Over the past decade, Brooklyn has emerged as the epicenter of the craft food and drinks movement. It's hard not to notice.
Susanne König and Melissa Schreiber Vaughan have seen the movement grow first-hand and decided to chronicle it in their new book, Made in Brooklyn. Having met, photographed, and learned from 110 Brooklyn makers for the book, some trends presented themselves—one of which is that Brooklyn is made for food businesses. Here are five reasons why Brooklyn is such a special place to start a food business:
Brooklyn has always been a beacon for creativity and new ideas. Artisans with zero budget and big dreams once flocked here for cheap rents, of which there are now fewer and fewer. Makers still flock here, inspired by Brooklyn’s unique and abundance creative energy. As such, little cities of food production have popped up all around Brooklyn—chocolatiers and distilleries on the waterfront at Industry City, taffy makers and coffee roasters at the old Brooklyn Navy Yard, and kombucha brewers and kimchi purveyors in the old Pfizer headquarters in Bed-Sty.
At Pfizer, Eric “Kombucha Man” Childs used to host monthly happy hours for fellow makers to meet and mingle. Others work side by side in communal commercial kitchens, like the little factory on Commerce Street in Red Hook occupied by Betsy Devine (Salvatore Ricotta), Nekisia Davis (Early Bird Foods), Tin Disdarevic (Tin Mustard), and Homa Dashtaki (The White Moustache). And many collaborate: Liddabit Sweets’s beer and pretzel caramels are made with Brooklyn Brewery’s Brown Ale.
Thanks in large part to Eric Demby and Jonathan Butler, founders of the Brooklyn Flea (2008) and Smorgasbord (2011), small batch food makers are given a chance to set up shop in affordable 10 by 10-foot booths and sell their handcrafted wares to a hungry and sophisticated audience. Tens of thousands flock to these markets because nothing compares to the locavore fervor found in Brooklyn. And travelers from across the globe flock to Brooklyn to check out the culinary phenomenon and creative vibe Brooklyn has become famous for.
The Kings County community and infrastructure has grown, not only to support these businesses, but also to keep them manufacturing and thriving in the borough. In 2014, the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce responded to the success of local food manufacturing and Brooklyn’s influence as a cultural hub by creating the “Brooklyn Made” certification so that makers could market their authenticity. In order to earn this sought-after certification, businesses undergo a many-step process. The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce offers three different levels—gold, silver, and bronze—and evaluates products on various standards, including: how many employees live in the borough, and where design and development takes place, and what percentage of raw materials are bought in Brooklyn or in New York State.
Brooklyn-centric emporiums like By Brooklyn, now with locations in Carroll Gardens and Williamsburg, and the e-commerce websites like With Love From Brooklyn sell Brooklyn-made products. They celebrate the local artisans who make them and the culture of small batch authenticity. And they owe their success in large part to the globalization of the Brooklyn brand.
Over the past few years, we have witnessed how Brooklyn’s artisanal food makers are maturing. Presentation and packaging is getting more sophisticated—as opposed to the original “handmade” aesthetic. Factories are incorporating retail space. We can’t wait to see what the next wave of Brooklyn makers has in store for us.
Photos by James Ransom