New York Magazine on Brooklyn’s Artisanal Boom


In a move rife with propitious timing (Brooklyn’s first mayonnaise store recently opened in Prospect Heights), New York magazine published a cover story investigating whether or not artisanal Brooklyn is a sign of the Apocalypse. In the article’s words, it’s “a world, or at least a borough, where thousands of salvaged-teak schooners ply the oceans, or at least the Gowanus Canal, bearing Mason jars full of marmalade made from windfall kumquats. It’s like a child’s dream. The supermarket aisles are lit by Edison bulbs, staffed by scruffy men in butcher’s aprons, and stocked with cruelty-free dog food and hand-pulped toilet paper.” The article features several familiar brands – and Flea favorites – that either found success or challenges. (McClure’s Pickles brought in over a million bucks last year; jam company Maiden Preserves, popular in the local market, failed to gain enough traction or profits to expand.) The piece also sets the stage for how the artisanal boom emerged from a bad economy, and the tension between the “small-is-good ideology and the growth imperative,” forcing many Brooklyn entrepreneurs to compromise their “locavore mission” in order to make it big.
The Twee Party [NY Magazine]
Illustration by Zohar Lazar via NY Mag

48 Comment

  • Havemeyer

    “It’s like a child’s dream. The supermarket aisles are lit by Edison bulbs…”

    What child dreams of edison bulbs and hand-pulped toilet paper? Most children I know would be happier with more Chuckie Cheese locations, and perhaps a Disney store.

    Perhaps the writer is referring to the Waldorf school children.

  • Everyone’s favorite subject is themselves.

    Especially in Brooklyn.

    C:

  • Everyone’s favorite subject is themselves.

    Especially in Brooklyn.

    C:

  • expert_textpert

    I stopped reading the article at “The brothers both have magnificent Civil War–period beards.”

  • rh

    I hate to say this because I’d love to be supportive of smaller companies, especially former flea people, but I haven’t been too impressed with any of these artisanal food sources. They are overrated. There, I’ve said it.

  • wasder

    As precious as it can be I would rather have the option of buying this kind of stuff than not have that choice. Some of it is really good. And for gifts and stuff it beats the hell out of just grabbing some mass produced crap. So rock on artisans, but know you will get made fun of for your beards and precious shop names.

  • Yeah, some of them are walking cliches, and the artisanal products sometimes are a parody in their names alone, along with some of the goods marketed, but when it comes down to it, I’d rather be a parodied cliche making good money than another Brooklyn cliche, a broke-a s s complainer and whiner.

    I’m sure people though Ben and Jerry were nuts, too. Or the guy who came up with Starbucks. More power to ‘em, I say. The market will sort out the chaff from the artisanal wheat, as it were. Meantime, people are working, and the local economy is slowly growing.

  • expert_textpert

    I went back to continue reading the article and got to:

    “When they speak of their chocolate, they’ll say things like it “represents more than just a candy bar; it represents a new way of crafting food,” and it embodies “a fiercely independent, almost Emersonian spirit.”

    and had to throw up.
    At this rate, I’m never going to finish reading that article. It’s probably for the best.

    But really? Emersonian spirit???? As in Ralph Waldo Emerson???
    I have news for these two Civil War beardos it’s CHOCOLATE not a philosophical individualistic movement.

  • dnk

    Anyone seen the artisinal lightbulb bit on Portlandia? Hand-crafted, individually blown lightbulbs, $68 apiece. “They burn out after a couple of days,” explains the bulb designer.

    There’s a testimonial from a loyal customer, who has been without electric light for 14 months. And a shot of the shop proprietor licking his bulbs. Cracks me up every time!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P85vZpYF3Yg

  • dnk

    Anyone seen the artisinal lightbulb bit on Portlandia? Hand-crafted, individually blown lightbulbs, $68 apiece. “They burn out after a couple of days,” explains the bulb designer.

    There’s a testimonial from a loyal customer, who has been without electric light for 14 months. And a shot of the shop proprietor licking his bulbs. Cracks me up every time!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P85vZpYF3Yg

  • srsqualms

    Apparently outraged artesanos have crashed the internet, because I can’t even read the article: “The server at nymag.com is taking too long to respond.”

  • the NY Mag website is working again

  • dnk

    Okay, after having posted my snarky comment a couple of hours ago, I finally read the article. Yes, the brothers in their “magnificent Civil War beards” making chocolate bars: what a laugh. (And I did laugh).

    But those guys are employing 25 people, and providing them with medical and dental insurance. Not bad.

  • expert_textpert

    aaarrrgggghhhhh!!!
    I’m NEVER going to get thru this article, I just read this and it makes me sad:

    “the New Brooklyn artisan movement”
    :-(

    • I think it’s a really good article, and great PR for the people who got their photos and background discussed. There’s nothing to be sad about, get over yourself. It’s people developing their interests into a full-blown business. Many of these products are carried in large super markets and all across the country, Have you bothered to try the Mast Bros. chcocolate? It’s insanely good and obviously, their philosophy and price point work since people are snatching up the bars on both coasts.

      • expert_textpert

        I’m not against entrepreneurs or small business or people doing what they love.
        I hate the jargons used in the article…and I haven’t gotten very far into the article. What I’ve read so far sounds like a slap in the face to the ‘old Brooklyn’, as if before these artisans started their movement, brooklyn was a void, when in reality there were thriving businesses.

        • So, you hate the article…well, don’t hold it against the business, they didn’t necessarily ask to be painted a certain way. And journalism, well, it made to excite…and it certainly got you hot and bothered.

          Like someone said below (or above), you don’t like it, don’t buy it. I’ll do likewise.

      • expert_textpert

        “It’s insanely good and obviously, their philosophy and price point work since people are snatching up the bars on both coasts.”

        An $8 chocolate bar is on everybody’s weekly shopping list.
        Willy Wonka is rolling over in his grave.

      • expert_textpert

        “Have you bothered to try the Mast Bros. chcocolate?”

        In my post that is being held for review, I said that I LOVE chocolate and pay $$$$ for exceptional chocolate and if someone said Mast chocolate is great, I probably would have tried it.

        But after reading the beginning of this article and all the silly quotes by them and about them, I’m so turned off. They’re off my list of chocolate to try.

        This is what really did it for me:
        “but the brothers seem to earnestly regard their candy bars as a pedagogical tool.”

        Really? Chocolate as a “pedagogical” tool? THEY need to get over themselves.

      • I’ve had Mast Brother’s chocolate. It’s good but not $9 a bar good. I applaud their entrepreneurship but their shtick is completely ridiculous.

  • expert_textpert

    aaarrrgggghhhhh!!!
    I’m NEVER going to get thru this article, I just read this and it makes me sad:

    “the New Brooklyn artisan movement”
    :-(

  • expert_textpert

    I just tried to post something and the sensor g0ds are holding it for review.
    The filters on this site need to be lifted. I disguised the word ‘fudge’

  • expert_textpert

    I just tried to post something and the sensor g0ds are holding it for review.
    The filters on this site need to be lifted. I disguised the word ‘fudge’

  • expert_textpert

    And while I’m ranting.
    I love pickles and anything pickled. I bought a jar of ‘atisinal’ pickles at the farmers market at Grand Army for $8.
    I want my $8 back.
    Vlasic rules.

  • architect66

    It is really nice to see articles about people who are trying to have a go in hands-on BUSINESS as opposed to, say, going to work for a big company or a government agency. It’s capitalism everyone, with a small c, and I’ll take an explosion of entrepreneurs over a glut of apparatchiks any day.

  • Havemeyer

    Okay, I’m going to try and be serious for a second. Small businesses are great. I love them. But there’s something about the sheer, unrelenting sameness of the Brooklyn artisans that’s annoying. All of that courier font, old timey, hand-labeled stuff. All of the painfully self-righteous earnestness. Guys, they’re just pickles. Seriously. Pickles aren’t that complex.

    Not to mention the actual small Brooklyn businesses that have gone out of business–the ones that survived the depression, one or two world wars, a few blackouts… but not gentrification. Where’s Manhattan soda? I haven’t seen it in a store in ages. Moishe’s bread? Or the shops and restaurants that were good, but not started by the right kind of artisan. The places without enough reclaimed wood and facial hair. You’d think this was an exaggeration… except it’s not. I had an earnest young gentleman in a handlebar mustache sell me eyeglasses last month. Another one sells me coffee in the morning, and he’s so painfully sincere about the coffee’s creation that I want dump it on his head.

    At Choice Market the other day I saw a thing of salt water taffy, painstakingly wrapped and tied with ribbon. $5. For about six pieces. I think it was bergemont flavored.

    I forget what my point was, except the madness must stop. We can’t all subsist on $11 jars of homemade pasta sauce and rosewater syrup, and there’s only so many relatives that one has that are beloved enough to deserve a nice gift basket.

    • So what are you saying, we should have some sort of czar that cultivates retail in gentrified brooklyn to your tastes? Most of this stuff isn’t to my taste, so I don’t buy it. I suggest you do the same. I have no problem finding normal pickles and soda in Williamsburg, arguably the epicenter of this non-sense, so I highly doubt any of this is really putting a damper on your life.

    • So what are you saying, we should have some sort of czar that cultivates retail in gentrified brooklyn to your tastes? Most of this stuff isn’t to my taste, so I don’t buy it. I suggest you do the same. I have no problem finding normal pickles and soda in Williamsburg, arguably the epicenter of this non-sense, so I highly doubt any of this is really putting a damper on your life.

    • rh

      I’m with you, Heather! Most of my old school diners are gone as are the local coffee shops. Remember coffee shops? They existed before cafes. I know, I know…change is good, blah, blah, blah, but when Brooklyn is more Portland than Brooklyn, me no likey.

    • rh

      I’m with you, Heather! Most of my old school diners are gone as are the local coffee shops. Remember coffee shops? They existed before cafes. I know, I know…change is good, blah, blah, blah, but when Brooklyn is more Portland than Brooklyn, me no likey.

  • dash

    I enjoyed the article. I especially liked the end, in which the sugar packet manufacturer was cited. And true, you don’t have to support these businesses if they annoy you. There are enough other options. Buy your coffee at the bodega if you prefer.

  • Yes, people will spend a lot of money for “special” little foodstuffs, always have, always will, as long as there’s money around to do so. An athe hokey stories sell. That’s how we got starbucks, mcDonald’s, and dare I say it, Apple. Sometimes charging a lot is a good business strategy. People are odd that way…or not so odd…it’s human.

  • the mast brothers open kitchen and tasting room is fantastic. it’s one of those places that wonder how the hell they came up with it, but meanwhile, you’re just so damn glad that’s its there. i wouldn’t be too hard on the mast boys. journalists have their way of twisting and turning words. the store, the tasting kitchen, the chocolate – all of it – is just really really well done, and they’ve made that block absolutely special for all to enjoy. in fact, wasn’t that block of n.3rd between berry and wythe given some kind of award for it’s fabulousness?

    • I believe that was an L Magazine “award” which I wouldn’t put much stock in.

      I agree though, that is a pretty great block of retail. Whenever I have friends in from out of town the last leg of the shopping jaunt is typically Catbird, Whisk and all of N.3rd (then Moon River Chattel, of course)

  • the mast brothers open kitchen and tasting room is fantastic. it’s one of those places that wonder how the hell they came up with it, but meanwhile, you’re just so damn glad that’s its there. i wouldn’t be too hard on the mast boys. journalists have their way of twisting and turning words. the store, the tasting kitchen, the chocolate – all of it – is just really really well done, and they’ve made that block absolutely special for all to enjoy. in fact, wasn’t that block of n.3rd between berry and wythe given some kind of award for it’s fabulousness?

  • I’d just like to recommend the book SWEET AND LOW: A FAMILY STORY by Rich Cohen. It is absolutely fascinating and goes into the rise of the company and the tremendous dysfunction in the family (including a memorable agoraphobic Aunt). It’s a true behind-the-scenes immigrant makes good story, but also a dramatic tale of the fight over the family fortune (the author is a grandson from the side of the family that got cut out.) Great read…about as old Brooklyn as you can get.

  • callalily

    The whole Brooklyn artisinal thing has gone so over the top (mayonnaise) it’s nauseating but give me health insurance any day. I bought Mast Bros chocolate for my whole family for Christmas. I love the packaging. What this article and the similar complaint against foodies on Counterpunch this week didn’t touch is that, gourmet packaged food aside, we need high-quality, healthy, locally grown food and meals cooked from scratch (in restaurants and institutional cafeterias) and it should be common and affordable. All this arugula-sent-to-Montessori school is being turned into and marketed as a status symbol, rather than a basic necessity and everyday thing, and that grosses me out.