PARK SLOPE — After only 13 months in business, artisanal food company Saucy by Nature is about to celebrate a major milestone — its preservative-free locally-sourced condiments will debut at gourmet grocer Dean & DeLuca next Friday.
It sounds like an overnight success story, but co-owners Monika Luczak and Przemek Adolf said starting Saucy by Nature took far more blood, sweat and tears than they anticipated.
"Being a food artisan has become the new restaurant dream, but it's harder than you think," Adolf said. "It's not easy. (People) have a very romanticized view of it."
Now Luczak and Adolf have cooked up a way to help others in the artisanal food business find their footing faster. The Park Slope residents have launched Fare Trade NYC, an alliance of artisanal food producers who share information and pool resources to help each other out.
"We faced hurdles left and right when we were starting," Luczak said. "We didn't have anyone to look to. We thought there would be, but there wasn't, so we started it ourselves."
Members of Fare Trade NYC pay a monthly fee for access to specialized resources, such as a private website where artisans trade tips on everything from which stores are looking for new product lines to how to ship refrigerated food. Businesses in the group have also shared employees, and there are plans to form a low-cost distribution network for member businesses.
The alliance also plans to start a fellowship program to train employees entering the artisanal food field at member businesses. Eventually the group wants to find a space that could house a test kitchen, shared workspace and offices.
Fare Trade NYC will also take its members' products to various food markets, which will allow less-established members spread the word about their products to a wider audience than they would if they were working alone, Luczak said.
"When you're a small company and you only have one to two people working, it's hard to be everywhere at the same time," Luczak said. "That way you have the opportunity as an artisan to be present at several markets."
In the near future, Fare Trade NYC members want to buy ingredients and supplies in bulk — which would save money for member businesses.
That's a perk that would benefit Fare Trade NYC member Alex Crosier, owner of Granola Lab. Crosier, who also works two days a week as a librarian, started her own granola business in 2010. She runs through about two to three 50-pound bags of oats per week, but she could buy her key ingredient for much cheaper if she ordered an entire pallet of oats, she said.
Right now she doesn't have the space to store such a large amount, but she's hoping to eventually split the order with Fare Trade NYC members who are also in the market for oats.
Aside from cost-cutting, Fare Trade NYC offers members a sense of companionship in a field that is by its nature lonely, because artisanal producers often work solo or with just one or two other people to make their small-batch products.
"Whenever you're involved in any industry, whether it's writing or art or finance, if you do it on your own, it can be isolating and not fun anymore if you're not interacting with people," said Fare Trade NYC member Ann Chung, co-founder of We Rub You, a Korean barbecue marinade company. "It's been great to be socially engaged with people who are like-minded and have similar goals."
So far Fare Trade NYC has 16 founding members that produce a variety of foods including grass-fed beef jerky, cookies and soup stocks. New members are screened by a five-member committee that ensures that businesses in the group are legitimate and legal, Adolf said. The founding members pay only $25 a month to participate; the fee is low because members are expected to show up at regular meetings and share their skill sets with others, Adolf said.
Fare Trade NYC is hosting a launch party on Sept. 6 at 61 Local in Cobble Hill to introduce the group to the artisanal food community and recruit new members.
Other artisanal producers have told Luczak they're eager to join the alliance.
"They're most excited about the potential of the resources we can all share," Luczak said. "There are just so many things to figure out, from packaging to sizing of labels. There are so many hurdles that are like fire-breathing dragons, and to not have to figure out every one of them by yourself is a major time saver."