Foodies Overrun Pfizer

Published: June 2013

Small artisanal food businesses work side by side in a long-standing former pharmaceutical building.

Though Brooklyn is in no short supply of creative business ideas, real estate can be hard to come by, stifling entrepreneurs from growing. Brooklyn Soda Works, makers of all natural carbonated juices with exotic flavors like Raspberry & Green Peppercorn were caught in that situation , “We had been sharing kitchen spaces for the first year and a half and it was clear that we needed our own large production space because our business was growing, ” says Caroline Mak, co-founder of Brooklyn Soda Works and  one of the company’s flavor-creators.

It becomes a Catch 22: businesses grow so more space is needed, but more  expensive and often times out of budget for a small business just getting off the ground.. To remedy the perfect storm of little space/ high cost, small businesses are shacking up with other like-minded start-ups.

One such venture can be found in South Williamsburg in the large industrial building on Flushing Ave that had belonged to Pfizer Inc since 1946..The large sterile laboratories used to manufacture Zoloft and Viagara were built according to regulated FDA standards, making it a perfect manufacturing and storing facility for the local food makers who have since come to inhabit the workspace.

Step through the door of the old factory and collaborative and creative energy is everywhere. “It’s a great dynamic to be a part of, says Kimberly Bianchot of Steve’s Ice Cream which specializes in flavors like Brooklyn Blackout and Southern Banana Pudding. ”We’re all always feeding off each other” (no pun intended).   Detroit based picklers McClure’s Pickles (http://www.mcclurespickles.com) use the space for research and development, perfecting their great grandmother’s pickle recipe. A quick stroll and a high five away are friends chocolatiers Madécasse (http://madecasse.com).

Up the stairs is Kombucha Brooklyn (http://shop.kombuchabrooklyn.com), producers of fermented teas and kombucha home-brewing kits. Lucky for them the former drug labs meet regulations for storing the live cultures found in the teas.  Other industrious neighbors busy at work include ice-pop artisans People’s Pops (http://www.peoplespops.com/peoples_pops.html).

From pickles to popsicles the new factory filled with innovative foodies allots small businesses the spaces they need to store and produce goods without compromising budgets. Close to major subway lines, the building’s location makes transportation convenient and helps with shipping and delivery costs, and it is in close proximity to a majority of their consumer base.

Acumen Capitol Partners’ decision to rent to multiple tenants came as a blessing to chocolatiers Madécasse, one of the first businesses to rent the space. “It was a big step for us,” said co-founder Joe-Salvatore, “we do all of our cocoa harvesting and making of the bars in Madagascar, but over here we worked in Tim McCollum’s tk [last name] apartment for a while, doing web sales and packaging out of a closet.” Now, Madécasse has enough space to efficiently run all of their production, web sales, and warehousing from one location.

Acumen hopes to attract more small food businesses as tenants. They have added a gymnasium and cafeteria and have plans to create a rooftop farm and farmer’s market. These additions serve the businesses themselves by helping to entice top-level employees wishing for a unique work environment with holistic benefits. There is even room enough for yoga classes, a possibility that Bianchot is sure all of the current tenants would support.

Though private offices certainly have an old fashioned appeal, the infrastructure serves the small businesses in ways that separate facilities cannot. The entrepreneurs keep each other up to date on the events and happenings of the area, potential vendors and retailers, and current consumer trends. “It’s great to work alongside other “taste-makers” who are in the know about food and food culture,” said Joe Salvatore of Madécasse chocolate who invites other tenants to test-taste their chocolate. ”We can brainstorm, talk about products, and get instant feedback.”

There is no short supply of food sharing in the building. “We give out samples to people in the building all the time in exchange for the chance to sample some of their product,” said Ashley Brun, a representative from People’s Pops who mans the booth at Smorgasburg. People’s Pops makes herb- infused blackberry, honey and peach pops, among others.  Product tastings, include a building-wide pasta lunch served on Thursdays and the occasional whiskey sampling to the delight of all involved,

There are also economic incentives that come with co-renting, as buyers can purchase shared ingredients together in large quantities to reduce cost. Forming brand partnerships and tapping into the benefits of tag-team marketing between businesses is also more easily accessed.

The larger Brooklyn community is reaping the benefits of the multi-business workspace as well. Each of the businesses are committed to buying locally, insuring the freshest ingredients for their products. Employment opportunities will continue to rise as more tenants come to occupy the building and the businesses grow. When the Pfizer factory was shut down, over 600 jobs were lost, a blow to the local economy. Because a large number of consumers are part of the Brooklyn community, it is in the best interest of the food start-ups to do what they can to contribute to the growth and development of the area.

Co-Founder of People’s Pops David Carroll, who admitted to doing his best work around the ping-pong table on the fourth floor, hopes to continue to be able to hire more and more workers. “We have about 40 people working with us at the moment, and growing daily.  We want to create a sustainable business and a critical part of that is becoming a positive source for good jobs in the community. “

And they certainly are. The space is large enough for companies to expand in numbers and reach, and many of the businesses hope one day to have a factory store down the line where locavores could pop in for an artisanal treat and a look at the behind the scenes production; a dream that may not be too far from a foreseeable reality. As far as offering yoga classes in the space, well, for that we’ll keep our fingers crossed.

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