Meet & Eat: Robert LaValva, New Amsterdam Market

Meet and Eat: NY

Conversations with chefs and food personalities in New York City.

"Government officials are recognizing that the Fulton Fish Market should be brought back to life—rather than turned into yet another banal development."


Photo: Michael Lannon

When we last spoke to New Amsterdam Market's Robert LaValva, he was just getting things rolling. LaValva was seeking to re-create the sort of public market of yesteryear, a destination that wasn't just a place to buy groceries, but closer to a community centerpiece. Given how much progress he and the Market have towards that goal, we sat down with him again to learn more.

Name: Robert LaValva
Occupation: Director, New Amsterdam Market

Since February 2009, when we last checked in with you, the New Amsterdam Market has changed quite a bit. Can you give us a sense of how it has evolved? When we last spoke, New Amsterdam Market had been held just three times, so it was in some ways more of an event than a market. Last fall, in 2009, we initiated our first real season, with markets once a month from September through December; this September, we began holding the market weekly. This was an important step towards developing a viable, true market.

It now feels as if the whole institution has been placed into a petri dish, taking on a life of its own. Vendors are beginning to find their niche—or else realize the market is not for them. New vendors continue joining us. Each week brings surprises. All the while the market keeps growing—steadily, and incrementally, a weekly audience is forming. It's been an interesting process to observe.

What are some of the newer purveyors you've had at recent markets? Brooklyn Cured, a charcuterie operation being launched by Scott Bridi, illustrates one of our important roles. Scott already had experience in curing meats from his restaurant and retail work.

He found a certified kitchen and obtained all necessary permits to start his production. New Amsterdam Market provided him with an affordable venue where he has a guaranteed weekly audience to purchase his products and provide valuable feedback. So, the market is helping incubate a business. Our goal is to help launch many more businesses like this, so that New York can begin replacing imported products with products that are made here. That is why we call ourselves an economic development organization.

You've also been holding events at many of the markets; what's in store over the next few weeks?

  • On November 14, we're setting a Smørrebrød Table sponsored by the Consulate General of Denmark. Visiting Danish Chef Trina Hahnemann and local chefs will prepare traditional Danish open-faced, rye bread sandwiches, using loaves baked by Nordic Breads, one of our vendors. Jimmy Carbone will be pouring Danish and regional craft beers to accompany the Smørrebrød. The whole event is being organized to promote rye bread, which is affordable, extremely nutritious, and can be made with local grains. Buy tickets »
  • November 21 will be our Thanksgiving Market, always one of the year's largest, and where we'll also host a local-grains Flapjack Breakfast in collaboration with Greenmarket. Buy tickets »
  • On December 5, we're working with the New York Wine and Grape Foundation to hold a Wine Market, with over 30 producers from the entire state attending. Each vendor will select one wine to also sell by the glass.
  • On December 12 we'll have a Coffee Market, featuring purveyors, roasters, coffee shops, baristas, and more.
  • We'll close our season on December 19 with the annual Solstice Market, which is always a festive event. If we're lucky we'll have another snowstorm that day to accompany the bell-ringing, a tradition that was started last year.

What are the next steps in terms of growing and expanding the market and its programming? We have just established an EBT (food stamp) system; now we need to expand it, which means reaching out to communities who will benefit and also recruiting new vendors who will cater to their needs. A public market has to be for everyone. We are also going to start programming our new storefront and office, on Front Street just one block away from the market. I've started calling it the New Amsterdam Market School, and see it as a place where our growing community can exchange ideas and information.

I would like to publicly thank the Durst Organization and Zuberry, the developers who own this and other properties on Front Street; they really understand the Seaport and its potential and have been a huge help to us.

Are there still hurdles you need to overcome with the city in establishing an indoor market? We could not be holding the market today without the city's support. Speaker Christine Quinn and our local Council Member, Margaret Chin, have awarded us funding to establish a workforce development program and start our EBT system. And a number of government officials are recognizing that the Fulton Fish Market is an irreplaceable asset that should be brought back to life—rather than turned into yet another banal development. So we're optimistic that New Yorkers will finally see a revival of the public market system, centered in this historic site.

What can Serious Eaters do to help keep the market going? Come to the market when you can; attend our events and fundraisers; and help spread the word! And also, please don't hesitate to write and let us know what you think. We're nearly ready to establish a Market Committee, and we'll be looking for candidates who are interested in taking part.