The case for urban sharecropping

The white stuff: After years spent using the kitchen in Lunetta to make her ricotta, Betsy Devine, of Salvatore Bklyn, recently moved into her own space, which she shares with a granola maker.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

The appeal of urban sharecropping is more urgent than ever.

In the wake of the fall of Greenpoint Food Market in June, which shuttered because several of its vendors were operating outside of the city’s health standards, Brooklyn’s specialty food makers are learning from that lesson and looking to comply with the city’s codes, lest they face crippling fines if they’re found.

“The reality is, you have to deal with this bureaucracy, you have to work within the city’s rules,” said Shamus Jones of Brooklyn Brine.

Those rules range from obtaining proper licensing, permits and insurance to working out of a city-certified, health code compliant kitchen, the latter of which can be prohibitively expensive for start-ups without any substantial capital to pull from, since rents can range from $250 to $300 for as little as five hours.

That’s why free or more affordable access to kitchens in bars and restaurants that already meet these standards is so helpful. Jones would know. He founded his pickle company a little over a year ago, legitimizing it by working out of the kitchens of Brooklyn Label and Lamb & Jaffe in Greenpoint before he could afford to move on to a facility shared with Mile End. And today, his pickles are sold in stores nation-wide.

“On a case-by-case business, you can go and talk to people in the neighborhood, find out what they’re willing to do as far as sharing and see how much that space is really worth to them,” said Jones. “That’s amazing for someone who’s building a business.”

For their part, the owners of these bars and restaurants can get the satisfaction of helping out a fledgling business, and, if that’s not enough, score some of the delicious grub, too.

“I think people who care about trying to make these things work and work with cool people are not as interested in ‘How much blood can I squeeze out of this stone?’” said Lunetta owner Adam Shepard, who helped cheese maker Salvatore Bklyn get off the ground. “It’s more in how you can make these interesting relationships and get these great products.”

— Meredith Deliso

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