The Secrets to Entrepreneurial Success in Brooklyn 

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“Entrepreneur” might take a close second behind “hipster” as something young Brooklynites don’t really want to be called. But let’s face it: those people pickling eggs on their kitchen tables, repurposing parachutes into dresses, developing psycho-geography apps... those people are entrepreneurs, and we love their energy and celebrate their vision.


Photos by Matthew Leifheit



Jordan Mcintyre


He founded The Crumpled Press, a small book-publishing company, in 2004.


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What neighborhood do you live in?
Park Slope. I’ve lived in New York City for over 10 years—starting in Harlem, then to Williamsburg, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, and then finally my wife and I found a sunny apartment here in Park Slope. I guess I followed the typical progression of a guy who starts off here on his own, lives on the cheap in a crowded apartment, and then falls in love, gets married and moves to Park Slope. Yes, I’m that guy.

For people who may be unfamiliar with it, how would you describe what The Crumpled Press does?
We publish handmade books by new authors or established authors who want to say something new. We look for quality literature that would be crumpled up and thrown in the waste by mass-market publishers who seem to only look for proven marketability. We liberate texts from the waste and create an audience for good writing, instead of packaging texts for a target audience. We produce our books at book-binding parties where volunteers and friends come together around the creation of book—getting to know each other while learning to fold and sew. We sell the books through our website crumpledpress.org, book events, and at bookstores that are supportive of the book and/or the press.

Why did you start it up?
I originally self-published my own book of poetry, Still Leaves, in 2004 because I wanted to share the work without having to put it through the literary pageant of submitting to journals I have never heard of so that some place I’ve heard of will one day hear of me and decide I’m worthy of consideration... When I got to New York, I went to a lot of the events and readings for the more prestigious literary awards, publications and societies. I was startled by the fact that it was always the same type of people—or literally the exact same people—judging the contests and awards. There seemed to be a “sameness” of taste—even the poets were not immune. So instead of tailoring my work to get into the publications I needed to be in, I went off on my own and made my book by hand with archival materials and sent out copies to everybody I thought would appreciate it and never throw it away. I was inspired by Walt Whitman’s self-publishing, so it is strangely fitting that our latest book is called The Walt Whitman House.

The idea was that, if my book were never thrown away, it would always live on for somebody. The title of the press was a bit of an ironic joke to myself about that idea; I thought I was saving my book from being crumpled up and discarded by time. It turned into a real publishing house when my best friend and college roommate Alex Bick called me and asked, “Is this really your press? And can I do it too?” I answered yes to both questions, and we started publishing other peoples work simply because we both love books and thought it was fun. The first book we published was Nick Jahr’s 911, so he quickly joined in on the effort as well. As the years passed, we noticed the community of authors, friends and volunteers growing around us as our books and methods became more professional. Today, Alex and Nick are consulting editors and the press carries on in the full spirit of the community we discovered we could create with those first books.

Why start up in Brooklyn?
I’m doing this to bring people together around the literature they love so important works which might have otherwise been lost in obscurity can achieve a sustainable existence within the community they generate—and by time and extension, culture at large.

Brooklyn is populated by people who want to live in a friendly neighborhood and take part in a vibrant community. In Park Slope, people work together to make their groceries better, their schools stronger, and their local culture more vital—so why not work together to make better books? The possibilities for collaboration, along with the vibrant literary culture, make Brooklyn the perfect place for The Crumpled Press.

I heard on the news that people don't buy physical books anymore. Is that true?
I think people buy books in a way that is different now; but they still need to buy physical books. If you want the long answer, look in Anthony Grafton’s Codex In Crisis to find out about the role of “the book” vs. the Internet. We published that work because it speaks so directly to the overall project of The Crumpled Press. The short answer is that a book, now more than ever, is required to fulfill a function beyond the delivery of text. Because e-readers are now the most efficient method of textual delivery, a book’s responsibility to present, contain, honor, and preserve the text has become more important to customers. Personally, I believe there is no better way of fulfilling those functions than a handmade book. But this is not to lose sight of the fact that people buy our books first and foremost to read them. When people hold one of our books, they are immediately enthusiastic about enjoying the writing through a form that interacts with and complements the reading experience. The Internet can do the same thing in its own way, but webpages are much more easily deleted than books—and you can’t hold them in your hand, so there is no physical trace of those who made it or those who read it. People buy our books to get back to a reading experience which is connected to the historical and fundamental role of print: physically binding together and preserving our thoughts for generations to come.

Is this your dream job? Or do you still hope to transition into something else?
Yes, this is my dream job. When I was teaching high school, every day at 11:11am, I would tell my class to make a wish. My wish was always “success for The Crumpled Press.” This is a mantra that has come to mean different things for me over the years, but a mantra that nonetheless remains unchanged to this day.

Which of your personal characteristics make you ideally suited to pull this off? (And which don't?)
The details and drudgery that make up the business end of the press are a challenge for a creative type like me, but I do the best a can with what I have. I can pull this off because I am good at teaching people and relating to people. My friends have always told me that I have a highly developed emotional intelligence, and most of the skills involved in running the press are people-skills. I love making books and showing others how to do it. I also enjoy grammar, reading things over and over, and talking and thinking about them at length, which makes me a good editor.



Laura O’Neill


She’s the cofounder of Van Leeuwen Ice Cream and the co-owner of the restaurant Selamat Pagi.


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The success of Van Leeuwen Ice Cream—the little food truck empire that could—is a Brooklyn entrepreneurial legend... But rather than bask in the glow of artisanal glory, O'Neill went ahead and opened a new restaurant, Selamat Pagi—because that's what entrepreneurs do.

What neighborhood do you live in?
I live in Greenpoint. I moved here almost six years ago from Melbourne. I didn’t know anything about New York when I moved here but luckily happened upon this little slice of heaven.

For people who may be unfamiliar with Van Leeuwen, how would you describe what it is you do?
I run Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream with my two partners, Ben and Pete. We started up in 2008 and sell our ice cream from six trucks and three stores around the city. We make our ice cream right here in Greenpoint, using only fresh milk and cream, cane sugar, egg yolks and the best fruits, nuts, chocolate and spices we can find from small producers, locally and from around the world. We also recently opened a restaurant in Greenpoint called Selamat Pagi. We serve traditional and inspired dishes from the island of Bali and will soon be adding an awesome beer and wine list.

What do you do that’s different from similar businesses?
We make super-simple, traditional ice cream the way you might make it at home, only on a larger scale. Our ice creams celebrate ingredients perfected by nature, not science. We have applied the same ideals and dedication to our restaurant kitchen.

Why did you get into the food business?
I love food. Who doesn't?! Ninety percent of what comes out of my mouth is about food. To be able to make a career out of something I'm passionate about, and with a product I'm truly proud of, is awesome.

Why start up in Brooklyn?
The three of us all lived together on Driggs Avenue when we were getting started. Our kitchen was our lab and our couch was our office. We now have our ice cream production and real office out the back of Selamat Pagi. We are really proud to be a part of the awesome Brooklyn food scene.

Is this your dream job? Or do you wish you could be doing something else?
For sure, I feel really lucky to be doing something I love. We have an amazing team, and have a lot of fun. Even though we work almost all the time, we have the flexibility to do the things we want like travel, music and dancing in the dark on Tuesday nights at No Lights, No Lycra (plug!).

What’s the biggest difference between an ice cream store and an Indonesian restaurant?
The restaurant is definitely very hands on; customers’ expectations are higher than that of an ice cream store and everything is super fast-paced. It’s a lot like theater: setting the stage, playing the roles, etc.

What surprised you the most about the restaurant business?
I think we were surprised by how much work it is to successfully operate day in, day out. The restaurant was kind of a wild dream that came to fruition because we had this great storefront sitting empty. We kinda thought “sure, let’s open a place and serve awesome Indonesian food…” Then we opened and suddenly had a full-scale, busy restaurant on our hands. It’s been really fun, but it is a lot of work.

Which of your personal characteristics make you ideally suited to pull this off? And which don't? 
Pros: I'm a worker bee and super pragmatic. Cons: I'm a really good sleeper and am often running late.



Amber Jacobsen

and Adam Boyd


They are the founding partners, with Toby Smith, of the Brooklyn branch of Toby’s Estate, a coffee roaster and coffee shop.


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What neighborhood do you live in?
Amber: Over the years we have spent a lot of time in Williamsburg and we continue to be inspired by the food, music, and people—we thought it would be the perfect neighborhood for Toby’s Estate as people here are open to trying new things.
Adam: We also needed a large amount of space to sample, store and roast our coffee, as well as facilities for training and trialing our coffees. The space we found on North 6th St is 3,000 square feet and also has loading access as it used to be a meat-packing warehouse. We love finding out the history of the buildings in this neighborhood.

For people who may be unfamiliar with it, how would you describe what Toby’s does?
Amber: Toby’s Estate is a coffee roastery. We roast and wholesale our coffee to specialty cafes, restaurants and grocers so we have a factory in Brooklyn with full-time roasters, service technicians, wholesale staff and trainers.
Adam: We also run a café that showcases our products, allowing our guests to experience the things we enjoy; and also to be involved through our brew school, which offers training and education. We travel to origin many times a year and use direct farm relationships to source the finest coffees from all over the world, and then we bring the beans back to Brooklyn and roast them in house.

Why start it up? What do you do that's different from similar businesses?
Amber: Our point of difference is service, training, delivery and education. We believe this is as important as the roasted product. We are continually working with our clients, staff and equipment to create and share the best end product.
Adam: We pride ourselves on being friendly—we take our coffee seriously and are committed to delivering an amazing product but have fun while we’re doing it.

Why start up in Brooklyn?
Amber: You only have to pick up a magazine or newspaper to realize Brooklyn is at the center of the culinary world. It’s exciting to be surrounded and inspired by amazing restaurants and businesses, and feel like we are part of a great food movement.
Adam: Brooklyn residents really appreciate the time spent on creating fine food products, and the backstory on how a product gets from a creator to their homes.

Is this your dream job? Or do you wish you could be doing something else?
Amber and Adam: We live, breathe, and go home smelling of coffee—we don’t want to be anywhere else



Joshua M. Bernstein


The author and journalist’s latest project is the app Craft Beer NY, an indispensable tool for anyone who wants to know about the best places to drink good beer here in the city.


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What neighborhood do you live in?
For the last 10 years, I’ve lived in Crown Heights—or Prospect Heights, depending on which realtor you ask. I moved here after a two-year stint in Astoria, Queens. We were looking for a cheap, spacious apartment that was close to Prospect Park, and we found a great three-bedroom apartment for a fair price. And we have yet to move. I’ve always loved the Caribbean food and proximity to the park and Brooklyn Museum, but in the last few years Franklin Avenue has really blown up with bars and restaurants galore. The neighborhood is drastically different than 2003, that’s for sure.

For people who are unfamiliar with you, how would you describe what you do?
Since 2001, I’ve been covering the bar, beer, spirits, restaurant and travel beat, focusing primarily on NYC. For years, I wrote columns on the city’s bars for Time Out New York, New York Press, New York mag and a number of other publications. Then in 2011 I released Brewed Awakening, my deeply reported take on the craft beer revolution. So, two of my specialties are bars and craft beer, and the intersection thereof. 

What made you decide to start Craft Beer NY?
London’s Blue Crow Media partnered with me to create it. It’s a curated iPhone app—Android in a few months—featuring the city’s best bars, breweries and bottle shops dedicated to craft beer. The app is regularly updated with new spots, and there’s a news feed with the latest info about craft beer in the city. New York was not always known for craft beer. Now, the craft beer scene is evolving at a dizzying rate. The app aims to chronicle the rise of carbonated culture. The goal, in a nutshell: no matter where you’re standing, you’ll know exactly where to go to get craft beer.

Is this your dream job? Or do you wish you could be doing something else?
Writing about beer all day and drinking it all night sounds pretty ideal, right? Just kidding. In honesty, the app is one of a number of things I do revolving around beer and food. Whether it’s books, articles or the app, I love showing people the best places to get food and drink. There’s no sense in wasting a meal or a happy hour on terrible food and beer.

Which of your personal characteristics make you ideally suited to pull this off? (And which don't?)
I am very goal-oriented. I can look at a larger project, break it into constituent parts and, one after another, cross items off a list. And I'm tenacious. Once I start a project, I often don't stop until it's done. And with this app, the job is never done. That's part of the challenge and the fun.



Matt Grady


He founded Factory 25, an indie-film distribution company, in 2009.


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What neighborhood do you live in?
I’m in Clinton Hill. Lived here for the majority of my 11 years in Brooklyn. When my wife and I originally moved here in 2002 people were like, why are you moving to Clinton Hill? Then when we moved out in 2010 people were like, why would you ever leave? And then we moved back one year later. We originally moved there when Plexifilm started up because it reminded us of Jamaica Plain, the neighborhood in Boston that we moved from.

For people who may be unfamiliar with it, how would you describe what Factory 25 does?
Factory 25 is an indie film distribution company for conceptually provocative narratives and documentaries. I release films theatrically, on TV VOD, and digitally—iTunes, Amazon, Sony Playstation, and so on—and I also release limited editions of the films on DVD often combined with vinyl LPs. Titles include Frownland, The Color Wheel and more. Many of the next group of releases will be books that come with DVDs. Factory 25 often gets described as a label due to the curation and my love for combining film with vinyl LPs, two of my favorite things, in the limited edition packages; Factory 25 has also released a few vinyl LPs. With physical media dying a quick death, I still believe the only way to make DVDs work is if you create the world of a film in an amazing package with original artwork, a book with essays or music. On vinyl.

Why start it up? What do you do that’s different from similar distributors?
Curating seems to be a popular phrase nowadays, but I do think Factory 25 is curated and that’s the big difference between us and other distributors. That, and I do work hard to get the films out there in theaters and try to make DVDs in an aesthetically captivating way and not just release the films digitally and walk away. Even though the films have varied subject matter, they do complement each other and belong in the Factory 25 catalog.

Why start up in Brooklyn?
This is really an amazing place for indie film right now—and the perfect place to start up a distribution company. I have gotten a little flak from a couple filmmakers saying I only release New York-centric films, which might be the majority of my films, but there is also a bit of Chicago in my catalog, and I'm about to release films produced in Florida, Seattle and Texas.

What’s happening in film in Brooklyn/New York right now? Is there a scene?
This is the heyday for NYC and Brooklyn filmmakers. I see it as being a similar scene as the NYC film scene of the 70s with Lumet, Allen, Scorsese and the Maysles. People will look back at the current crop of NYC and Brooklyn filmmakers that are making amazing raw, emotional, from-the-heart cinema that may often polarize audiences but will stand the test of time when bubblegum Hollywood films will be forgotten. I believe in 10 years Ronald Bronstein’s Frownland will be looked at with reverence the same way we look back at Scorcese’s Mean Streets.

Is this your dream job? Or do you still hope to transition into something else?
Factory 25 is a dream job. I get to release many of my favorite films; it doesn't get much better than that. I do want to expand more, and someday have a VOD station as well as a Factory 25 theater in Brooklyn. Having a theater and being a distributor would be the ideal next phase of Factory 25.

Which of your personal characteristics make you ideally suited to pull this off? (And which don't.)
I've always been kind of a dreamer with DIY ethics and willing to do all aspects of the business no matter how fun or mundane. I also may be a bit delusional but still believe that people have to be given the chance to see great indie films, and even though they might not give them a chance today, if I keep getting the films out there, people will take a risk on a film that doesn't have a Clooney next month or next year; they'll watch an indie film without a star, not a so-called "indie film" that really isn't one at all, like The Descendants or The Artist.



Greg Paquette,

Andrew Raskin


They founded the vintage-clothing retailer Sporting Life.


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What neighborhood do you live in, Greg?
We had a live/work commercial space on Nevins right by the Union Street Bridge. We were looking for exactly that for a month or so and then we saw the “for rent” sign and that was that.

For people who may be unfamiliar with it, how would you describe what Sporting Life does?
We sell a very curated selection of vintage clothing, specializing in classic American styles, American-made, and clothing of natural fibers.

Why start it up? What do you do that's different from similar businesses?
Many vintage clothing shops have very similar selections to each other, e.g. Western shirts, plaids, classic Levis etc. We have a very apparent style-theme going. Polo, wool tees, starter jackets, New York sports gear, And 1 shirts with disses on the back. It's not for everyone, but if you're on our page you'll love our stuff.

Why start up in Brooklyn?
Andrew grew up a few blocks from our shop, so it was a natural thing for him. I lived in the Bronx for a few years but it's difficult to do things there for many reasons. And Brooklyn is where it's at!

What happened to your Gowanus location during Sandy? At what point did you decide it was best to cut your losses and move out?
We got flooded with the murkiest of waters. Our whole area pretty much moved out. Many new places were opening and still are, but it was a big letdown waiting for the area to really bloom and then getting smacked with Sandy. Our landlord had no intention of addressing the water in our floors and walls; he just wanted us either to stay with the warped floors and mold or get out so he could rent it as-is.

How are you going about getting funding for a new location? Where would you like to set up ideally?
We applied for a small business loan, so we have our fingers crossed for that. We got our deposit back from FEMA so that helped. Since Sandy we’ve hocked our goods on Bedford in Williamsburg a bunch of times and that’s really fun and easy. It changed my whole perspective on having a brick-and-mortar business. At this point we are gypsy salesmen, but we hope to have a new spot in Bed-Stuy or Bushwick soon.

Is this your dream job? Or do you wish you could be doing something else?
It is! We love it! I can't imagine not hoarding and flipping gear. I get anxiety leaving it alone. For the time being we will be putting our merchandise for sale on our website at sportlifebk.com.



Alex Shephard


He’s the editor-in-chief of Full Stop, a digital literary magazine that publishes “reviews, interviews and marginalia.”


What neighborhood do you live in?
I live in Carroll Gardens, near Smith and Ninth Street. I moved there two years ago because we found a good deal on an apartment and the location was convenient for my girlfriend. It’s not convenient anymore though, so we’ll probably move soon. I don’t particularly care for the neighborhood, but I do like living two blocks from Court Street Grocers. 

For people who may be unfamiliar with it, how would you describe what Full Stop does?
Full Stop publishes literary and cultural criticism and author interviews—most of what we currently cover is book-based, but we’re in the process of expanding our scope.

Why start it up? What do you do that’s different from similar businesses?
Over 300,000 books are published in the United States every year but so many outlets—whether print or online—cover the same books over and over. We cover some “big” books, but we try to cover interesting books that often fall through the cracks, which are often from younger writers or are translated. Also, the majority of our writers and readers are in their 20s, unlike most other online and print book-focused outlets.

Why start up in Brooklyn?
The publishing industry is based in New York, so it helps to be close to that.

Is this your dream job? Or do you wish you could be doing something else?
Having (to an extent) complete freedom and working closely with your closest friends is probably about as good as it's going to get.

Since you don't have a physical office, what's the closet thing you guys have to a headquarters?
I use my apartment's second bedroom as an office and I meet there fairly regularly with the handful of Full Stop editors who live in New York.

Do you think there's any noticeable benefits or drawbacks to having a good portion of your contributors and editorial staff based in Brooklyn?
I think the only problem is when the majority of your contributors are in the same place—we intentionally try to get people involved from all over the country.



Steven Peterman


Steven Peterman cofounded The Brooklyn Art Library, and Vanderberg is its Senior Project Manager for ideas like The Sketchbook Project, a mobile library of 25,000 sketchbooks.


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Steven Peterman cofounded the Art House Co-Op in Atlanta in 2006, an “independent company that organizes global, collaborative art projects.” In 2009 he brought the whole thing to Williamsburg (setting up the Brooklyn Art Library as home base), where he enlisted James Vanderberg as Senior Project Manager, to work on ideas like the Sketchbook Project, a mobile library of more than 25,000 sketchbooks (solicited from around the world) that travels around the country spreading the gospel of art. ART! We asked Steven what was so great about “art.”

What neighborhood do you live in, Steven?
I live in Williamsburg with my wife and Thrifty, my cat. We live over by the Graham L. We really love the area. It’s quieter then the Bedford area, but still has some great food and the old Italian charm of the neighborhood.

For people who may be unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what it is you guys get up to at the Art Library?
The main thing we do is create interactive art projects that are open to everyone. We love the idea of a community of people coming together to create something wonderful, rather than singular artists working alone. Our storefront, located in Williamsburg on North 3rd, is home to the Sketchbook Project. It’s our flagship project. The library houses over 25,000 sketchbooks from all over the world. It runs like a reference library with library cards and everything. We also sell notebooks, ephemera, and other vintage goodies we find on our travels.

Why did you get into this crazy project? Do you have a lot of experience with cross-country art tours? 
I started the project with my friend Shane back in 2006 in Atlanta. We moved up to NYC in 2009. We really just wanted to find a way to be creative while creating a community of like-minded people. We now have a TON of experience with touring art exhibitions. I have planned and been on five of them... 

Is this your dream job? Or do you wish you could be doing something else?
Yes! My wife will tell you that I NEVER stop working or talking about it. It’s like my child. I feel so grateful that I get to do this everyday. I have met some of the greatest individuals and wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Which of your personal characteristics make you ideally suited to pull this off? (And which don't?)
I say I'm a perfectionist who doesn't need to do things perfectly. I constantly want to do every idea I have. I will do everything to make it happen, but maybe not perfectly. I think this has been good and bad. Some of my ideas have been more successful then others. Even though I went to college for art, I'm more of a creative thinker than a fine artist. I think it has helped me to succeed a lot more. I'm always thinking and brainstorming with myself.

How long does it take you guys to set up the exhibition when you stop?
Each tour stop takes about two hours to set up. We have around ten 350-LB shelves that we roll in and a bunch of signage and whatnot. The whole tour takes about 18 months to plan and execute. We now have our Mobile Library, which will take the set-up time down to about 10 minutes.

Tell us a bit about Art House Co-Op...
to all of this that we started. This is what creates and produces the Sketchbook Project, runs the Library, and creates all of the other projects we do. The Sketchbook Project is just one the many things we do!



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