Be an Operator, Not a Hustler…and Other Tips for Business Success

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.”

“You have to innovate—adapt and change with the times,” says Charlie Sahadi (above). “Sahadi’s is an ingredients store, but then we opened a deli to show off what you can make with these ingredients.” Photograph © 2013 by Randy Duchaine

“You have to innovate—adapt and change with the times,” says Charlie Sahadi (above).
“Sahadi’s is an ingredients store, but then we opened a deli to show off what you can
make with all these ingredients.” Photograph by RandyDuchaine.com

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.”)

“We knew Brooklyn would grasp what we were doing with beer,” says Shane Welch, front, with his Sixpoint Brewery crew. “And the mineral profile of the water here is virtually perfect for brewing.” Photograph © 2013 by Randy Duchaine

“We knew Brooklyn would grasp what we were doing with beer,” says Shane Welch, front, with his Sixpoint Brewery crew. “And the mineral profile of the water here is virtually perfect for brewing.” Photograph by RandyDuchaine.com

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.”

Matt Tilden, founder of SCRATCHbread: “Brooklyn is approachable sophistication. It’s a family culture with an edge. I relate to raw and rustic.” Photograph © 2013 by Randy Duchaine

Matt Tilden, founder of SCRATCHbread: “Brooklyn is approachable sophistication.
It’s a family culture with an edge. I relate to raw and rustic.” Photograph by RandyDuchaine.com

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.

Advertisements

Start-ups Aren’t for Sissies

Created in Brooklyn: Food and Drink Entrepreneurs Talk Shop 
Sharing their business stories: from left, Matthew Tilden of SCRATCHbread, Shane Welch of Brooklyn Brewery and Charlie Sahadi of Sahadi's

Sharing their business stories: from left, Matthew Tilden of SCRATCHbread, Shane Welch
of Sixpoint Brewery and Charlie Sahadi of specialty food retailer Sahadi’s.

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.

Photographer Randy Duchaine led the conversation.

Photographer Randy Duchaine, whose portraits inspired the conversation series.

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.

3-D Printer Pioneer MakerBot Acquired for $403 Million

MAKERBOT, DEVELOPER OF A POPULAR 3-D PRINTER, today announced that it is merging with Stratasys in a deal worth $403 million. The Brooklyn-born and -based MakerBot recently moved into a 50,000 square foot space in Sunset Park. Not bad for a four-year-old startup.

Bre Pettis, CEO of Makerbot, at last summer's Maker Faire in Queens.

Bre Pettis, CEO of MakerBot, at last summer’s Maker Faire in Queens.

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…]

The Makers Find Their Way to Brooklyn’s 3rd Ward

SOME PEOPLE ARE MAKERS, SOME ARE TAKERS: We’ve been hearing that a lot from the top of the Republican ticket this fall. But however you plan to vote, there’s no denying that the hive of activity that is 3rd Ward comes from the makers. It’s a school, it’s workshops, it’s a hangout space. The membership is diverse in age, ability, and skills, but they all come to the repurposed warehouse in Williamsburg to work, to learn, and usually to share. Brooklyn Artisan visited on a recent Sunday evening and the place was buzzing.

3rd Ward customer service specialist Erica Eudoxie

Customer service rep Erica Eudoxie has worked at 3rd Ward for 18 months and taken 13 courses. Her long-term interest is jewelry making.

The only takers, if you can call them that, are the folks taking the classes that range from an intense one-day session up to courses that run over eight weeks. You can take Embroidery 2.0, or choose one of 20 offered in Fashion, or 8 in Welding & Fabrication, or 20 in Woodworking, or 10 in Web Design, or 16 in Drawing, Painting & Illustration.

One category is called simply Bike = Love. offering Basic Bike Mechanics, Intermediate Bike Mechanics, and Badass Bike Lights. (“With the right components, you can build your very own bike light which outshines all the others. In this class, you will make your very own hi-power LED bike-light which runs off a 9v battery.”)

For 3rd Ward members, the pricing structure is an incentive to commit to the community for the long term. (Basic membership, $99 for a year; co-working, $149 a month, or $119 at the annual rate – for the longer stay, you get a lower rate).  There are work stations as simple as library carrels, shared computer stations well equipped with big-screen Macs, conference areas, and even dedicated office spaces for micro businesses. My favorite presently on-site is Susty Parties, which sells colorful party goods made from sustainable materials, of course. (You can see why the business owners might like having this frou-frou stuff  Out. Of. The. House. Please!)

Like wallflowers at the eighth-grade dance, dress dummies huddle against the wall between classes. The sewing room serves some other purposes, too.

The  wood and metal makers’ professional spaces have recently been separated from the student spaces. To work in either area, you must pay the Pro rates ($599 a month, or $479 monthly at the annual rate) and demonstrate your skill level to a shop manager so that you are not a danger to the high-powered tools, to other workers or to yourself.

The metal shop includes a large work area with metal cutting and welding tools and shielded work stations. The even larger woodworking loft has materials-storage racks, table saw, lathe, drill press, mortising machine, an advanced dust-handling system, plus shop brooms and industrial size dustpans neatly stowed in plain sight. Separately vented yellow lockers stash potentially toxic and fume-producing wood finishing chemicals; a covered can that’s emptied every night takes care of oily rags.

Business training is available as well, both in structured classes and in informal, water-cooler consulting. Small-business bookkeeping. Using social media in marketing. Presentation skills for attracting investors.

Erica Eudoxie explains why she has taken so many courses herself: 13 and counting. “It’s not just the typical ADD skill set,” she says, laughing. “It’s the impulse to make something. I have it, and most people here do. It’s why they come.”

Have there been any big stars to brag about, any bold-face names who’ve passed through 3rd Ward on the way to success? “It depends on how you define success,” Erica says. “If it’s being able to quit your office job and make a living with your craft, then yes, definitely.

“And I’d say there are a lot here now who’re on the trajectory to success.”

 

Tax Tip #1: Mark Your Calendar for March 2013

Better Little Business Practices

WE CAN’T PROMISE you’ll come out singing “All My Taxes Now Are Exes,” but why not get some credentialed free advice? In two hours on March 12, 2013, the NYS Small Business Development Center and SUNY will present “Recordkeeping for Small Businesses.” Official description: “Recordkeeping and bookkeeping methods for getting the best deductions and tax exceptions allowed for businesses. The seminar will be given by an IRS Approved Agent.” You must register ahead of time. Do it soon for space is limited. Registration page has map.

%d bloggers like this: