Since its inception in 2011, Smorgasburg has grown into one of Brooklyn’s top food destinations, showcasing some of New York City’s most innovative vendors along with local beers, spirits and wines at weekly outdoor markets in both the Williamsburg and Prospect Park areas of Brooklyn, along with several city-wide spin offs.
This summer sees huge growth for Smorgasburg, breaking out of its Big Apple borders in two different ways. Co-founders Jonathan Butler and Eric Demby recently launched Smorgasburg Los Angeles, and this Saturday, August 6, sees the start of the first Smorgasburg in New York’s Hudson Valley.
In this interview with Butler, he gives the lowdown on the latest Smorgasburg incarnation, which will take place on 10 acres of land beside the Hudson River in Kingston, New York, at the site of the historic Hutton Brickyards.
Why the Hudson Valley and why now?
There’s obviously been an incredible creative and culinary renaissance underway in the Hudson Valley for several years now and we’ve been thinking about doing a market there for a few years. When the new owner of the Hutton Brickyards invited us up to check out the old industrial property, we were blown away and thought it was the perfect place to do Smorgasburg. As we started to scratch the surface we also got really excited about being a part of what is happening in Kingston, where there is a dynamic young mayor [Steve Noble] who is guiding the city through its own kind of renaissance. A big part of what we do is in essence economic development so it seemed like a great fit.
You’ve chosen an intriguing venue for Smorgasburg Upstate. Can you tell us about it?
The Hutton Brickyards is a unique location that should work perfectly for Smorgasburg. It’s a large site with a quarter mile of river frontage and buffered by 50 acres of forestland. The views up the river to the Rhinecliff Bridge and across the river to the estates on the east side of the river are breathtaking, as are the old steel structures we have restored to serve as giant pavilions. I really think the Hutton Brickyards is going to become one of the premier event locations in the state—a much better use in my mind than the previous owner’s plans to tear it all down and build condos. Thank God that cratered during the financial crisis!
You’ve received a multitude of positive press for Smorgasburg over the years, but Greg Morabito’s recent rant over on Eater suggests that not everyone has the tolerance to endure the crowds, lack of shade, and sparse seating, at least in the Brooklyn incarnations. Will Smorgasburg upstate be different and if so, how?
Well, first of all, I’m not sure who peed in Greg’s Cheerios that morning but I certainly agree with your characterization of his post as a rant. Eater has been extremely supportive of everything we have done over the years and I’ve been assured he went rogue on this one! As one of the commenters pointed out, Smorgasburg takes place in parks—Saturdays in East River State Park in Williamsburg and Sundays in Prospect Park—and there’s plenty of grass in both places.
It’s a perfectly reasonable thing to say that you don’t like dealing with the crowds but the rest of it was pretty silly and totally ignored the central role of Smorgasburg in the city’s food ecosystem. It’s effectively an economic incubator that has enabled and inspired hundreds of aspiring food professionals to start their own business—an effect we are hoping to replicate in LA and upstate. We’ve lowered the cost of entry and given them a huge marketing platform and test kitchen. And, if this weekend’s crowds indicate anything, it’s that tens of thousands of people don’t share Greg’s views.
Seeing as it’s the first time the public has had access to the [Kingston] property, what can visitors expect?
It’s still pretty rustic. We tried to clean it up and make it safe without losing the sense of magic you feel when stepping into a space that’s frozen in time. The two main pavilions where the market will take place are literally ten feet from the shore which is a pretty unusual perspective to be able to have.
In addition to the local food boom, the Hudson Valley’s wine, beer and spirits scene is also flourishing. What’ll be on the pour at Smorgasburg?
In addition to our own made-in-Brooklyn Smorgasbeer, we will feature Pull Brewing from New Paltz and the Suarez Family Brewery from Livingston on opening weekend, with lots of others to follow. We are going to have a dedicated cider bar that will feature local makers like Naked Flock [in Warwick], Maeve’s [in Staatsburg] and Brooklyn Cider House.
It’s still pretty rustic. We tried to clean it up and make it safe without losing the sense of magic you feel when stepping into a space that’s frozen in time.
Do you drink Hudson Valley wines, and if so which ones?
Historically I would say I have been more familiar with wines made out on the East End, particularly the rosés, but over the past year I’ve started getting interested in some of the Hudson Valley wineries that are focused on making natural wines—places like Amorici Vineyard in Valley Falls, Bashakill Vineyards in Wurtsboro and Benmarl Winery and Stoutridge Vineyard, both in Marlboro.
Drinks aside, what are some of the vendors you’re most excited to have bagged for Smorgasburg Upstate?
Well, as far as shopping for myself, I will probably end up spending the most money at a furniture vendor called So Mid-Century and a record dealer called Vinyl Rescue but we’ve got a really nice balance of vintage clothing, home design and antiques, so there should be something for everyone. Anyone who brings their children will inevitably end up at Dan’s Parents House, one of our all-stars from Brooklyn who sells a great mix of 1970’s action figures, fun old letterpress ephemera and assorted deadstock items.
Smorgasburg Upstate will be open every Saturday 11am-6pm through October in Kingston’s Hutton Brickyards.