Specialty food may just be the most popular retail trend in Brooklyn right now.
Brooklyn has always been an international food mecca, but the recent boom in hyper-specialty food options is beyond what we’ve seen in even our rich past. From designer mayonnaise in flavors such as “smoked paprika” and “lime pickle” to kimchi Korean burritos and wraps or site-specific beer, food is now more than just a way to satisfy your hunger. It’s an experience.
For decades, Brooklyn’s food brand was rooted in world-class pizza, luscious egg creams, authentic Italian bread, sweet Middle Eastern delicacies, top cheesecakes, jerk smoked chicken, using the word “gravy” for red sauce, Nathan’s Famous hot dogs, halal anything, and Chinese take-out.
Now, the foodie generation is taking things further. They are combining the locavore and organic movements with New York’s devotion to high quality ingredients, resulting in cult menus and other exacting niche foods. To me, Empire Mayonnaise’s jars of “white truffle” and “red chili” flavored mayo are niche par excellence. We salute you. The same sentiment goes for the offerings at Kimchi Taco Truck’s brick-and-mortar shop, Kimchi Grill.
Food trucks, an old American tradition in the shape of chestnut and hot dog carts, now serve exotic waffles (Wafels & Dinges), fatty smoked pork (Mexicue), seriously trendy dumplings (Rickshaw Dumplings), fresh fruit slushies (Kelvin Slush Company), and vegan anything (The Cinnamon Snail), along with a dozen more creative items.
Trucks occupy the real estate between a table outdoors and a store indoors. Far less costly than bricks & mortar, they grant mobility to the new nosh. The new eating experience is so hip that, I am even insisting my school reunion crew in November eat only standing up.
Credit also goes to the great Smorgasburg food extravaganza on the North Side in Williamsburg and DUMBO for helping to spur and support this delicious explosion, as well as the local vendors who run the businesses.
Smorgasburg and its older sister, Brooklyn Flea, also helps birth full-fledged stores: vendors Landhaus, Ovenly, Nunu Chocolates, and Speedy Romeo have opened or will open brick-and-mortar shops, as Empire did earlier in 2012. Similarly, mega-hit Mile End Delicatessen cooks more concepts per square foot than most, and is opening a new commissary in Red Hook that will serve retail and cater like crazy to breach the small island across the Hudson.
This boom in food retail also means that grocery stores, previously the Brooklyn standard for grocery shopping, are becoming nearly prehistoric. Specialty markets such as Union Market, Foragers, Fine Fair, Blue Apron, and Fairway have grown in their place, joining national chains such as Whole Foods and Trader Joes in making high-end, organic, locally-sourced – and sometimes more expensive – groceries the norm in the borough.
Supplying the local produce for these stores and food trucks are farms in upstate New York and now even in Brooklyn. Rooftop farms in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Sunset Park’s Liberty View Industrial Plaza (also known as Federal Building #2) are making the most of the borough’s limited real estate. They join existing farms in Red Hook, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and throughout Brooklyn, which are run groups such as Added Value, Brooklyn Rescue Mission, and BK Farmyards.
Food businesses have a rich history in Brooklyn and continue to be a strong option for retail and commercial spaces. So get out and explore. Brooklyn’s classic food culture is still here, side by side with inventive 21st century options promising food diversity for all.
A licensed broker and Director of Commercial Property with APTSANDLOFTS.com, responsible for developing the company’s retail presence and entry into the Brooklyn office space market. Chriswhavens@gmail.com