At first glance Eastern District—the gastro-grocer and craft-beer retailer that opened last November in a former Polish butcher shop—might seem like yet another old business lost to an interloper. Co-owner Beth Lewand may have grown up in Vermont, but her father hails from Greenpoint. She’s even 100 percent Polish-American, and now lives with her husband, Chris Gray, around the corner from the store in her grandfather’s old house. In fact their 1,000-square-foot business—whose namesake is eastern Williamsburg’s old nickname—was once Ritchy’s, a catering joint that supplied the food for her aunt’s christening.
The space now holds a fridge full of craft beer; six draft lines for growler fills; charcuterie from high-end brands like La Quercia, Creminelli and Fra Mani; and cheeses, pickles and other snacks. But for most of its history it housed a butcher shop passed from one local to the next, the final owner selling it to Lewand last year when he moved back to Poland. There’s still a working smokehouse—the departing butcher showed Lewand how to use it—plus a giant meat chopper, a sausage press and steamers for making fresh hams. “That’s phase two,” Lewand says.
For now the pair just use their massive kitchen to prep a slew of sandwiches—topped with the likes of Shelburne Farms cheddar, Brooklyn Brine pickles and Schoolhouse Kitchen chutney—so they rent it out to excellent food start-ups like Anarchy in a Jar and P&H Soda and Syrup. (On weekends Vermont cheesemaker Consider Bardwell uses the space to cut wedges to sell at farmers markets.)
They’re something of a start-up themselves: When Lewand lost her digital media job in 2008, she and Gray decided to create the food business they’d always dreamed of. She went to work at Manhattan’s Artisanal to learn more about cheese, while Chris, a former art handler with a love of craft beer, helped Brooklyn Kitchen set up their homebrew department. He learned retail skills, “like what a POS system is supposed to do,” and says the folks at the Meat Hook have an eye on the storied smoker.
But what Brooklyn Kitchen really taught them, says Lewand, was something much more abstract: “We found the Brooklyn food community was really supportive…We were worried we’d be seen as ‘the competition.’” Which is why, at least for now, Eastern District doesn’t sell kielbasa.
Editor’s note: SchoolHouse Kitchen has closed.
Photo credit: Donny Tsang.