Supporting Small Makers

Small batch may have become a cliche way to describe smaller, more niche, specialty food producers, but I don’t care. Small batch is my jam (literally. … sometimes I buy small batch jam!). I am always someone who is apt to spend a little more to help entrepreneurs sell high-quality products and turn their visions into reality. Given the times, I’m being bit more selective, and may be buying in less quantities, but I’m still trying to support my favorites!

The great thing about small food producers is that their products don’t just serve for personal consumption, but they also make for great gifts. Know a friend who could use pick-me-up? A family member’s birthday coming up? …still haven’t gotten your mom a Mother’s Day gift? You may not be able to be there for them physically this year, but you can still send a small something that shows you’re thinking of them.

I’ve included a list below of products I particularly enjoy. I would love to hear who you’re supporting and adding them to the list, too!

Bee Raw Honey: this is a New York producer that’s great and could use support during the pandemic. If you couldn’t guess from the pun-ny name, Bee Raw primarily produces honey with a focus on supporting American farms and saving the bees. They also produce teas — a natural complement! I’m on their mailing list and they’ve sent great content and recipes throughout the pandemic. They are even doing virtual Zoom tastings! I admire the creativity. They have quite the variety from different regions of the U.S. to try and you can get it all shipped right to your door.

Bee’s Wrap: OK, Bee’s Wrap doesn’t offer food products, but this might be the single best addition to my kitchen “tool kit” last year. If you enjoy fresh-baked bread, but you hate that it gets stale after two days, the bread wraps are for you. Sustainable, too! Bee’s Wrap is a great replacement for plastic wrap and is reusable.

Brightland Olive Oil: I love the ceramic bottles almost as much as I love this olive oil. Brightland is a California brand, creating olive oil from hand-sourced products. The olive oil industry has a history of corruption (just read this book if you don’t believe me), so it’s no wonder this brand prides itself on being clean, bright and traceable. Their duo is $74 and a perfect way to start, especially since free shipping starts at $60. If you get hooked, they have a subscription!

Bushwick Kitchen: honey, maple syrup and sriracha. Three things you might not typically mix together, but those are the flagship products from Bushwick Kitchen. We tend to keep the sriracha in our house, but I’m sure the other products are just as good.

Bushwick Tea: Bushwick Tea is a maker out of Brooklyn that produces organic, whole leaf artisan teas with slick packaging and names like “K-Town” and “Carroll Gardens” that make it known that these are made in NYC. The top six gift box runs ~$45 and you get a good selection of both caffeinated and decaffeinated varietals.

Heatonist: if you like things hot, you’ll enjoy the Heatonist. As they proclaim, they are purveyors of fine hot sauces, and they have quite the collection. Hot sauces from >35 creators — mix and match, bulk up on your favorites. Go wild!

Hudson Standard: it seems like a lot of people are trying to be their own mixologists these days. Hudson Standard’s shrub and bitters can help. Produced in Hudson, New York, this company makes these small batch mixers from ingredients found in upstate New York. The website provides recipes and how-to videos so you can really up your cocktail game.

Model Bakery: Model Bakery is an acclaimed bakery in Napa Valley that carries, hands down, the best English Muffins I’ve ever tasted. Best of all, they deliver! The bakery carries other tasty treats as well, but, I’m telling you, don’t hit check out until you’ve added those English Muffins to the cart.

Vafels: the wafels from this Boulder-based company have become a staple in my house. Vafel makes authentic Belgian Liege Wafels that are dense and have just the right sweetness. Don’t worry, there’s a gluten-free version, too. The wafels are handmade, organic and made from plant-based ingredients. All the things people want in 2020! If you live in Boulder, you get free delivery. Otherwise, there’s free Nationwide shipping for orders over $50.

Which small producers are your go-tos? I’m always looking for new things to try!

For the Greater Good – How One Brooklyn Restaurateur Made Lemonade out of Lemons

I’ve been a fan of Greg Baxtrom and his food since I moved back to Brooklyn a couple of years ago. First was Olmsted and then came Maison Yaki (Happy 1-Year Anniversary!). Completely different concepts. Both inventive. Fun. And right across the street from one another in Prospect Heights.

Baxtrom is the person behind both of these acclaimed and popular Brooklyn restaurants (Check out the latest from GQ’s Best Restaurants in America list). The COVID-19 situation forced him, like so many others, to lay off staff and stop regular operations. His pandemic story goes well beyond him and his two restaurants though. He’s taken impressive steps to reach out to and help the community as a whole.

Photo from Greg Baxtrom’s Instagram

Olmsted has been operating as a free food bank in collaboration with The LEEInitiative since March 26 to support The Restaurant Workers Relief Program. Any restaurant worker who has been laid off, seen a significant shortage of hours and/or pay can come to the location for meals seven days a week. Baxtrom stepped up for New York City, but there are 18 other great restaurant owners across the country that have converted their businesses into food banks and have served over 100,000 meals at this point. That’s pretty amazing! Props to Chef Ed Lee for getting this started. Donations keep the food banks going, so if this is a cause you believe in, look into it further.

Screenshot from the Lee Initiative website

This kind of selflessness and love for the close-knit restaurant community is the kind of stuff that’s been touching to see the past couple of months. Baxtrom made lemonade out of lemons, thought fast, pivoted and created something really meaningful. I’m rooting for him and his Olmstead and Maison Yaki teams to come back stronger than ever when all of this is over.

This quote from Baxtrom from one of the articles I read sums it up well:

“Now is the time to use our voice to help others,” owner Greg Baxtrom said. “I have the ability to help others, and shame on you if you do and you’re not doing that.”

Like many restaurants, they have created a GoFundMe page to support the staff AND another one to support the local farmers, butchers, fisherman and other suppliers that kept food on the restaurants’ tables.

As I wrote in my last post, there are many in the industry doing admirable things in this tumultuous time. I will keep sharing what I see, and you should too!

DISCLAIMER: While I provide information about charitable organizations and fundraising pages, I am not endorsing, providing recommendations or making a comment on the platforms’ efficacy. All readers should do their own due diligence should they choose to participate.

Even in an uncertain and troublesome time, restaurants and small businesses are doing great things

I haven’t written on this blog in quite some time, but I recently got to thinking about the COVID-19 pandemic and how much I miss one of my favorite activities…dining out. The restaurant experience has always been an important part of my social life — it’s where I’ve had first dates, life celebrations, tried new things, joined groups of friends together, met new friends, gotten business done, and more. I miss those connections. I miss the ambiance. I miss the flavors. Most of all, I feel for all the restaurateurs, chefs, wait staff, dishwashers, suppliers, and more whose lives have been completely upended by something they have no control over.

I got to thinking even more about the future of restaurants last weekend when I read the moving piece by Gabrielle Hamilton in the The New York Times about her experience temporarily closing her renowned restaurant, Prune, and the uncertainty she faces for the business, the restaurant industry and her personal life.

“Forced to shutter Prune, I’ve been revisiting my original dreams for it — and wondering if there will still be a place for it in the New York of the future.”

-Gabrielle Hamilton, New York Times Magazine, April 23, 2020

While we’re all feeling a little down and miss our daily interactions, I’ve also observed great resilience and resolve from a lot of these businesses that will do whatever it take to survive and to continue serving their loyal friends. That’s truly impressive and a strength that I’m not sure I would have if put in a similar situation.

So, as I’ve been inspired by the creativity of restaurants, local grocers, wine and spirits stores, bakeries, coffee shops, and more, I’ve decided to use this forum as a way to share what people are doing to band together.

I live in New York, so my scope may be limited. I would love to hear what others are observing in their local communities and hear those powerful stories, too. Share what you see or what your business is doing!

I know it’s tough times and we’re all trying to get by day-by-day. If we have the extra dollars to support your favorite local spot(s), I encourage us to do so. We probably have no idea how much just one dinner, one coffee, one bag of groceries, one bottle of mine or one small donation will mean to them.