BROOKLYN’S IMAGE, or “brand,” might be as diverse as its population, not quantifiable in a single sentence or image. That seems to be one of the conclusions of a seminar orchestrated by ROSALIE RANCE and the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce at a breakfast sponsored by Con Edison and attended by Con Edison’s STU LEFFLER. A panel hosted by Brooklyn Brewery founder STEVE HINDY explored many aspects of industry in Brooklyn and particularly the potential value of the name “Brooklyn” in marketing products and services.
Also on the panel were LEXY FUNK, president of Brooklyn Industries clothing label; DARRIN SIEGFRIED, owner and operator of Brooklyn Wine Co.; and CAROLYN GREER, director of special events, projects and tourism for the Borough President’s Office.
As Greer said, Borough President MARTY MARKOWITZ once held a borough-wide contest to create a single slogan for the borough, and the response was so varied and overwhelming that they concluded it wasn’t possible to choose just one. Instead, his office produced a picture book, in eight different languages, to better capture the essence of Brooklyn. Greer uses book this when tour operators ask her why they should bring their groups here.
Steve Hindy talked about how, when he was first choosing his brewery’s name, his investors were skeptical about the use of “Brooklyn” in the name. During the past few decades, aside from dispelling their doubts, Hindy has come to understand that its name is the brewery’s biggest asset for local, nation and international appeal.
However, the general consensus was that slapping the name Brooklyn on a product doesn’t make it a hit, because people around the planet expect a solid, authentic product when they hear that name. “Authenticity,” said Greer. “That’s what we can sell. That’s what people are looking for, above all other things.” She says it’s her job to remind people that Brooklyn is not just hip now, but has that incredible history that is undeniably the reason for its current flavor.
Rance added, “Brooklyn is associated with the urban American Dream, although it may be a little romanticized.”
Represented at the breakfast were new foodies who have launched products named after the borough, including Brooklyn Petro, a hot sauce from SCOTT MORRIS and CAMPBELL RANKIN; and Brooklyn Fudge from AMANDA JONES. Both products, which can be found around Park Slope, are under the wing of the Chamber of Commerce. They have earned its “Real Brooklyn” stamp, part of Rance’s marketing initiative to help promote local business. They will exhibit together at a booth at the Fancy Food show beginning June 29 at the Jacob Javits Center.
Rance said that while there has been a lot of dispute about what is authentically Brooklyn, in order for a product to earn the Real Brooklyn stamp, they settled on these questions: Was it made here? Was it conceived here? Or does the company employ people here?
She stressed that while they try to reach all designers, artists and producers in Brooklyn, manpower limits that effort. She urged people who are starting new ventures to contact her, so the chamber can offer support. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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AMANDA JONES, founder of Brooklyn Fudge, wore a “Make Fudge, Not War” T-shirt to the breakfast panel. She summarizes the start of her growing home business like this on her web site:
“For me, the ‘good parts’ of my Tidewater, Va., heritage have to do with hospitality and food. I learned most of what I know about Southern cooking, including the original fudge recipe, from my great aunt, Aunt Mae (pronunciation: “Ain’t Mae”). Aunt Mae symbolized old-school Southern hospitality at its finest. She never accepted the advent of pizza, learned to drive or ever tried on a pair of pants. “Her example taught me several key things: to focus only on making what you eat delicious, beautiful, to only use fresh ingredients and ones that you know taste good, and to do these things no matter how inconvenient, messy, time consuming, or irrational that may seem to other people.
“In the fall of 2006, I found myself in Brooklyn, and I started making it early in the season, making more modern versions of it, carrying Tupperware containers of it in my pocketbook and cajoling people to do impromptu taste tests wherever I confronted them. The first one was at Angelika Film Center. Some people told me they liked dark chocolate, so I tried some dark versions, and it caught on. I started selling it in mid-November around Park Slope, and by Christmas Eve, over 80 pounds had been sold.”
To find local outlets where Brooklyn Fudge is sold, check Jones’ web site – www.brooklynfudge.com.
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ACCORDING TO SCOTT MORRIS and CAMPBELL RANKIN, Brooklyn Petro hot sauce came into existence “over a couple of glasses of whiskey and a good friendship.” Morris is a musician and bartender from Abilene, Tex., and Rankin is a commercial real estate guy from upstate New York. Brooklyn provided both with a fresh start.
The project was sparked by the Chili Pepper Festival a few years ago, which the friends attended. Afterward, inspired to cook and by a mutual love of hot sauce, they started fiddling around in the kitchen with peppers, and Brooklyn Petro was born. The line, with its “automotive theme,” now includes three hot sauces, a rub and a marinade. In the past year and a half, using peppers and other ingredients from Brooklyn, they have bottled 350 cases at 12 bottles each. Their biggest custom order, for a hedge fund, was for 500 bottles, complete with special packaging.
The Fancy Food show will be a big indicator about the future of the company. “It’s our big shot,” said Rankin. “It will determine how successful this will be, whether it’s a huge hobby or I quit my day job.”
They worked the Chili Pepper Festival last year, this time behind a booth instead of as visitors. The upcoming food show will require more preparation — pulled pork, a stockpile of chips — for the 5,000 expected guests.
The product ships out of Campbell’s apartment at 20th Street and Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn. The friends created the web site and press packets themselves and have no outside investors, but they do have one intern — Rankin’s little brother, Alex. Check them out at www.brooklynpetro.com.