It’s Not So Much How the Next Big Small Brand Tastes, But What Big Means to Them

Last night we had the luck to have dinner at Roman’s in Fort Greene (whose spicy brick chicken is just as cult-creating as the bird at Marlow & Sons, perhaps because they share the same owners) with Fernando Music and Fran Gaitanaros–the smart and forward-thinking owners of The Rooster Design Group–less than an hour after the winner of their third Next Big Small Brand contest was announced at the public event at BAM.

We totally took this photo from Next Big Small Brand’s website. But since it promotes the next big small brand, we’re guessing they’ll approve.

Last night we had the luck to have dinner at Roman’s in Fort Greene (whose spicy brick chicken is just as cult-creating as the bird at Marlow & Sons, perhaps because they share the same owners) with the smart and forward-thinking owners of The Rooster Design Group, mere minutes after the winner of their third Next Big Small Brand contest was announced at the public event at BAM.

The gist of the competition–which was open to the public, who got to vote on the people’s choice from among the semi-finalists–was that Fernando Music and Fran Gaitanaros of Rooster wanted to pick a promising chef, home cook, restaurateur, or food entrepreneur and help them take their brand to the proverbial next level, whatever that next level may be: new packaging, a new website, a new tagline, a new strategy. The winner was New York SuperFoods, who will likely turn chia seeds into a household word, if Rooster has anything to do with it.

The discussion after dinner was about how Rooster and the panel of judges goes about picking that winner, which includes considerations far beyond flavor. Let’s face it, all of the semi-finalists made products that were delicious. The real contest was more about their brands: Where they are now, where they could go, what they need to grow, what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong. For example, you could make S’mores over a campfire in your front yard and sell them, but maybe your brand doesn’t need to move beyond your annual stoop sale. Those chia-makers, on the other hand, have the potential to own an emerging category with a little strategic assistance.

It’s a different way of looking at small food businesses: Not just which mustard is totally rad and made with herbs and spices grown on a Gowanus rooftop, but which should have 30 franchises in five years, which are best just kicking it part-time at the Flea, and which should be in Whole Foods by 2013. (That super-store, which naturally had a rep on the judge’s panel, will by then be a neighbor to that mustard seed.)

These are questions we wager a lot of Brooklynites might be asking themselves these days, as ever more folks are cooking, baking, jamming and jellying… most of whom should start planning to try and score a spot in next year’s competition, unless, that is, the stoop is where they want to be.

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Rachel Wharton is the former deputy editor of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan. She won a 2010 James Beard food journalism award, holds a master’s degree in Food Studies from New York University, and has more than 15 years of experience as a writer, editor and reporter. A North Carolina native and a former features food reporter for the New York Daily News, she edited the Edible Brooklyn cookbook and was the co-author of both Handheld Pies and DiPalo's Guide to the Essential Foods of Italy. Her work also appears in publications such as The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Saveur.