The Brooklyn Eats food and beverage trade show took place last Friday, June 23, in downtown Brooklyn, with more than 100 exhibitors showcasing their wares in the Grand Ballroom of the New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge (333 Adams Street).
In the morning, Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce President Andrew Hoan kicked off the event with a speech to exhibitors, sponsors, and press, trumpeting the strength of the Brooklyn food scene and the global brand that is “Brooklyn.”
New York State Assembly Member Joseph R. Lentol also spoke, stating that “small business is truly the engine of our economy,” and urged the small business owners in the room to congratulate themselves for what they do for the economy of both New York and the United States. But the assemblyman remembered what was foremost on many attendees’ minds, joking, “We’re here to eat, aren’t we?!”
And the people were. Doors opened at 10 AM, while many booths were still being set up, but the steady stream of attendees grew throughout the day, as members of the public and many self-proclaimed “foodies” paid the $10 entrance fee and set upon the smorgasbord of free samples, determined to get their money’s worth.
They were not disappointed, with many local brands making strong showings. Island Pops, a husband and wife team of Khalid and Shelly Hamid, create Carribbean ice cream flavors based on childhood memories: passionfruit and poundcake, Guinness and caramel, and soursop.
Zesty Z was another family brand, with mother and son Lorraine and Alexander Harik serving up their Lebanese za’atar, an herb and olive oil mix based around thyme that they hope will become popular here in the States—the next hummus, even.
There was plenty of traditional fare, sausages from Brooklyn Bangers sizzling on a small grill and the soon-to-open Five Boroughs Brewing pouring samples of their beer. Naturally, plenty of chocolate abounded, like the premium Raaka Virgin Chocolate made from unroasted cacao in a Red Hook factory.
Michael Rogak of JoMart Chocolates, a veteran of Brooklyn Eats, took a cautious long view of the event’s attendees. While his chocolate business has been around for 71 years, he said that year to year, plenty of businesses disappear from the trade show, succumbing to the rising expenses and rent in Brooklyn.
Recently, JoMart combined with another Brooklyn chocolatier, Liddabit Sweets, to share production space and cut costs. The friendship between owners and brands grew over years of attending trade shows together, talking, and eventually led to their merger.
Plenty of companies were at the forefront of new tastes and ideas, with Dona Chai’s chai tea concentrate riding the wave of cold brew coffee’s popularity and marketing as a make-at-home concentrate, or Upruit’s sparkling lemonade and cold brew coffee combo that elicited mixed reactions from the crowd.
No matter how outre the tastes or ideas, however, Brooklynites came out to support local business. Jeannine Bates had heard the event was a fun way to spend a Friday and was excited to try all the spectacular food. With her was Bunny Lowe, from Crown Heights, who was making her second trip to Brooklyn Eats, having been last year.
If the Chamber of Commerce was applauding the “authenticity” that comes with marketing Brooklyn as a brand, others had simpler takes. Ricky Gerro, a transplant from Texas now living in Midwood, put it best while checking out the show: “I like to support local—no matter where you live.” The more money and income in local business, the better, he said.
“Plus,” Gerro added, “their taxes fix my streets.”