Since its creation in 2011, Smorgasburg has creation quickly become one of the hippest places to hang out and get a bite. Little did we know about the creative minds behind the market and that’s why our meeting with one of them, Jonathan Butler, on a fresh April morning, was full of surprises.
The location is slightly different this year, as the Saturday market now takes place at the East River State Park in Williamsburg. The Sunday market is still at the Tobacco Warehouse in DUMBO. What changed as well, are the vendors, as there are over 20 new ones. From Monsieur Singh’s Indian Lassis to The 3 nuts, offering delights such as Salted Caramel Peanut Butter, to Orwashers with their traditional NYC bread loaves, there is something for everybody.
Smorgasburg is unique, that’s a fact. When we talked to Jonathan Butler and Eric Demby (the second founder), we realized however that this uniqueness was not the result of a year long searching and exploring process, but is more the result of a spontaneous and rather organic evolution. Everything started with Brownstoner, a blog about Brooklyn, its urban issues and its real estate followed by the Brooklyn Flea, that opened in fall 2008 for the first time. Eighty to ninety vendors signed up at that time and at the second edition in April 2009, the first food vendors started mingling in between vintage clothes and antique furniture. The increase in popularity of the food at the flea market lead Jonathan to start thinking about an alternative platform that would focus on food only. Smorgasburg was born in 2011. The city was always supportive as Jonathan and Eric confirm – the current government really does everything to help small businesses and local entrepreneurs, which leads to a healthy and creative economic environment.
In 2012 the press fell in love with Smorgasburg and it was all over the news. Tourists come to Brooklyn for the food market, as well as locals, young and old, singles and families.
Jonathan explains that Smorgasburg is not following a concrete idea or a direct inspiration, although it reminds him a lot of European town square markets, which are traditional places for socializing, coming together and exchanging ideas.
Jonathan found and follows his passion with the flea and food market adventures. He says that “you can’t please all the people” and that major challenges are locals, because some will love it and some will hate it. It’s also not easy to find land and real estate in a city as crowded as New York. However Jonathan and Eric also show that you can do a million different things in life but that a real entrepreneur will end up finding his path and being successful. As a graduate from Princeton, Jonathan worked in Finance for a long time (and hated it), he had his own furniture company and he was active in the real estate industry. Only when he started the blog Brownstoner (he was secretly developing it when he was still working at another company) things started to take shape.
Today Jonathan says that to become successful is not easy but the more successful you are, the easier things become. Eric was a music journalist at the very beginning of his career. In the early 2000s his journalistic interest shifted to other fields such as architecture, urban planning, art and politics and he started writing for the New York Times, the Washington Post, Metropolis and others. In 2003 Eric started working as a speech writer for Borough Hall president Marty Markowitz. In 2007, Jonathan and Eric met for the first time and soon after that Eric left Marty’s office, intrigued by the idea of working with Jonathan on what would later become Smorgasburg.
It sounds almost like a fairy tale, but it’s not, it’s just life, that teaches you that you have to search, try, explore and be persistent.
We are excited about the expansion, with Smorgasburg coming to the Southstreet Seaport as well as to Philadelphia this summer, and we thank Jonathan and Eric for their inspiration!