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Most of the products you picked up at first were from Brooklyn markets or eateries. What you think it is specifically about Brooklyn food culture that’s inspiring?
First of all, Brooklyn has a history of food, but I think it also has to do with the fact that space is cheaper in Brooklyn. Neighborhoods like Soho and Meatpacking in Manhattan, those places have disappeared as great gritty centers of art and affordable housing. People trying to do things as startups on their own, those people have moved to Greenpoint and Williamsburg, and other parts of Brooklyn. For whatever reason, whether it’s been planned or not, those neighborhoods in Manhattan have disappeared. Why is it the Brooklyn Flea and not the Manhattan Flea? That’s just where the people are. Brooklyn Flea spins into Smorgasburg, which basically spins in some ways into what we’re trying to do. I think it’s very different in the sense that Smorgasburg is very much about going there and eating something prepared on the spot. Almost half of our makers are there, and they do an okay business, but I just think it’s become more of an event to go eat than go shop.
So now that you are up to 70 producers, do you know all of them face-to-face and all their backstories?
Certainly not the ones in California. But the good thing about these small businesses is that they deliver the product themselves. So Alex who makes the granola, she comes here. And Chris who makes Kings County Jerky. And Dan Barber from Blue Hill, he lives around the corner from me, so we’ve been very lucky. I would say probably two-thirds of these people we know really well. And we’re starting to see them at the same events, so it’s developing into a bit of a community. It’s very early though, this is a young industry, a lot of these companies are only two or three years old.
Do you think you’re drawn more to the producers for their stories or their food?
It starts with the food, and then it moves to the story. I just think we have to carry products that are really delicious. At one end of the spectrum, you have companies like Hot Bread Kitchen in Manhattan, and they hire immigrant women who cook their heritage bread products in this non-profit space in New York City, and these women also get trained to run their own businesses - this is an incredible story.
And you have some other things where it’s just good food. Like Blue Hill — it’s honey, it’s a hive, there’s bees, they make honey. So from that perspective, there’s really a full range. But it’s really about the product, delicious first. So the music analogy is perfect. You hear a great song and you think ‘Who is that?’ And then you find out. Was that a big band I’ve already heard of, or was it something new? It helps for us, people like to connect with their food, their music. The stories are an important part of it. Would we carry a product that’s just really delicious with no story behind it? Yeah we have some of that, but we’re trying not to.
Craig Kanarick Opens His New York Mouth