At the Greenpoint Food Market, Joshua Kace launched his jerky business, Ross Hutchinson sold his first jar of bacon marmalade, and Laena McCarthy met a soda-making restaurant chef who wanted to use her jams in his cafe. The market offered a low-cost, low-key environment for home cooks and amateur chefs to share their homemade products, but not anymore. Founder Joann Kim announced Wednesday that the market has shut down, hopefully only until the fall.
"It’s all just really disheartening," says Kim. "I just wanted to run a food market that was community based, and this has gone way beyond what I imagined."
A June article in the New York Times brought the market to the attention of city officials, who decided that the vendors were operating illegally without proper permits and approved kitchens. Kim then canceled the June market, hosting a "Think Tank Potluck" instead. A panel including Councilman Steve Levin and representatives from the New York City Department of Health and the New York State Agriculture & Markets answered questions about amending policies, opening an incubator kitchen, and how more resources can be provided for small food businesses. No clear solution came from the meeting, but it started a conversation between the vendors and city officials on how to move forward.
Kim says the most pressing issue to come out of this ordeal is the fact that vendors must produce their food in a commercially certified kitchen. Since its inception last fall, the market functioned mostly underground, focusing on the neighborly and community-based, much like a glorified bake sale. Many vendors were first time sellers, and the market functioned as a testing ground. The majority made their food in their apartment kitchens, and didn't worry about licenses, which cost around $100. Renting an approved kitchen for a single shift is more than double that, a serious issue for many vendors considering that they participated in the Greenpoint Food Market because it was inexpensive. (Kim charges $40 to $50 for a table. If vendors share, the cost is halved. If they bring their own table, it's free.)
Because so few people had the necessary paperwork, only eight vendors signed up for the July market. "That's why I shut it down," says Kim. "Now the vendors will have two months to figure out, 'do I want to legitimize my hobby? Is this worth something to invest in?' I don’t know what to expect for September. It could be very half and half."
When the market opens again, it will be only with vendors who meet the city's regulations, and for Kim, that kills the whole point of the market. "It won’t be homemade," she says. "It will be made by one person, and it will be artisanal, but technically speaking it won’t be homemade. The vendor would have paid X amount of dollars to rent a certified commercial kitchen to produce their food for something where they’re not going to break even."
In the meantime, Kim is working to start a non-profit and open an incubator kitchen in Greenpoint that vendors could use on the cheap. "It's all in the very early stages," she says. "This is something I've never done before so I have no idea how long it could take. We have the support and the resources, so it's just a matter of taking the right steps and making the right decisions."
Kim says many vendors are committed to doing whatever it takes to get the market up and running again. "It’s just sad in general how good publicity and exposure for something that deserves good publicity and exposure really ends up hurting it in the end," says Joshua Kace of SlantShack Jerky. Kace debuted the company at the Greenpoint Food Market, and the exposure lead them directly to a commercial kitchen and bigger operations. SlantShack signed a contract with a grass-fed cattle company in Vermont and next week, they will begin producing their jerky in the new facility.
"It’s sort of an interesting parallel, the fact that the Greenpoint Food Market had to go down even though they brought us to where we are today," says Kace. "It’s sort of tragic in a way. At the same time, we’re fully behind the Greenpoint incubator initiative and we’re definitely looking forward to them coming back and being better than ever."
While Kim is just as positive about starting an incubator kitchen, she doesn't think the market will ever be the same. "We will always remember the way it was," she says. "If it ever comes back, it definitely won't come back with the same kind of spirit. But we have the support and resources to start something new, and I am so, so thankful for that."