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The Twee Party


Illustration by Zohar Lazar  

But there was a disconnect. The jam sold well at the Brooklyn Flea, but even there, they rarely did more than break even. There were unanticipated expenses—liability insurance, incorporation, various licenses and certifications, logistical snafus. After Milk Bar gave up its Flea table, Roman and Scofield had to rent their own, and after both women stopped working there, they had to rent commercial kitchen space. “People would say, ‘You guys are doing so well,’ ” Roman says. “I’d say, ‘No, we’re not.’ There’s this fantasy, but it’s not as simple as putting fruit in a jar and selling it.”

There was also an emerging divide between the partners. Roman wanted to handwrite each label and cook every batch in an eight-quart kettle pot and stick with selling to baby and bridal showers and cute boutiques. Scofield wanted to spin off a line with cheaper jars, maybe a private label, and sell to bigger markets. Roman’s new job, in a magazine test kitchen, left her with less time to cook. “It was becoming clear we didn’t have the same vision,” Roman says. Finally, in December, Roman and Scofield stopped making jam. Now they hardly talk.

Scofield, meanwhile, is moving ahead with her own new jam business. This time, she’s working up a business plan and is considering using a co-packer to make the product. Above all: “I’m sourcing different jars.”

While the carefully considered choice of what jar to put your homemade jam in might seem like design-junkie hairsplitting, economic-development types hope that a borough’s worth of would-be jelly moguls could actually add up to something more. And they’re not totally crazy. Only a few years ago, the idea of a resurgence of any kind of manufacturing in Brooklyn seemed like nothing more than a nostalgic daydream, right up there with the comeback of egg creams and soda fountains. In 1978, there were 116,000 manufacturing jobs in Brooklyn. By 2000, there were just 43,000. By 2009, another 53 percent of the jobs were gone, leaving only 20,000. But all that vacated factory space—at least that part not converted to residential lofts—beckoned. People calling themselves locavores started to care about where their food came from and how it was made. The DIY movement took hold. And with the recessionary job-market crunch, suddenly the opportunity cost of launching your own business shrank dramatically. So many Brooklynites started cooking up batches of jam, chocolate, pickles, and granola that artisan aspirants had to specialize. Now you can buy Q artisanal tonic water and Empire artisanal mayonnaise and DP Chutney Collective artisanal pear mostarda. And oh, that nostalgic daydream of egg creams and soda fountains returning to Brooklyn? On a recent Thursday afternoon, Eastern District in Greenpoint was serving up chocolate egg creams using local artisanal P&H soda syrup made with Mast Brothers cocoa husks.

Few people in California in 1849 made money panning for gold; the smart play was to sell picks and shovels. Likewise, in Brooklyn’s artisan boom, the biggest upside isn’t necessarily in pickles or beard oil (yes, that’s a thing). Take the not-at-all-small-batch Pfizer Building, on Flushing Avenue. Viagra and Lipitor were both made here, in the 600,000-square-foot building on the site of the pharmaceutical giant’s original headquarters. The building’s new developer thinks it’s perfectly suited for conversion to food manufacturing, and a number of artisans have already moved in, including Kombucha Brooklyn, ­McClure’s Pickles, Brooklyn Soda Works, Steve’s Ice Cream, and People’s Pops. A bin labeled “mustache covers,” intended as an anti-contamination measure in the Pfizer era, feels like a wink to the building’s newest tenants.

And Pfizer is only one node in the ecosystem. Every weekend, up to 6,000 people visit the Brooklyn Flea, navigating their Bugaboos past the likes of Kings County Jerky and Writing Machines, a pair of women specializing in “typewriter curation.” Andrew Tarlow’s Williamsburg-based Marlow food mini-­empire also sells cheese boards made from fallen trees and leather footballs sewn from the hides of the grass-fed cows that were ground up to make your hamburger at his restaurant Diner. And the artisans themselves are participants in one giant kibbutz-y swap meet: Sixpoint Brewery used Mast Brothers cocoa nibs in its Dubbel Trubbel ale, Steve’s Ice Cream uses Kombucha Brooklyn kombucha in its Red Ginger Kombucha sorbet, Liddabit Sweets uses Salvatore Bklyn ricotta in its fig-ricotta caramels, and the list of collaborations goes on and on.

You might get the idea, from all this, that the artisans’ day-to-day lives are a charmed blur of tasteful design and enchanting aromas and Zooey Deschanel. Which makes the contrast all the greater when you behold the unglamorous reality of a lone guy in a hoodie holding a blow-dryer, heat-­sealing bottles, one at a time, in an unheated, windowless storeroom in Greenpoint—as P&H Soda’s Anton Nocito was doing on a recent sleety morning. Or of tattooed, 31-year-old Shamus Jones, pacing amid stacks of boxes because there’s nowhere to sit in the raw garage space in an unmarked carriage house in Gowanus that is pickle company Brooklyn Brine Co.’s headquarters.


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