Anatomy of a Smorgasburg Pop Up: How to Pay for Smorgasburg

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Ron and Leetal serving a customer at Smorgasburg. [Photographs: Chris Crowley]

Editor's note: What's it like to be a vendor at Brooklyn's popular—and competitive—outdoor market Smorgasburg? For the next few weeks we'll be turning our attention to NY Shuk, who we introduced you to in May.

Smorgasburg is by no means a cheap venture, nor a cash cow, and for even one of the most critically acclaimed new vendors, breaking even is the best you can hope for most weeks. That means you'll need another way to pay for the market, which has seldom paid for itself in the case of NYShuk. A dependable income outside of the market is a necessary evil, but also a path to other opportunities.

For many vendors, working at Smorgasburg is a passion project they pursue while holding down a regular 9-5. These tend to be the entrepreneurs who came to the culinary world later in the game, or simply those peddling a pre-made product yet to penetrate the market. But for the culinary professionals who have made the leap into Smorgasburg, there's a much more appealing way to pay for your stand: private catering through your own business.

This is how Ron and Leetal Arazi have floated their Smorgasburg stand NY Shuk, finding work through young ventures like Kitchen Surfing but primarily through their own website. In the past month, almost all of their income has come through catering contracted through their website. Often they are cooking for large parties, not simply a couple who wants a meal, and they got four gigs in June alone. It's become more a fruitful business than Ron and Leetal ever imagined.

One Brooklyn family, who found out about NY Shuk through a friend, asked Ron to join them for a seven-week period at their Lake Chautaqua summer home. But Ron won't be spending his whole summer there—he'll be commuting back and forth weekly to finalize the company's first line of products—but the vendor will be taking a few weeks off from Smorgasburg in the meantime. After weeks of unsteady work at low margins, this stable revenue stream must offer some relief to Ron and Leetal.

The gig leaves little time for experimentation at the company, but it's the best option for an experienced cook in Ron's position. It's a chance to work under and promote your own brand, an opportunity to work on technique, and the possibility of meeting more people who will want you to cook for them—or even who may be interested in investing.

The decision to break from Smorgasburg for the rest of July (returning in August) is an easy one for Ron and Leetal. The reason they are there is exposure, plain and simple. If the crowds dwindle in July and are generally not interested in anything but slushies—even hugely popular vendors like Red Hook Lobster Pound don't garner the same crowds—it doesn't make sense to be there. The time investment is too significant and, as they told me, they need to focus squarely on where they can make the biggest impact at the moment. And right now, their eyes are on your pantry.

Previously

A Look at Couscous Specialists NY Shuk »
Changing the Menu, Expanding Beyond the Market »
Moving On From Smorgasburg »
A Couscous Vendor's Evolutionary Strategy »

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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