Jonathan Butler and Eric Demby, cofounders and operators of the not-so-mini-empire of Brooklyn outdoor fairs that started with Brooklyn Flea, tell me what it is that they look for in a Smorgasburg vendor: “It’s simple. You want to be the nachos guy.”
Or not necessarily the nachos guy. You want to be the barbecue guy. You want to be the lobster roll guy. You want to be the guy. You know, the one who’s known for doing one thing better than anyone else. The one who makes one perfect dish which makes ordinarily sane people stand on line for hours just to get a fix. Simple, right? I mean, how hard can it be to achieve the Platonic ideal of something? Well, for most people, it’d be pretty damn hard. But for Butler, who left the world of finance to start the real-estate blog Brownstoner in 2004 (which pretty much became the template for every other Brooklyn real estate blog), and Demby, who spent four years as a speechwriter for Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz (who is pretty much the template for a Brooklyn borough president), creating an icon seems likes something that can easily be done—if, that is, your vision is clear and your passion is focused. Smorgasburg, which launched in the summer of 2010, has quickly become synonymous with a certain kind of Brooklyn food experience. It’s casual, sure; it is, after all, an outdoor weekend event. But the application process to get a coveted vendor’s table is stringent and includes in-person auditions, oh, and having a compelling narrative about the food doesn’t hurt, either. For Butler and Demby, though, it’s all about the bigger picture. They both live with their families in Brooklyn and are very much invested in and a part of the Brooklyn food scene; favorite restaurants include La Vara, Good Fork, Talde, Bar Corvo, Franny’s and Saraghina. Basically, Butler says, “I do anything not to have to go into Manhattan.” And really, with the development that both men have been a part of in Brooklyn, they’re an integral reason why, every weekend, half of Manhattan now comes to us.
Smorgasburg; East River State Park (Saturdays) and Tobacco Warehouse at Brooklyn Bridge State Park (Sundays)