It’s a Saturday in late February. In a sunlit corner of Bushwick, another Brooklyn food market stirs. This time, the walls of Bat Haus communal working space house a gathering of seventeen local vendors showcasing fleets of jellies, spices and sweet treats. Products range from spicy sauces and vibrant Africa-inspired textiles to crafty cocktail mixers and delicately perfumed toiletries. Most are fledgling enterprises that are one to three years old. The colorful crowd — jostling around vendors proudly displaying their wares — makes for one eclectic (and very Brooklyn) food and drink loving flock.
So is this just another pop-up market? Perhaps, but what makes this one stand out are the bonds joining vendors together. “Today’s not about profit,” says Chitra Agrawal, co-founder and owner of budding Indian achaar (meaning “pickle”) Brooklyn Delhi empire. Inspired by early Brooklyn markets, she wanted to create an environment where other vendors could feel supported. The ambition here is for everyone to be inspired to continue their journeys as gastronomic maestros bringing new strains of food improv to local crowds.
Today’s culinary riff is “good food and good food communities start at home.” Chitra’s blends of tomato, or forthcoming American gooseberry and rhubarb, achaar stem from the flavors she grew up with. Her parents hail from Bangalore and Delhi, so home meals were infused with the contrasting flavors of northern and southern India. Though Chitra and her brother both leaned towards more American flavor and ingredient profiles, conscious of the salt and spice content in regular achaar for example, Chitra in particular retained a sense of tradition. She wanted to educate her local audience about Indian cooking.
Sonya Samuel of Bacchanal Sauce and co-founder number 2, was also keen to reach out and represent the vibrant local Caribbean community. Favorable results at a Brooklyn Takedown event inspired her to launch her spicy but sweet blend of Scotch Bonnet pepper, papaya and pineapple. Together Sonya and Chitra dreamed of a market with heart, one where their friends and fellow entrepreneurs could display wares in a fun, easy way without the pressures of formal haunts. Unlike some of its more established siblings, the Batchery only charges each vendor $50 for a stand inside Bat Haus, a co-working space by day. Everyone will receive refreshments and freshly-delivered pizza for their contributions.
The combination of start-up flair, creativity and compassion resonates with vendors, many of whom quit day jobs or used the opportunity of being laid-off to follow their passion. For newcomers to the BK vendor food-scene, such as Gustavo Frias from Gustavo’s Salsa, the event provides a welcome (and cheap) opportunity to size up the market and meet potential customers. A fishmonger for Fairway who hails from the West Coast, this is his first foray into the world of homemade salsa for sale. For him, the Batchery represents a chance to fulfill his “destiny.”
Others like Alex Crosier of Granola Lab and Farida Laurie of Trinny’s Treats were spurred by professional turmoil in regular day jobs to follow their passions. Just like the driving force behind today, friends and family persuaded them to take a leap of faith into gastronomy. Encouraged by reactions to their homemade creations, the gamble paid off. Today Granola Lab’s unusual range and Trinny’s sweet treats not only grace the shelves of many a high-end local outlets, but have also won national acclaim.
So is today’s pop-up in the bleeding edge of Brooklyn a gamble or sure-fire winner? For those more experienced hands, such as Alex Crosier, today’s excursion to Bushwick provides a welcome opportunity to warm up for high market season, which kicks off in a month’s time. But that’s not the whole story. What brought Granola Lab here today? “Friendship,” Alex replies. Many other more established vendors, such as Diana Kuan of Plate & Pencil and Mike’s Hot Honey, are inclined to agree. “This market is less about selling a lot; we simply don’t know what to expect from this pop-up event. But we have a great community of vendors here today and that’s what drives us,” says Michael Kurtz.
Nearby sole proprietor Nasozi of Origins Style literally beams a happy welcome to Bat Haus adventurers. The acid-jazz colors and designs, which actually turn out to be traditional Nigerian and Ugandan designs perhaps centuries old, reflect and enhance the warm communal space. Speaking with the vendors, it’s hard not to break into an enthusiastic smile. It really does seem as if everyone here today is motivated out of respect, love and a desire to bestow these affections upon others.
The enthusiasm for and in this market is palpable. Many vendors, bleary-eyed and keeping watch on their business via their phones, such as Evelyn Evers of Sour Puss Pickles, have an endless list of tasks to ensure business remains afloat. So gambling on a new market, on a potentially cold February day, is a bold move. And yet they’re still smiling, happy to spend a day with friends and pick up a few tips along the way. The crowds are just an added bonus.
Thankfully the sun, just like the atmosphere in this small Bushwick room, is warm and inviting today. So whether today’s market is consigned to the growing-list of defunct foodie fairs or pops-up in a location near you, it certainly has the heart to keep the overall foodie start-up scene alive and kicking. Ambling off into the sunshine, ready to submerge back into the chilly quiet of the subway, this food lover can’t help but break a smile.