Food Businesses: Brooklyn by the Bay?

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Aprons for every occasion
Aprons for every occasion

So, all you small-time gastronomic artisans of Brooklyn, you ricotta-makers and knife-forgers, you picklers and bean-to-bar chocolatiers, sure looks like the New York Times thinks you’re all that. Brooklyn’s New Culinary Movement, proclaimed the paper, making much of the borough’s growing reputation as an incubator for small food-related businesses, the quirkier and/or old-timey, whimsical, or pork-related the better.

For anyone who’s spent time around a Williamsburg table (drinking, of course, a Six-Point Ale or Brooklyn Brewery lager) with the food geeks of Brooklyn, the level of solemnly bearded, dudely obsessiveness detailed in the article certainly rings true. As I recall, Brooklyn foodies, just like their skinny-jeaned music-scene counterparts, could take themselves awfully seriously. (But, damn, you could sure get some good pizza. I still kept a magnet from Zante’s on my Cobble Hill fridge during my 3-year Brooklyn sojourn, however, and babbled to everyone I met about the pungent wonder of their cilantro-spiked Indian pizza. Just one of the many tip-offs that told me maybe I really loved San Francisco the most.)

But that article did get me to wondering: Where are the Bay Area’s foodie micro-makers? Surely we’re as food-obsessed as any of our Eastern counterparts. Do we incubate businesses the same way? Or do we all just cook for ourselves and then head out to yoga, aging our ginger-wasabi sauerkraut out on the back steps without feeling the need to slap on a snappy label and sell it to our neighbors? Do we abide by the Chez Panisse perfect-peach theory that our local produce/meat/eggs/dairy is so good that nothing, save a little glossing of olive oil or sea salt, need be done to it? Or it is that our local all-stars–Fatted Calf charcuterie, Acme bread, Straus & St. Benoit yogurts, Blue Bottle coffee, Fra Mani salumi–are already so amazing that there’s no point in re-inventing those particular wheels?

After all, It’s pretty sassy to start another jam company when someone as single-minded and high-achieving as June Taylor is already here, although that hasn’t stopped Blue Chair Fruit or CMB Sweets. Of course, there’s good stuff coming out of the incubator program at La Cocina, to say nothing of the hard-working, stockpot-lugging tamale ladies of the Mission. The newly opened Omnivore Books in Noe Valley is fast becoming a go-to for both local and national cookbook authors and culinary book collectors.

Still, I know there must be others out there, making pickles or jam, perfecting a cookie or salting down headcheese. Who are you? And what’s your story? How does the Bay Area stack up as a place for creating the tiny, day-to-day business of deliciousness?

Homemade jams and pickles from the pantry
Homemade jams and pickles from the pantry

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Category: bay area, Bay Area Bites Food + Drink, local food businesses

About the Author ()

Stephanie Rosenbaum Klassen is a longtime local food writer, author, and cook. Her books include The Art of Vintage Cocktails (Egg & Dart Press), World of Doughnuts (Egg & Dart Press); Kids in the Kitchen: Fun Food (Williams Sonoma); Honey from Flower to Table (Chronicle Books) and The Astrology Cookbook: A Cosmic Guide to Feasts of Love (Manic D Press). She has studied organic farming at UCSC and holds a certificate in Ecological Horticulture from the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. She does frequent cooking demonstrations at local farmers’ markets and has taught food writing at Media Alliance in San Francisco and the Continuing Education program at Stanford University. She has been the lead restaurant critic for the San Francisco Bay Guardian as well as for San Francisco magazine. She has been an assistant chef at the Headlands Center for the Arts, an artists' residency program located in the Marin Headlands, and a production cook at the Marin Sun Farms Cafe in Pt Reyes Station. After some 20 years in San Francisco interspersed with stints in Oakland, Santa Cruz, Brooklyn, and Manhattan, she recently moved to Sonoma county but still writes in San Francisco several days a week.
  • http://www.theveggiequeen.com Jill, The Veggie Queen

    In the North Bay, Santa Rosa, to be exact, we have Tierra Vegetables http://www.tierravegetables.com and their wonderful chiptole chilies, chili jam, hot sauce and more. And they go to the Ferry Plaza market. We also have Triple T Ranch and Farm who makes hot sauce, pear vinegar, Asian pear butter, strawberry jam, and other preserves from their certified organically grown fruit.
    Someone new on the scene is the Smoked Olive. They smoke olive oil over maple or pecan wood and the resulting oil is intense, special and delicious.
    There’s also Da Vero http://www.davero.com/ in Healdsburg with far too many products to mention — olive oil, preserves, syrups and more.
    And Rainbow’s End in Occidental with their fabulous jams, jellies and spreads.
    In fact, we have more artisans and artisan products in the North Bay that I couldn’t possibly list them all.

  • http://learningtoeatbook.com Lisa

    A great post Stephanie. A friend brought over this weekend two batches of bolani bread (one pumpkin and one spinach filled), a garlic mint cheese and a sweet jalapeno jam/sauce/dip thing–all Afghani food from http://bolaniandsauce.com. They were great & new to me.

  • Stephanie Rosenbaum

    Thanks for your comments! Yes, I know Tierra Vegetables’ products well-their pepper jams & jellies are amazing! In fact, an old friend of mine in Brooklyn always requests a jar when I come back East to visit (along with a jar of Eatwell Farm’s lavender salt). There are definitely lots of farms around who do great value-added products with their produce.

    What I was wondering about when I wrote this piece were the basement obsessives, for lack of a better term–the one- or two-person micro-companies making just one thing. Like, perhaps, Dynamo Doughnuts, which seems like a mini version of NYC’s Doughnut Plant. It definitely feels like we could use more inventive picklers and sauerkraut makers around here–that’s a market that still feels pretty wide open.

    And yes, I love those Afghani flatbreads and spreads! And all the folks at their farmers market stands are incredibly nice and incredibly generous. Thick yogurt on their spinach flatbread, yum.