GOWANUS – Shortly after A&E Supply Co. debuted at 548 4th Avenue, the restaurant/café/butcher/cheese shop offering Brooklyn-made delicacies in an otherwise food barren area, ran into a series of obstacles.
First came problems with ConEd in June. “Transformer explosions fried the high voltage coming into our building and was not restored for about two weeks,” Ennio Di Nino, A&E’s General Manager explained. “Once power was reestablished we were able to assess issues with the equipment that was effected. This is when things got messy!”
7 days and counting… we’ve been waiting for our transformers to arrive so that we can boost the energy needed to get our AC and refrigeration back on track. If things go according to plan we’ll be open on Friday. . . . #lowvoltage #fcukconedison #conedisonproblems #conedsucks #frustrated #brownouts #brooklyn #gowanus #parkslope
The business’s air conditioning and refrigeration systems were damaged—forcing the temporary shuttering of the butcher shop and restaurant; approximately $60,000 worth of perishable food products spoiled; and Di Nino and his partner, Chef Adam Harvey, had to let go of their staff.
“All in all we were closed from mid June to the end of September for the butcher shop…the restaurant has still yet to open. We are serving sandwiches at lunch,” Di Nino says. A&E was able to continue operating the café portion of the shop during these trying times.
With repairs finally coming to an end and the restaurant slated to re-open in January, Di Nino and Harvey wanted to get the word out and attract customers back to their shop.
“Because of the huge financial burden, we needed a way to jump start sales for the butcher shop and get the word out that we are opening again,” he continues. Di Nino says he and Harvey had seen other brands use stencils to put their names on sidewalks for exposure, so they decided to try this “affordable way to get our name out there.” Seeing other stenciled artwork on sidewalks in the neighborhood, they didn’t think much of it.
At the end of November, A&E had someone “tagging” sidewalks in the Park Slope/Gowanus neighborhood with their logo, spraying approximately “15 stencils ranging from 23rd Street to 9th Street” with a temporary chalk-based paint, Di Nino explains.
“It is absolutely temporary,” he continues, “the proof is in front of our space. We tested it there and it is almost off. The paint is advertised to come off in 30-40 days—that’s why we bought it.”
The plan was to “tag” subway station entrances and exits and a few of the streets in the vicinity. “We’re located on a desolate area of 4th Avenue so there isn’t much reason to come down here yet, so getting the name out has been tough,” Di Nino adds.
Unfortunately A&E’s guerrilla marketing campaign did not sit well with some of their neighbors, inciting Statia Grossman to ask the business via Instagram, “what genius on your marketing team thought that vandalizing the neighborhood was a good advertising idea? Some of us actually live here and care about the neighborhood.”
Grossman later explained in the Instagram post, “I just found seeing that logo plastered all over the place to be really aggressive and obnoxious.”
Harvey initially responded to Grossman’s message using the @aesupplyco Instagram account explaining the problems with ConEd and noting that the paint used for the graffiti was temporary. He added that A&E is a “small business trying to survive in a great community.” He ended the message with a friendly, “Happy Holidays.”
While portions of the Instagram conversation between Grossman, Harvey, and other commenters, have since been deleted, the chef told BKLYNER that he was offended by Grossman’s “accusation of vandalism,” sarcasm in her writing “genius on the marketing team,” and “assumption that we don’t support or care for the neighborhood.”
Following his first response, the Instagram exchange spiraled into an antagonistic back-and-forth, culminating with Grossman writing, “they’ve lost my business for good,” and Harvey’s replying to a commenter critiquing his customer service (based on the Instagram post) with, “I personally don’t give a damn about your potential business, opinions and the like. I take calculated risks and am well aware of what I’m jeopardizing. With that I’ll bid all of you adieu. Keep on hating, and I’ll keep being me.”
BKLYNER asked Harvey if he regrets making this statement. “As I have expressed to Ennio time and time again, with not just my sweat equity invested in A&E, but essentially my life’s fortune as well, I will always stand for what I believe, especially [if] my business’ name is being dragged through the mud,” he replied.
“Our regular customers know both Ennio and me rather well as we are in the space almost every hour of every day and wear our hearts on our sleeves…. I can see how the comments going back and forth may affect business from potential customers, but honestly, I feel confident that anyone who gives any facet of our business a try and gets to actually engage with our brand of hospitality…will get an honest look at what and who we are.”