Good Food Mercantile Is Not the Fancy Food Show

Artisanal makers come to Brooklyn for an alternative to the Javits Center juggernaut.

Brian Fredericksen, owner of Ames Farm in Watertown, MN, produces and jars more than sixteen varietals of honey. His dedication to pinpointing the exact flower and season is so extreme that each jar is marked with an individual flower, hive and harvesting time.

“I’m a real beekeeper. I came up with my own way of making single source honey. It’s a little complicated, but the idea is that a hive in a geographic location is unique so you’re taking a floral snapshot.” said Fredericksen.

It’s the kind of concept that gets chefs and food nerds excited, but it’s a hard story to tell to grocery stores and retailers. Fredericksen joined 88 artisanal food vendors at the first annual New York Good Food Mercantile at Pioneer Works in Red Hook on June 27. The event took place just one day before the opening of the Specialty Food Association’s annual Summer Fancy Food Show at the Jacob Javits Center. At the Fancy Food Show, thousands of vendors and international delegations gather en masse to present their wares and hopefully, do big business. Exhibiting space costs thousands of dollars and the business environment isn’t always ideal for small vendors.

For Fredericksen, the Fancy Food Show has never made sense due to the specificity of his product, but he also indicated that any event of that size wouldn’t be his cup of tea.

Said Fredericksen, “I would rather be with my bees.”

The Good Food Mercantile offered an alternative for many  local makers like Steve’s Ice Cream, Brooklyn Delhi relishes, Mama O’s Kimchi, Kelvin Slush Company, but the majority of vendors came from all over the country. Spirits, granola, cheese, charcuterie, chocolate, jarred goods, beer, oil, coffee and ice cream vendors came from as far as California and Washington State. Artisanal food made by crafters, as opposed to corporations, tends to have a story and the secret to selling that story, is to get in the right room.

Sarah Weiner, director of Seedling Projects and her team sought to provide that room. It was a simple set-up with craft paper draped over simple tables, but its is the screening and standards that go into the event that make it remarkable. Sarah oversees the Good Food Awards and the Good Food Merchants Guild.

All vendors exhibiting were guild members, meaning they have all been screened and admitted based on their ingredients and their social and environmental sustainability values. The standards of the guild attract a very specific retailer, which makes this event, though smaller, often equally beneficial to the vendors and retailers.

Said Weiner, “Here, we can capitalize on the fact that people are [in New York and already] spending money to come out. We offer the opportunity to much smaller producers at a price point that’s about a quarter of the cost just to participate, and a commitment level that is a little more manageable.”

Robb Duncan of Washington DC’s beloved coffee shop chain and gelateria Dolcezza was showing at the Mercantile and is just starting to grow his gelato business. “We want to step into it with our crowd. The Fancy Food Show is a monster — it’s incredible — and that may be in our future, but we want to ease into it.”

The first San Francisco Good Food Mercantile took place in January, coinciding with the San Francisco Fancy Food Show there every January. Weiner hopes to continue both events and perhaps expand to a third annual event that could take place in a different city every year.

“A lot of people in the West might not be of a scale yet to travel to the coasts. We want to create a more regional feel,” said Weiner.

A different event with a similar spirit, titled the “Unfancy Food Show” took place in various venues around Brooklyn from 2008 to 2010. The event still featured small crafters not attending the big trade show, but was more of a part atmosphere and was open to the public for $5. Attendees of that event said that it was a good time and a revolutionary concept, but that the Good Food mercantile took the professionalism to the next level.

Ari Miller, owner of 1732 Meats, was another vendor staying away from traditional trade shows. Miller has made a name for himself and his flavored bacons and charcuterie in his home of Philadelphia, but hopes the Mercantile will help him expand into the New York market.

“You need advocates. At our level when you’re making an artisanal product, you need someone in each business who says ‘this is the best, I want to sell this’ so when people walk in they are telling them your story. Because there are people who can make this cheaper, there are people who can make more of it, but there’s nobody who’s me.”

A full list of the vendors present at the Good Food Mercantile can be found here.

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Emma Cosgrove is a writer and food industry nerd living in Harlem. She is an adventurous home cook with a reductionist view of modern food. She cooks tongue more than steak, liver more than tongue. She never met a root vegetable she didn’t like.