Last Saturday, the Woodstock of Eating (@Smorgasburg) was held along the waterfront in Williamsburg Brooklyn. Smorgasburg is the food spin-off of Brooklyn Flea. It started last year and is a great opportunity for local food-startups to sell their goods. You’ll find everything from hot sauce to doughnuts, piles of fried fish to popsicles, and a wide variety of other sweets and savories. It’s always crowded but worth the wait if you have never been. Most of the items you can not find anywhere else in town other than Smorgasburg. It’s a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon and it’s a great destination for your out-of-town guests that want to experience the area’s artisanal food start-up boom that some say is the sign of the apocalypse .
I’m a fan of small-business and a fan of food so I’m always happy when I see the two come together. What I am not happy about is when I see a larger corporate entity take advantage of small-businesses by moving in on their turf without showing proper respect. Today I will show you how Smorgasburg allowed Cooking Channel to rent a large area of their entry-way and siphon foot-traffic and revenue away from the weekly vendors. Cooking Channel is owned by Scripps Network who also own HGTV, DIY Network, Food Network (amongst others) and posted a Q1 2012 total revenue of $553 million.
To celebrate their second birthday Cooking Channel produced their Summer Eats pop-up at Smorgasburg on Saturday June 30th. The photos below tell the story. The night before large tents were setup in the entryway of Smorgasburg before any of the weekly vendors could react. Vendors were sent emails during the week mentioning there would be an event being setup. When vendors arrived in the morning, especially those that arrive super-early to move in their trailered rigs found that the pop-up event was blocking their access. Forcing them to open late and not as prepared as they would have been normally. To add insult to injury, the pop-up brought it’s own food. The Cooking Channel chef/personalty inspired food was provided by the catering company Creative Edge. A great catering company but why bring food to location that IS food? To continue on the insulting theme I saw some patrons of the Cooking Channel event walk away with Cooking Channel swag. I know that you could not put a handful of fried fish, or a smoked-brisket sandwich in a gift-bag but you could have added the jerky, or hotsauce or any of the other non-perishable packaged goods available at Smorgaburg. The patrons came out to “experience Brooklyn” (really the Williamsburg water-front in the “creative-crescent“) from the safety of their roped, security-guarded, catered event complete with water misters, a bar and local band Alberta Cross (@albertacross).
As the photos show, the pop-up directed traffic away from a usually crowded Saturday afternoon. One can argue that since the temperatures that day approached 100ºF in the sun that the attendance would have been low regardless. None of the vendors I spoke to towards the end of the day were thinking about the weather. They were thinking about how the organizer of Smorgasburg let a corporate event host their “summer eats” second birthday party in essentially their store.
Watch the videos below. One is an independent fan-film on Vimeo by CandyTen that gives you a good perspective on the Smorgasburg setup for those that are unfamiliar. The second video is Cooking Channel produced content for their Fooder blog hosted by Mamrie Hart (@mametown). Both are great but what really steams my clams is that Mamrie does not mention Smorgasburg, interview anyone in Smorgasburg or even show the event going on all around them.
I’ve been a fan of the TV food revolution since before the web made it explode. Without the exposure to food the content has given us, I don’t think we would all have the appreciation we do today. Scripps with it’s Food and Cooking help us appreciate the DIY joy of making something. I’m sure that same enjoyment and appreciation (mixed with a 1/4 cup of entrepreneurship and a 4 tbsp. of timing) is what drives the food start-up culture.
My comment to the Cooking Channel video on their blog:
Great event for Cooking Channel but what about the impact on Smorgasburg? You know, the event that was also going on in the same location that is not even referenced in the piece. Did anyone even notice there was another event going on? Did you even consider involving any of the weekly vendors? They’re all working very hard to produce a successful product and are already contending with all of the related obstacles including the nearly 100 degree heat that day. Maybe some of the packaged products being sold could have gone in the swag-bags? I spoke to some of the vendors at Smorgasburg and I was told that Cooking never even considered their product. Cooking Channel produces great content however it should not be at the expense of local food vendors.
Photos of Cooking Channel at Smorgasburg