Editor's note: What's it like to be a vendor at Brooklyn's popular—and competitive—outdoor market Smorgasburg? Here's yogurt producer The White Moustache.
When Homa Dashtaki came to New York in late 2012, she didn't plan on staying. Born in Iran but raised in southern California, she started selling traditionally produced yogurt through The White Moustache in 2011. Homa's path was winding: her father's yogurt making made her feel weird as a child—she just wanted to buy yogurt like everyone else—and her training is in finance law.
Despite her adherence to time honored traditions, California came clamping down on The White Moustache. As detailed in an article from The Economist, state dairy laws dating back to 1947 required her, essentially, to "re-pasteurize her pasteurized milk." This would, as Homa explained, ruin the taste of her product. Faced with a law she couldn't fight, she shut down her California operation. Her journey to Smorgasburg began with a long-time, personal connection.
After hearing about her story, Homa's friend Betsy Divine of Salvatore Brooklyn, the ricotta makers who can be found at the Brooklyn Flea, invited her out to New York. Homa conceived of the trip as a last hoorah: she'd make one last batch for friends and family, then wipe her hands clean. But for reasons she described as only "being an overachiever," Homa could not resist the temptation of dropping off samples at high end retailers like Kalutysan's and Salexby Cheesemongers. They came calling, all asking, "when can we get some?"
Homa told them right away, and hasn't looked back. Its not like she's had the time to, anyways. In California, she had the large support system of an extended family more than happy to put in time to help her. This made time-consuming but absolutely necessary tasks like cutting raisins in half just before putting them in yogurt, so they don't stick together and bunch up, easier. But out here, Homa has largely been on her own. Her father came out with her for that first trip, and she's hoping to get family from Baltimore up soon. Otherwise, however, she's on her own, working out of the Salvatore Brooklyn space with occasional help and lots of advice from Betsy and co-owner Rachel Marks. Their mentorship has been vital to her success in New York.
After deciding to make a go of it in New York, a decision that Homa didn't hesitate to admit was tinged with anger towards California's state government, she knew she wanted to have a presence at farmers market. But she ran into a hurdle here, too. In order for a dairy product producer to have a stand at a farmers market, they need to have cows. Homa does not, as she gets her milk from non-profit cooperative Hudson Valley Fresh. So she needed to look elsewhere. Smorgasburg seemed like a natural fit.
At the market, Homa sells her yogurt in both Greek and Persian variations. The former, less familiar to Americans, is more tart and has a saucier consistency. Her yogurt is sold in five flavors, including the shallot-like leopoldia-seasoned Moosir, which she dumps over potato chips—Homa's particular favorite. Other products include yalda, or Greek yogurt made with walnuts, raisins and herbs, and labneh.
Homa's week is devoted entirely to the business. A batch of yogurt takes three days to produce, with check-ups on progress required at all hours of the day. She also does deliveries two days a week for wholesale and private customers.
Homa has been so successful that she can no longer handle the pressure of Smorgasburg by herself. She took a step back the other week, not to reconsider, but because she just did not have the time to find someone to help. She'll be back at the market in September, by which time she believes she will have had time to find help.
In the meantime, as her yogurt makes it way into more shops, Homa is hoping to get her products into some restaurants. She's interested, she says, in what kind of creative uses chefs might dream up. "It's not like I'm doing anything creative," she said.
As for expansion?
"I know that at some point, I'm going to have scale up," Homa told me. "But its not like I want to have someone open up a branch of The White Moustache in New Jersey. There are people doing this all over, and I want to inspire them to open up their own business."
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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.