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From market vendor to brick-and-mortar: Smorgasburg success stories

Smorgasburg returns to Brooklyn on Saturday, April 4th!

2015 will mark the fourth year of the ever-popular outdoor food market, which has launched the careers of hundreds of New York food entrepreneurs.

From South Indian dosas to a brand new internationally inspired baked creations, learn how Smorgasburg vendors took their pop-up popularity to succeed in New York's restaurant industry.

Beehive Oven

Serving homemade chicken biscuits to Hurricane Sandy victims
Photo Credit: FACEBOOK/Beehive Oven

Serving homemade chicken biscuits to Hurricane Sandy victims in October 2012 led husband-and-wife team John and Treva Chadwell to their first Smorgasburg stand in 2013. 250 sandwiches and homemade pickles from a family recipe vanished quickly at Rockaway, and "we realized we were on to something," said John, who soon after founded Beehive Oven.

That first summer, the pair cooked up Southern favorites with their own unique flare, including a popular pickled squash, ham and brie biscuit. "It was a hit!" said John. "This reminded people of home and there was enough curiosity and movement to keep it going."

After Smorgasburg closed for the season, Beehive Oven found a spot in Williamsburg to open a brick-and-mortar. Signing a lease, contracting work in February and opening in May, all while preparing for the upcoming Smorgasburg were just some of the steps the team took to transition from food stand to sit-down.

At the restaurant, The Chadwells serve "heritage recipes", the food they grew up with in Texas and South Carolina for generations. Visitors from neighboring states come to Beehive for a specific taste of the South.

"Smorgasburg helped people identify one dish," John said, and that single dish brings many back to the restaurant to indulge in a menu of customizable biscuit sandwiches, collard greens, fried okra and more regional specialties.

This year, Beehive Oven will use Smorgasburg as a place to try new dishes, see the immediate response, and of course get fans back to their Driggs Ave. restaurant.

Mighty Quinn's

When many think of Smorgasburg, they perhaps
Photo Credit: FACEBOOK/mightyquinnsbbq

When many think of Smorgasburg, they perhaps think of the wafting smoky scents from the far Northwest corner of the park, which Mighty Quinn's has made its iconic BBQ spot.

Micha Magid, one of Mighty Quinn's founders, wanted to make authentic slow smoked barbeque an accessible dining option for NYC. "Barbeque is so universally loved but so hard to find," he said.

The concept launched in Brooklyn with Texan pitmaster Pit Master Hugh Mangum hitching a smoker to a pickup truck -- and the rest is BBQ history.

"The smoke coming off the pit did the marketing for us and the food brought [customers] back," said Magid.

Boasting the longest line at the first-ever Smorgasburg in 2011, Mighty Quinn's soon became synonymous with the outdoor food festival. Anticipation grew for summer 2012 when chowing down on their signature brisket sandwich by the Williamsburg Waterfront would once again be possible.

"We were extremely appreciative of the great reception we received from our customers at Smorgasburg," said Magid."

Validated by their popularity, Mighty Quinn's decided to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant in the East Village in 2013. "We knew if we just replicated what we were doing but on a larger scale that things would work out. It's kind of a simplistic thought but keeping things uncomplicated is often the best path to reach your goals."

The East Village flagship still has lines out the door on weekends and Mighty Quinn's expanded to the West Village in 2014. They plan to expand to other areas, including overseas, and continue providing authentic BBQ to NYC. "

"We think the brand has tremendous potential," said Magid.

Dosa Royale

If you craved a South Indian dosa in
Photo Credit: FLICKR/premshree

If you craved a South Indian dosa in Brooklyn pre-2010, you were out of luck.

Luckily, restauranteur Thiru Rajamani, of Brooklyn's Dino, was inspired by his heritage and a friend's yoga retreat to India to bring South Indian cuisine to his borough.

Rajamani and his wife Heather opened the first Dosa Royale stall at the Fort Green Flea selling dosas and samosas, which were an immediate hit. In 2011, the couple joined Smorgasburg where the thin, crisp rice crepes stuffed with traditional and more contemporary fillings continued to rise in popularity.

Early 2014 brought the opening of Dosa Royale's brick-and-mortar restaurant to Carroll Gardens, where the seasoned Smorgasburg vendors expanded their menu to offer more dosa flavors as well as thali tasting platters and a full cocktail menu.

"At a flea market you can only give a limited menu, but at a full restaurant I can give multiple versions of dosa and other South Indian food," said Thiru. "I wanted to serve South Indian food that’s really authentic, but I always have fun with ingredients-- you’ll never see spinach and cheese dosa in India."

While Dosa Royale is inspired by Indian culture and design, the brick-and-mortar space was made to look like a trendy Brooklyn hangout.

At Smorgasburg this year, Dosa Royale will be selling new, popular restaurant dishes including a lamb samosa and a sweet potato masala dosa.

"A lot of customers find us here and then come to restaurant, they see our full menu and want more," said Thiru, of Dosa Royale's growing success.

The Bruffin

Photo Credit: FACEBOOK/ TheBruffin

"This whole thing started because I wanted my partner to make me a meal I could eat with one hand," said Bruffin co-founder Michael Bagley. Sandwiches and pizza slices weren't conducive to a rushed and busy lifestyle and Bagely's partner Medy Youcef, a Parisian baker, conceived a meal in a muffin.

The first rendition of the Bruffin was a brioche batter (hence, the name) with cheddar cheese and bacon, which Bagley recalls as "delicious but heavy." He wanted something easy to eat while still being healthy.

We lightened to dough to be more croissant-like and started adding fillings and flavor combinations based on different cuisines. Having worked for an international trading company, Bagley's travels inspired him as well as a tendency for consumers to "buy with the eye" -- so the Bruffin founders added flags to their product to attract hungry travelers.

After launching at LIC Flea & Food, The Bruffin was soon recruited for Smorgasburg, where international travelers discovered the baked treat. "Someone from Spain would have the Spanish Bruffin and reaffirm our product," Bagley said. Those who didn't see flags from their native countries wanted to know why, inspiring more creativity and flavor combinations from The Bruffin.

After Smorgasburg 2015, The Bruffin decided to go brick-and-mortar, opening The Bruffin Café in Gansevoort Market, which has a similar eclectic audience to Smorgasburg.

At The Bruffin Café, the product has gone beyond regionally inspired pastries like Greek (spiced beef, feta, spinach and Kalamata olives) and Swedish (salmon, herbed goat cheese, capers and spinach) to Bruffin entrees, including a bruffin bowl filled with tortilla or French onion soup and a Bruffin BLT. A Bruffin benedict is in the works!

"We were confident in our product, we didn't grow too quickly and our product had a sense of humor," said Bagley of The Bruffin's success. Seeing someone's eyes light up when biting into his or her first Bruffin continued to inspire the company, which is considering a new line of American Bruffins like Georgia peach and pecan or New Orleans Cajun.

Ramen Burger

Before 2013, putting a burger on anything
Photo Credit: Ramen Burger

Before 2013, putting a burger on anything but a bread bun was considered alternative. In the past two years, bread buns have faced imminent extinction thanks to the overload of alternative carbs sandwiching meat patties. This is, of course, thanks to the Ramen Burger and its surging popularity.

Ramen blogger Keizo Shimamoto debuted his signature (and top secret recipe) ramen burger at Smorgasburg 2013, where lines curled around the festival like a waning ramen noodle, desperate for a bite of the $8 noodle and meat patty.

Following consistent sell-outs at Smorgasburg, Ramen Burger opened a permanent, year-round stand when Berg'n launched in 2014.

Imitation ramen burgers can now been seen all over the city, from ramen restaurants to burger joints alike, all flattering the original idea by giving New Yorkers (and perhaps misled tourists) a bite of what 'Time' named one of the 17 most influential burgers of all time.

The era of the Ramen Burger, simultaneous to the Cronut, brought in a new age of mash-up foods, from the rice burger to the Bruffin, and is still a Smorgasburg legend.

Lumpia Shack

While spring rolls can be a staple in
Photo Credit: FACEBOOK/LumpiaShackNYC

While spring rolls can be a staple in many New Yorkers' diets, lumpia, or the Filipino version of the crispy Asian spring roll is a lot less familiar.

Lumpia Shack, a Filipino-inspired (notably, not traditional), Filipino food stand brought lumpia to the forefront of New Yorkers' fried, vegetable and meat roll cravings, starting with a stand at Smorgasburg in 2012.

Chef Neil Syham, who had previous experience cooking in fine dining, brought his Filipino-Chinese heritage to the forefront of his menu, combining local Greenmarket ingredients with family recipes to create dishes like adobo braised mushroom lumpia served with truffled aioli.

Always a popular Smorgasburg bite-- who doesn't love fried finger foods on a summer day-- Lumpia Shack decided to offer their lumpia along with an expanded menu including design-your-own rice bowls, tasty Filipino-style snacks and a ramen burger made with pork belly.

Even after restaurant success, Lumpia shack will be back at Smorgasburg this season with more creative Filipino treats!


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