Anatomy of a Smorgasburg Pop Up: Checking In With Scharf & Zoyer
Editor's note: This summer, we followed the stories of several vendors at Brooklyn's popular—and competitive—outdoor market Smorgasburg. As the market draws to a close we're catching up with some of those vendors to learn about their next steps. First up: Jewish sandwich stand Scharf & Zoyer.
Some months have passed since we last checked in with Jewish sandwich stand Scharf & Zoyer, whose entrance into Smorgasburg prompted this column. Despite receiving positive praise from New York Magazine, as one of their favorite new vendors, and Time Out Magazine, who named the kugel doubledown one of their favorite new dishes, Noah Arenstein found sticking out the market untenable.
Since dropping out in July, Noah has brought his tongue-in-cheek, global take on the Ashkenazi food of his ancestors to new waters, hosting several pop up dinners and stands throughout the city.
The first of these pop ups was held in late June at Brooklyn Oenology, where Noah served his savory kugel doubledown with walnut and green bean pkhali as well as sweet and sour meatballs and latkes with ajlouk and farmer cheese. A second, potentially more promising but ultimately under-advertised Fashion Week event had Scharf & Zoyer serving tuna melts at Opening Cermony's OC BTW. "It was good publicity and networking, some cooks came out and tried the food, but people didn't realize it was all out there," Noah said.
More recently, Noah could be found at Jimmy's 43, serving a collaborative, decidedly non-kosher menu with Arrogant Swine's Tyson Ho. To round out the year, Scharf & Zoyer will be featured in a popular Brooklyn restaurant's upcoming guest series in December.
"I think I've got some momentum going, and the goal is to just keep it rolling," Noah said. "Maybe do one event a month, and the ultimate goal is to have some kind of sandwich or blue plate lunch stand."
Despite dropping out of Smorgasburg, Noah has no regrets about jumping into the fray. Smorgasburg gave him initial publicity that would have been harder to come by otherwise. And while Noah's time at Smorgasburg didn't go as planned, he still colors it as a positive experience—both in what he gained and what he earned.
The benefits of the market are so much that Noah says, in retrospect, it's worth sticking out just to break even. Eric Demby talked with us about how Smorgasburg gives vendors a less risky alternative to opening up a store in a New York that is increasingly hostile to small business.
Noah also credits the market with teaching him some lessons that have come in use during his pop up dinners. How, for example, the confined, ad-hoc environment of Smorgasburg taught him to just roll with the situation and work within his limitations. When Noah was told that the space for his next event, announced on Monday, wouldn't have a kitchen, he felt he would have no issue tackling it.
Despite these gains, Noah nonetheless feels that he made the right call to leave the market.
"It was too much strain on everything else. It was 30 hours a week every week, and everything is being supported by my law practice right now," Noah said. "The side work was starting to effect that network. It was hard to balance everything because it was all on me. But if I could have stayed with it, if I had a bigger infrastructure and could maybe not be there for a day, I would have absolutely tried to stay."
As for the future, Noah's vision for Scharf & Zoyer remains largely unchanged, although it has shifted slightly from sandwiches towards a blue plate model. Until then he'll continue popping up throughout the city, exploring new and occasionally profane avenues in Ashkenazi cooking.
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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.