Anatomy of a Smorgasburg Pop Up: The Physical & Psychological Toll, Part 1

Editor's note: What's it like to be a vendor at Brooklyn's popular—and competitive—outdoor market Smorgasburg? This series will follow one of the market's new vendors and get the inside story of how a pop-up food business goes from idea to reality.

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Working the griddle. [Photographs: Chris Crowley]

Thus far in this miniseries, we've kept the focus strictly on Noah's experience fine tuning his menu, figuring out his identity in the marketplace, and other logistical issues. What we've spent less time exploring are the psychological and physical tolls of running a stand at Smorgasburg; something that Noah—as the sole proprietor of Scharf & Zoyer—experiences acutely.

The financial burden imposed by Smorgasburg plays heavily into the psychological toll. For Noah, there's the fact that Scharf & Zoyer has been a much bigger financial investment than his first business, Torpedo Palace, which required almost no capital.

For that business, they used a fellow vendor's wood-burning oven to cook their bread and his then business partner Ben made their dough at Bien Cuit. While running Torpedo Palace only cost him and Ben $300 to 400 a week, the fee for renting his Smorgasburg stand is $275 a week. When Noah had initially costed everything out for Scharf & Zoyer, he based it on the assumption that he would be splitting the costs with Ben. But it didn't work out that way.

In addition to taking on the entirety of the financial burden himself, Noah is taking on the brunt of the physical labor, including all the heavy lifting. The labor involved, and the juggling of responsibilities, is a far cry from the rosy, quaint life of the food entrepreneur that we imagine.

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On Saturdays, Noah wakes up at 6:30 and is off for the races, sometimes with a cooler in tow, by 7:30. He drives down to his Sunset Park kitchen, lifting all his equipment into the car and unloading it at the market. He repeats the process at the end of the day, returning to his commissary kitchen to unload and store everything, and then wash his dishes ("there's nowhere else to so you have to do that ASAP.") As in the morning, all of this is done by Noah alone.

This is all especially hard on his feet, because his work as a self-employed lawyer already requires that he spend four to five days a week standing in city courtrooms. After court, he works in his office until 6 or 7 at night doing legal work for his firm and ministerial work for Scharf & Zoyer. But this isn't only other commitment, as Noah also does freelance writing and is one-half of the team behind budget dining guide Real Cheap Eats.

When it comes to the time he can commit to Scharf & Zoyer, Noah is at the end of his leash. Currently, he is investing about 20 to 25 hours a week into the pop up. While he'd like to devote even more time, there's just no wiggle room left. There's rent to pay, after all, and the man needs his sleep.

"When all is said and done on Saturday, I'm usually finished by 9 to 9:30," Noah says. "That night I'm usually walking like an old man, and I go to bed early, though I have gone out a couple times. I'm trying to keep a social life, but I'm usually too exhausted so we'll see how it goes. I've been meaning to go to Chinatown for a foot massage but I haven't had time and I'm trying to save money, but it's getting to the point where it's totally necessary."

Previously

Introducing Scharf & Zoyer »
Opening Day on 1 Hour of Sleep »
Getting in Focus, Developing a 'Killer App' »
How a Vendor Figures Out Portion Control »
Meeting Customer Expectations and the Bottom Line »

About the author: Chris Crowley is the author of the Bronx Eats and Anatomy of A Smorgasburg Pop Up columns. Follow him on Twitter, if you'd like. In person, your best bet is the window seat at Neerob, or waiting in line at the Lechonera La Piranha trailer.

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