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Specialty Food Start-ups Find a Home in Brooklyn's Booming Culinary Economy

By Janet Upadhye | January 8, 2013 12:10pm

BROOKLYN — Cuties Pies’ Guinness Fudge-Bailey's Irish Cream Pie, Brooklyn Soda Works' Grapefruit, Jalapeno & Honey soda and King County Jerky Co.’s Sichuan Ginger Grass-fed Jerky were all born in the hotbed of Brooklyn’s food revolution.

Over the last decade, Brooklyn has seen an explosion in tasty homegrown treats and today one in six borough businesses are food-related, according to the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. A new report found that "Specialty food manufacturing, restaurants and gourmet food stores are growing in Brooklyn."

“Now is the perfect time and Brooklyn is the perfect place for a small food business to take off,” said Cutie Pies founder Alice Calista Cronin. “Here we are in the zeitgeist of a food boom.”

Cronin learned to bake from her grandma Lillian in New Jersey. At the age of 5 she was taught the secrets to perfect chocolate-chip cookies, and in Brooklyn she has found a home for her talents in the kitchen.

She said part of the draw is an energy around local, unique and artisanal foods, but moreso is the borough’s fostering of opportunities for small food businesses.

“If you can‘t afford a storefront, there are countless flea markets to sell from,” she said. “If your kitchen’s not big enough you can rent a communal kitchen and bake from there.”

Fort Greene's Brooklyn Flea, Williamsburg's Smorgasburg and Brooklyn Night Bazaar are examples of alternatives to brick-and-mortar food sales.

Cronin added that these types of community-based operations bring like-minded people together and help to build community around food.

"Food incubators" are also trending in Brooklyn, providing affordable spaces for emerging food businesses to cook. Acumen Capital Partners converted pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer’s former eight-story factory in South Williamsburg to culinary spaces that now house businesses making food creations from popsicles to pickles and Kombucha.

A collaborative workspace for craftspeople in Bushwick called 3rd Ward followed suit providing kitchen space on their ground floor and Brooklyn Flea founders Eric Demby and Jonathan Butler also have a food incubator in the works in Crown Heights.

Besides pop-up marketplaces and space to cook, locally grown ingredients also fuel Brooklyn’s culinary explosion.

Brooklyn Grange in the Navy Yard produces the heirloom tomatoes and farm-fresh horseradish found in their Bloody Mary Mix from their urban rooftop farm and Eagle Street Rooftop Farm in Greenpoint grows organic peppers for Marlow and Daughter’s limited-edition hot sauce sold in Williamsburg.

“It’s no news that a tree grows in Brooklyn, and now we’re ready to harvest cucumbers, eggplant, lettuce and kale,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg of Brooklyn’s rooftop gardens in a statement.

And with an increase in food production comes an increase in jobs. The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce found that in the borough the number of food-related jobs is surpassed only by healthcare jobs and has been steadily growing since 2000, helping Brooklyn to have the highest job-growth rate of all five boroughs during that time period.

"Brooklyn is home to all kinds of food and beverage makers — from large companies, to 'mom and pop' shops, to one-person operations,” Carlo A. Scissura, president of the Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement.  “Brooklyn is fast becoming the center of the food and beverage manufacturing universe that is creating new jobs in the process. If people keep eating, Brooklyn will continue serving it up!"

Cronin agrees. She has faith that Brooklyn will be home to her business’ success and that the borough will cultivate great things in the world of food and drink.

“It’s nice to be part of a movement,” she said.