From pills to pickles: Food makers move into former Pfizer plant

From pills to pickles: Food makers move into former Pfizer plant
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

South Williamsburg is no longer home to the makers of Viagra, but it now hosts the producers of a different kind of preservative.

The former Pfizer headquarters on Flushing Avenue is becoming a center for burgeoning Brooklyn food businesses including McClure’s Pickles just one year after the pharmaceutical giant sold its shuttered drug factory to an industrial developer for $26-million.

McClure’s and a handful of food start-ups such as Brooklyn Soda Works, Steve’s Ice Cream, Kombucha Brooklyn, and Madecasse Chocolates have already started storing their wares inside the 660,000-square-foot former pill plant.

“The location is close to retailers for distribution and logistics and this space offers loading in a private dock,” said McClure’s co-founder Bob McClure, who recently packed up his pickles from a shared Bedford Stuyvesant kitchen and decamped for big pharma’s greener pastures in South Williamsburg. “Unloading a semi-truck filled with pickles on street is a nightmare for other drivers.”

It could be several months until McClure starts jarring his famous spicy spears and bloody mary mix in the South Wiliamsburg plant because the space lacks commercial kitchens and some of the rooms do not have gas, electricity, or running water. But that hasn’t stopped other food businesses from eying one of several hubs for culinary start-ups that’s on the menu for North Brooklyn.

People’s Pops, a gourmet popsicle company, has toured the space and The Meat Hook’s Harry Rosenblum said the building might be a good fit for a future food-related undertaking in his growing culinary empire.

“This space provides an easy way for companies to expand when the time comes,” said Rosenblum. “There’s lots of different types of space for everybody, and it may allow for businesses to have symbiotic relationships.”

A return of manufacturing to the former Pfizer plant was far from a foregone conclusion after the Viagra-makers pulled out of Williamsburg in 2007, eliminating 600 jobs and ending a relationship with Brooklyn that began in 1849.

One year later, public officials fought to seize the factory through eminent domain and turn it into affordable housing. In 2009, Pfizer backed off from its own plan to redevelop the 15-acre campus into mixed-income housing.

Interest in bringing new life to the eight-story enlargement factory picked up again in 2009, when Queens-based Acumen Capital Partners plunked down the cash to keep manufacturing in Williamsburg.

Acumen did not return calls for comment, but a rendering of the first floor of the building shows Acumen’s vision, which includes a concert venue for hip hop shows and an artist’s depiction of a “Williamsburg Food Co-op.”

North Brooklyn industrial advocates are sold on the plan to keep the site a space for neighborhood businesses.

“I’m delighted Acumen is dividing these into suites sized and priced appropriately for small food manufacturers,” said East Williamsburg Valley Industrial Development Corporation’s Leah Archibald. “That activity will help retain the industrial character of the building and keep working class jobs in Williamsburg.”

Reach reporter Aaron Short at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-2547.