Is Brooklyn the Next Manhattan When it Comes to Food?

Last week, top food mavens descended upon Williamsburg, Brooklyn to gather for Taste Talks, a weekend conference meant to explore the future of food and the current state of food culture in New York. Among the many events was a panel focused on real estate: “Is Brooklyn Becoming the Next Manhattan?” In the cafe of Kinfolk, crowds filled in to hear some of New York’s most famous chefs discuss why they chose to begin their restaurants in Manhattan or Brooklyn and where they see the food scene moving next.

Sitting on director’s chairs, Andy Ricker of Pok Pok fame, Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo of Prime Meats, and Gabe Stulman of Happy Cooking Hospitality answered questions from moderator, Jordana Rothman. Both Ricker and the Franks began their restaurants in the borough of Brooklyn, instead of Manhattan, as Stulman did with Joseph Leonard, Jeffrey’s Grocery, Perla, and Chez Sardine.

iUO1dG9_OlvQPrime Meats Photographer: Philip Lewis/Bloomberg

Coming off of a booming launch of Pok Pok in Portland, Ricker expanded his empire to New York only a few years ago. While Manhattan was enticing, Brooklyn, he said, offered more opportunities. First off, he needed space to charcoal grill outdoors, something no Manhattan property could offer. Second, rent was simply too high. Instead of going where the crowds already were, Ricker decided to forge his own food scene in the little known area of Columbia Street Waterfront District, cradled between Red Hook and Dumbo.

Image courtesy of Pok Pok Ny

“Yes, rent in Manhattan is really high,” Stulman countered, “and for that reason I probably make way less money than these guys,” waving to Ricker and the Franks sitting beside him. But, he emphasized, he had found a neighborhood he loved. Stulman and his wife lived above his original restaurant, Joseph Leonard, in the West Village and eventually got to know his neighbors.

When the panel was asked what’s next, they each had their own theories, but the Franks made a passionate case for east Brooklyn. “New York Harbor was the focal point of New York in the 20s and 30s,” they said. And the GI bill helped eastern Brooklyn develop years ago. Today, those areas are under the radar, but there’s no reason why crowds won’t move back. “Brooklyn is about to be the third largest city in America,” they argued. Restaurants will have to be there to feed hungry people.

Joseph-Leonard-restaurantGabe Stulman, the owner of Joseph Leonard in the West Village. Photograph by Daniel Krieger

“Brooklyn is huge,” Ricker agreed. He thinks the areas around Industry City in Sunset Park and Bay Ridge are on the rise. But, he said, it really could be anywhere. “Look at Bun-Ker,” he remarked, “in Ridgewood,” referring to the gourmet Vietnamese eatery plunked down in an unlikely location.

In the end, the chefs agreed, it’s all about the neighborhood—the people that frequent your restaurant, support your creativity and visit time and again to eat your food. Whether it’s Brooklyn, Manhattan or elsewhere, good food will soon find its way to each pocket of New York.

Cover photo image courtesy of Jeffrey’s Grocery