EBT credit lists nearly 50 in the Heartland (Brooklyn), and another 100 in Outer Brooklyn locations. Photographs: Brooklyn Artisan Photo Pool.
BUSINESS OWNERS SHANE WELCH, FOUNDER OF SIXPOINT BREWERY in Red Hook, Matthew Tilden, founder of SCRATCHbread in Bed-Stuy and Charlie Sahadi, proprietor of Sahadi Importing Co. in Brooklyn Heights, showed their business scars and shared some hard-earned wisdom at a recent Brooklyn Public Library conversation, “Fantastic Food,” led by photographer Randy Duchaine, whose “Created in Brooklyn” exhibition of portraits inspired the series:
If the adjoining property comes up for sale, buy it.—Charlie Sahadi
Sahadi remembered this advice from his father when two buildings on Atlantic Avenue came up for sale in 1977 for what seemed, at the time, an impossibly astronomical price. “Owning your property is a very big plus. Landlords want to become your partner without doing the work. We scrimped and bought the buildings. Now when I look back at the price, of course, I feel as if we stole the property.”
When a cohort of producers grows up in a neighborhood, that’s good. —Shane Welch
“We all root for each other. If there’s only one place in a neighborhood, it might be hard to get people to come to you. But now in Red Hook you have roving bands of food tourists who make a day of it and stop at three or four places.” (Similarly, Sahadi talked about Trader Joe’s opening up near his store, which far from being a competitive threat, is introducing a whole new set of customers to Sahadi’s, he says, and helping make “downtown Brooklyn a foodie paradise.”)
Don’t take yourself too seriously, but do serious work.—Matt Tilden
“Be humble. Work hard, focus on community betterment and sharing knowledge. A brand is a living breathing thing; for us, it’s a statement about food.”
Make the transition from hustler to operator—a perspective Tilden remembers Welch sharing with him over dinner one night.
Welch explains: “Everyone starts out hard-scrabble, hustling. But as you and the business grow and mature, you legitimize. Operators figure out how to get things done the right way. It can be poisonous if you remain a hustler. Say you do building without permits and then someone gets hurt. That could be the end of your business.”
Give people a good product, at a fair price, with good customer service.—Charlie Sahadi
When Sahadi says, “Our customers become our friends,” you believe him if you’ve ever stepped inside his store. “Shopping with us has to be a pleasurable experience. We’re part of our customers’ lives. Otherwise, we’d just be another store on Atlantic Avenue.”
Can’t the City Make It Easier?
This is one they all could agree on. Regulations are one of the biggest threats to New York City small businesses, they said. You have to be on top of them, and there are hundreds of them—city, state, federal—and they seem to change almost hourly. Dept. of Agriculture, NYC Dept. of Health, Landmarks Preservation, Dept. of Buildings, the list goes on.
Yes, of course these owners value their customers’ safety and health. But can’t it be easier? A 2008 update to the NYC building code complicated everyone’s lives enormously, they report. Sahadi’s first planned a store renovation in 1999; they got all the approvals, but then decided to postpone construction when they bought a big warehouse in Sunset Park. By the time they were ready to build, the 2008 revision was in effect. “It drove us a little crazy to get all the right permitting,” says Sahadi, “especially since our buildings also come under the Landmark Preservation Commission.” He credits his son, Ron, and his daughter Christine with managing the project and getting it done.
A sole proprietor can find it overwhelming to manage the contracting, building and running back and forth to city offices for permitting while keeping the business going—not to mention staying on top of the regulatory changes. Shane Welch finds himself dealing with the Dept. of Homeland Security now, since the Tax and Trade Bureau, which governs the excise tax on beer, was swallowed up in it. Day-to-day, it’s a little like being nibbled to death by ducks. For instance, SCRATCHbread got a ticket recently because its benches were three feet further out than they were supposed to be—one of hundreds of details a business must keep track of. “Now don’t you think the inspector could simply have pointed it out?” Matt Tilden wondered. “I’d have been happy to move them.”
The “Created in Brooklyn” exhibit is on display at Brooklyn Public Library until August 31. The conversations continue in June and July, on Wednesdays from 6:30 to 8 pm: June 26, Design Crafts; July 10, Urban Adventures; July 17, Art & Music.
Created in Brooklyn: Food and Drink Entrepreneurs Talk Shop
ANY BUDDING ARTISANS IN THE AUDIENCE at a recent Brooklyn Public Library panel, “Fantastic Food,” would come away both sobered and heartened. Three business owners—Shane Welch, founder of Sixpoint Brewery, Matthew Tilden, founder of SCRATCHbread and Charlie Sahadi, proprietor of Sahadi Importing Co.—all shared disaster stories and cautionary tales but there they were, smiling happily about the businesses they ran, unanimous that they’d go through it all again in an instant.
The June 19th event was the first in a series of conversations the library has organized around an exhibition of portraits by photographer Randy Duchaine called “Created in Brooklyn,” which will be on display until August 31.
Duchaine, who led the conversation, has evocatively captured dozens of Brooklyn makers and creators who “come here to live their dreams, express themselves, start a business and contribute to society through their talents,” as he puts it. “They represent…a sense of independence and the ability to stand on their own two feet and proudly say, ‘This is what it means to be an American in Brooklyn!’”
The lively interchange was followed—lucky us—by samples of the businesses’ artisanal breads, beers and Mediterranean appetizers. Here are some of the start-up war stories they shared:
Shane Welch, Sixpoint Brewery “It’s hard to secure a commercial lease with no assets, no credit, no money. So we had to hard-scrabble it.” In 2004, he and a partner found an 800-square-foot garage to rent in Red Hook, not exactly ideal for a brewery and full of old equipment. “It was a junkyard really.” They cleaned it out and bought a couple of used tanks for a few hundred dollars at auction—one had been a dairy tank and another was rusted out. That one came with its own craft brew karma. It turned out it had been used originally by the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in California and had probably literally worked its way to the East coast, being handed from hopeful brewer to brewer. “I have a background in chemistry so we made a solution that no living organism could survive. We emptied them, scrubbed them out, sanitized them, bleached them.”
Bright Side: Sixpoint just closed on the purchase of property next door and is establishing power cred in the red hot world of craft beer. It is on the brink of a big expansion, planning to build a new brewing facility to suit this time.
Charlie Sahadi, Sahadi Importing “I was 23 when my father died suddenly. I’d been working in the business, but my father’s approach was, ‘Let me worry about the business, you take care of the customers.’ So when he died, I had no idea how to do certain things. ‘Where do we get the feta?’ I asked his partner. ‘I don’t know.’ ‘How about the olives?’ My father had been the dominant partner so all the details went with him.” Luckily, Sahadi was able to get in touch with a bookkeeper his father had used in the past, to come in and temp. She knew exactly where they bought the feta and a lot more besides, and her “temp” job has lasted 25 years.
Bright Side: Sahadi Importing has become an institution on Atlantic Avenue and is celebrating its 65th year in business. “You wake up and every day’s a challenge, but that’s what I love.” The store went through a recent renovation and expansion, overseen by his daughter Christine and son, Ron. Charlie Sahadi has justly earned the title of the Ambassador of Atlantic Avenue.
Matt Tilden, SCRATCHbread: “I was working as a chef 115 hours a week and wanted out. I kept thinking, I really don’t want to work somewhere where a pan gets thrown across the room because someone made a mistake. I answered an ad: ‘We have wood oven, you make bread’ and began moonlighting as a baker. I traded bread for rent; for a while I lived out of my car. Four years later, I wanted my own place. We raised a little money from selling at markets and Kickstarter. With no capital there are so many adjustments you have to make. You can’t always do things the way you would with proper funding. I got a friend to deposit money temporarily in my account so I could get approval for a lease. I staffed with interns, lots of interns.”
Bright Side: Everyone’s on payroll now. After doing a wholesale business with restaurateurs like the Union Square Hospitality Group of Danny Meyers, SCRATCHbread has refocused on its retail presence in Bed-Stuy. “We are all about being a conscious owner. Eating healthy is hard, I know that. When you put something in your body, it’s fuel. We like giving people good nourishment, caring for people. We play good music, focus on hospitality, something I’ve always admired about Danny Meyer.”
More, later, on some of the business tips they shared—and one thing they all agreed on. Plus a few of Randy Duchaine’s photographs.
Mark your calendar for the next conversations in Brooklyn Public Library’s “Created in Brooklyn” conversation series led by photographer Randy Duchaine. Held Wednesdays from 6:30 to 8 pm in June and July: Design Crafts, June 26, Urban Adventures, July 10 and Art & Music, July 17.
Photographs by Basia Hellwig
Correction: An earlier version gave an incorrect date for the Design Crafts “Created in Brooklyn” event. It takes place on June 26.