Specialty Food Magazine

MAY-JUN 2013

Specialty Food Magazine is the leading publication for retailers, manufacturers and foodservice professionals in the specialty food trade. It provides news, trends and business-building insights that help readers keep their businesses competitive.

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PHOTO: EVA MESZAROS The Good Batch serves up baked goods and handmade ice-cream sandwiches. Creating a Crowd-Pleaser The Selection Process For a festival-like market that relies solely on the desire to devour, Smorgasburg is an impressive feat. The name is a composite of smorgasbord and Williamsburg. The market's vision took some tailoring to become the behemoth it is today, with a formula that even its creators couldn't have predicted. "We're sort of like Frankenstein scientists, in that we create an organism that takes on its own life," says co-founder Eric Demby, who with business partner Jonathan Butler founded the wildly successful Brooklyn Flea in 2008, which today runs at multiple locations in the borough year-round. Demby says plans for Smorgasburg began with an eclectic mix of offerings in mind. "The name was almost less to do with food and more to do with how many different things you could do at the market," he says, recalling the spring 2011 launch that featured a GrowNYC Greenmarket with upstate farmers alongside local artisanal producers, as well as a Kickstarter booth and children's play area. That first season's mixed results revealed the true crowdpleaser. "One of the things that we learned fairly quickly was that people just wanted to come and stuff their faces," Demby says. The team regrouped, stripped away the excesses, and in spring of 2012, Smorgasburg relaunched with around 100 local vendors serving prepared and packaged foods, from gourmet hot dogs, pickles and Japanese-style tacos to fresh-fruit sodas, herbal ice pops and alternative milks. The second Dumbo venue started up later that fall. Already Smorgasburg is widely known for its highly competitive application process to become a vendor. The process involves a comprehensive review of candidates. Anywhere from one to five applications come in every day; of those, fewer than 20 percent are invited to drop off a taste of their wares or provide a lunch to the team, says Demby, who has the final say on who earns a coveted 10-by-10-foot stall. "We just got done doing that, like, every day for three months," he says in early March, sounding more weary than boastful. This degree of competition means only the cream of the crop make it in, which has helped earn the food market its reputation as a food-lover's destination. "The baseline is that their food has to be spectacular," Demby says. After the tastings, the team examines the business as a whole, looking for a level of professionalism, knowhow and identity. Having these factors in place is, Demby explains, "a more reliable predictor of how long they're going to last at the market." Packaging, branding and business goals help complete the assessment and guide the ultimate decisions. "All that being said, we also love people who come out of nowhere who have never done anything before and don't know what they're doing," Demby admits. "That can be refreshing." Gathering feedback from Twitter and Facebook, as well as patrons on-site, Demby reviews the vendor lineup at the end of each season, to adjust any gaps and excesses in each market's offerings, whether that means trimming back on meat-centric foods, adding 50 ❘ SPECIALTY FOOD MAGAZINE ❘ specialtyfood.com

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