Greenpoint Food Market Potluck

Salted caramel macaroons, while delicious, are no match for city and state mandated licenses.  But there’s hope.

Yesterday was the Greenpoint Food Market’s Think Tank Potluck – a panel discussion, brainstorming session, and vendor mingling event all in the effort to figure out what to do with the GFM (and how to be a start-up food vendor in NYC).

I decided to break out Danny Macaroons as the event was billed as a panel discussion about start-up food businesses and the future of this market that lots of people love(d?) – with some really great panelists (Bob Lewis, I’m looking at you).  What better way to get some good info on the challenges facing people like me and to meet some of those people?

Most of the discussion seemed to center around very small producers/vendors grappling with the problem of “how do we take our small production legit?” It’s easy to dip your toe into this business.  Food is easy; the barriers to entry are VERY low (buy some stuff at the store, whip it up into whatever tasty thing you make, and…you’re in).

That is, until you start trying to turn what you do from a hobby into a business.  That’s where things start to get tricky.  Incorporating and picking up insurance to protect your personal and (developing) business assets, getting the proper licenses and permits, trademarking your name, working out packaging, and figuring out how to market effectively are all things that take time, and, worse, money.  For a business that seemed so easy to get into – I just make stuff and then sell it – it’s actually a lot more complicated than that.  And it seems like that’s what lots of people are struggling with.

While there weren’t a ton of answers delivered yesterday (and, really, what is the answer?  Spend on a legal team?  For most of the vendors in attendance, that’s not really an option…) – but while there weren’t a ton of answers, there were lots of great tips.  For example, Bob Lewis had a sheet that listed the exemptions available for a home producer certification.  (Sadly notable: making chocolate – including tempering chocolate for dipping – is apparently notallowed.)  Getting your home kitchen certified for your production takes out the potentially huge cost of renting space at a commercial kitchen, which is a major hurdle for lots of the vendors.  There are also a couple of incubator kitchens in the works, which will hopefully be a little bit more creative with the space-leasing arrangements than other commercial kitchen spaces.

Most importantly, it was clear that there’s a really strong community out there that is focused on seeing small vendors succeed and grow into their businesses.  And, while I think the salted caramel coconut macaroons and the chocolate covered macaroons both held up well, there was a ton of great food out there.  From kick-ass ice pops and cannoli to GREAT tofu wraps….these vendors mean business.  Hopefully the Greenpoint Food Market, in whatever incarnation it reappears, will provide a venue for those businesses to grow.


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