I’ve been looking forward to this year’s Holiday Market since the moment I joined Food52 nearly a year ago. When I interviewed for my position, the then-office rang with pre-Market jitters and lots and lots of boxes. By the time I had my first day, weeks after the three-day market had ended, everyone was still talking about it—the controlled chaos of the gift wrapping station, the joy that came from meeting users in real life, and the relief of pulling off the feat.
So when we announced that the pop up this year wouldn’t be three days, but three weeks, with plenty of opportunities to volunteer, I immediately slotted myself into every feasible shift. My first shift was this Saturday, from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM (well, it was supposed to be till 2:30 PM, but I could hardly pull myself away—the energy was magnetic!). Here’s what goes on during a shift at the Food52 Holiday Market:
Maybe it’d be more accurate to say this shift started at 6:00 AM, which is when I got up to give myself enough time to peruse the neighboring Union Square greenmarket before heading in—with a bag full of apples.
The Holiday Market is organized so that the entire floor is dedicated to display space—plenty of room for our fireplace and “living room,” a demo table, a movie screening area, and lot and lots of goodies from the Shop. The stock room is down a set of stairs so when a flat of Kenji Lopez-Alt’s The Food Lab cookbooks arrived, we set to work jogging up and down the stairs to ready the books for his 2 PM signing. This, we unanimously decided, earned us each a cookie—which we enjoyed warm when City Bakery delivered four enormous boxes of Amanda and Merrill’s cookies.
Before we even officially opened, people began to meander over from the greenmarket, with baskets of pears, apples, and potatoes (for Sunday’s latkes!). From 9:00 AM, there was a steady increase in shoppers and around 10:00 AM, I ventured out to hand out flyers.
While, I’ll admit, I often join the scores of New Yorkers who walk with their heads down when they see someone approaching with a piece of paper in hand, I found that many of the people I met couldn’t have been warmer. [Editor's Note: Leslie is one of the friendliest, most chipper people we know, so this isn't really a surprise.] One woman exclaimed that her daughter had told her about Food52 just the other day, and another stopped to tell me about the recipe she’d submitted to our latest contest.
By mid-morning, the steady stream of people had turned into a packed room. Several people grouped together watching the movies, while others tried on necklaces, and even more checked out our vintage items at the Food Network station. While a few team members ran the stairs, stocking products (the Magnetic Bottle Opener was among the first to go!), I left my post answering questions on the floor to man the gift-wrap station which suddenly became the hottest post in the room—and gave me a few gift ideas of my own.
One woman had me wrap several red and gold pinch bowls for a baby shower, while another purchased a matching barware set for her husband and college-aged son (the Magnetic Bottle Opener and Old Fashioned Carry On Cocktail). Merrill’s parents put together a Pie Box, complete with mini pie tins and the Food52 Baking cookbook. And thankfully, everyone waited patiently as I got back into the hang of wrapping season.
At one point, I left the station and joined a conversation with a mother and daughter about their favorite recipes from Genius Recipes. They had gifted it to each other over the summer when the book came out, and since the mother was visiting her daughter this weekend in the city from Rhode Island, they had made a point of visiting our Holiday Market.
When I introduced them to Merrill, the conversation turned to Amanda’s Kids’ Lunch, how we all ate bologna growing up and survived, and the two most important things about cooking: salt and pepper.
By 1:30 PM, I’d changed out of my flats and into some more practical sneakers and sat down to eat a sandwich from Alidoro in SoHo—and another cookie, of course.
When Kenji arrived for his cookbook signing of Food Lab, our Director of Buying & Product Development, Jojo (who with our buyer Kristina is responsible for all of the beautiful goods in the store), handed out Amanda and Merrill’s cookies to the line. The cookies—Chewy Vanilla Spice Cookies with Chocolate Chunks (Vegan, too!) by Amanda Hesser and Soft Chocolate Almond Cherry Cookies by Merrill Stubbs—got a lot of recipe requests. They were so popular we had to refill the plate every 20 minutes! And good thing, since we'll be handing out both kinds for free at our brand new Holiday Cookie Truck in NYC (check our Twitter to see its whereabouts).
At one point, I tried to bring the plate of cookies from their spot at the cashier to offer some to Kenji (who happens to be a cookie master himself) but could hardly make the ten-foot walk across to the demo table. At every step, I was stopped by customers asking to try the cookies—that’s how good they are. Luckily, I finally made it over to Kenji who also approved.
When my official shift ended, I could hardly leave—it had been nothing like the never-ending retail shifts I suffered at my hometown’s mall (saying “Welcome to the pier,” for eight hours straight is akin to torture, in my opinion). Instead, it was actually fun—so I stayed another few hours.
After Kenji’s signing, the Market only got more crowded—I met Zoe, an enormous dog who stole all of our hearts, sold cheesy popcorn to a little girl watching Rudolf at our movie couch, chatted about cookie recipes, ran into friends, and contemplated buying every single thing in the Market for myself. But one of the happiest moments of my shift came two minutes before I left.
A woman I’d never met approached me and said, “Leslie? I’m QueenSashy!” The writer of the blog Three Little Halves and one of our most active users, Alexandra has nearly 100 recipes on Food52! I felt like I was meeting an old friend. We hugged like we were and I met her family and gushed to them about how much I loved her recent contest-winning Vanilice (The Little Vanilla Cookies). [Editor's note: Are you crying yet? Good.]
When I finally left the shift—five cookies deep, lips chapped from talking for hours, and with the names and faces of so many users in my head—I was exhausted and very much looking forward to a beer, but already couldn’t wait for my next shift. See you this week!
Have you visited the Food52 Holiday Market yet? Did we meet? Tell us in the comments below!