At Bklyn Larder, Balancing Budgets in the New Post-Gourmet Economy
During the boom years, opening a gourmet food store seemed as safe a bet as opening a Sbarro in Midtown. A $12 bag of Martelli pasta? No problem. $40 for a pound of aged comte? Make it two. If money flowed freely, it found particularly smooth sailing down the tributaries of gentrified Brooklyn, docking at stores like Bedford Cheese Shop, Marlow & Sons, Blue Apron Foods, Bierkraft, and Cobblestone Foods.
All of that, of course, was so 2007. Two years later, food critics are holding taste tests between Dunkin' Donuts and Tim Horton's, and diners are carping about the price of banh mi. So who has the grass-fed cajones to open a specialty food store in Brooklyn these days?
"My husband and I had been thinking about the concept for over two years," says Francine Stephens, who, with her husband, Andrew Feinberg, opened Bklyn Larder six weeks ago. "When the economy crashed, we certainly thought it was a little scary, but the wheels were already in motion. Which is not to say we haven't made some decisions based on people tightening their wallets."
Stephens and Feinberg are also the owners of Franny's, the Flatbush Avenue pizzeria that was one of the progenitors of the artisanal pizza craze. They envisioned Bklyn Larder -- which sits across the street from Franny's -- as a place to sell prepared foods that would use the same kind of top-shelf ingredients that built Franny's reputation. "I think more and more people are wanting to not leave their neighborhood for their basic needs," Stephens says. "That's why we opened: We wanted a place to get good prepared foods to go. There's not a lot of that in city, where you can get a meal that tastes like a restaurant meal."
The prepared foods, Stephens adds, are where she and Feinberg have made most of their pricing concessions in an attempt to balance lower-cost products with their more high-end counterparts, such as $29 8-ounce jars of Stramondo pistachio cream. Sandwiches, like anchovy-tuna and ham and cheese, run in the $7.50-$8.50 range, and house-made pancetta was recently selling for $12/pound. "From the very beginning, we had a certain mark-up in mind," Stephens says. "It wasn't outlandish. We wanted to make the products more accessible to customers."
And who are those customers? "We have a lot of Franny's customers who were eager for us to open, and we get a lot of people who come into the store and are really excited about the prepared foods," Stephens reports.
So far, she says, she's been listening to a number of customer requests. And what are they requesting? "I'm not really sure how to answer that," Stephens admits. "Just specific products, like other cheeses. There's been no general unhappiness." Still, "we need more people to learn about us; we've really just started. It's going to be process for us."