On a recent Saturday at Smorgasburg, the waterfront food market that has become an epicenter of Brooklyn’s artisanal food movement, Scott Bridi, 36, was demonstrating his creativity at $5 a pop in front of a small crowd. His medium: a slider-size rye bun delicately stacked with spice-encrusted pastrami, which, as the founder of the five-employee, 2-year-old charcuterie firm Brooklyn Cured, Mr. Bridi prepared himself.
“The beauty is that we’re taking raw material—the parts of the meat that aren’t prime—and making it extremely desirable,” he said, ticking off some of his other products: duck, rabbit and chicken garlic sausage.
While Brooklyn Cured was one of the few stalls trumpeting handmade sausages at Smorgasburg, roughly 60 of the 100 stands sold some variation of locally sourced meats. The entrepreneurs, most under 40 years old, represent a rising subset of New York City’s well-known artisanal meat industry, which took off a few years ago when independent butcheries like Marlow & Daughters and Dickson’s Farmstand Meats set up shop in Williamsburg and Chelsea, respectively.
Offering an alternative to prepackaged, commercially raised meat sold in supermarkets, these shops have “brought the interactive aspect back to chopping—the mental and emotional stimulation that comes from customers coming into the shop and getting customized orders of food that fits their lifestyle,” said Charlie Mirisola, 27, a Dickson’s employee who is helping to launch Gastrogladiators, a food-based social network aimed at competitive chefs, in the fall.
Mr. Mirisola is just one in a crowd of young entrepreneurs—former line cooks, waiters and even white-collar professionals—inspired by such shops to seek a lucrative niche tied to promoting locally raised organic meats, an estimated $538 million industry in the U.S., according to the Organic Trade Association.
Eric Demby, co-founder of Smorgasburg, said he had to trim the list of meat-centric vendors who wanted a presence at this year’s market. “We were too meat-heavy last year,” he explained.
‘Perfect storm’ for selling
New York, like the San Francisco Bay Area and Portland, Ore., offers the “perfect storm” needed for small businesses selling organic meat to thrive, according to Marissa Guggiana, co-founder of the Butcher’s Guild, a year-old professional organization for artisanal butchers.
“Certainly some of the most outspoken and known butchers of this movement are in New York, where there’s a large population of educated consumers near an agricultural area,” Ms. Guggiana said.
Of course, breaking even can be tough, especially when carefully sourcing meat to fulfill the exacting requirements of health-conscious customers. “It’s hard to make a living,” she said, “especially for the people who own their own shops—they are working on much smaller margins.”
Lots of customers
13% SALES GROWTH of locally raised organic meats in the U.S. from 2010 to 2011
But those challenges are not deterring young, energetic meat purveyors. Brooklyn Cured, which Mr. Bridi started after working with charcuterie at Gramercy Tavern and Marlow & Daughters, has found plenty of customers willing to pay a premium for its small-batch products. The company is profitable, and Mr. Bridi expects 2012 sales to be double last year’s roughly $150,000.
The company, which buys its meats directly from small farms in New Jersey, the Hudson Valley and Pennsylvania and from distributors of locally raised meat, has little overhead. Instead of running its own shop, Brooklyn Cured sells retail at five outdoor food markets and wholesale to gourmet food shops.
The face-to-face interactions with customers help Mr. Bridi tell the story of his foods and learn his customers’ tastes, which in turn inspires new products and fuels business growth. “The core of what we’re doing is making connections through awesome food,” he said.