Paige Lipari always wanted a store. She grew up hearing stories about her grandparents’ fresh dairy and Italian imported goods grocery in Bushwick, and though the Sicilian immigrants happily retired before she was born, the lore of their fresh mozzarella sold in a small space in Brooklyn continued.
For Lipari, a bookstore just made sense. She’d worked in the rare books department at Barnes & Noble, as well as a bookseller at Housing Works, McNally Jackson and Idlewild Books.
And thus Archestratus Books & Foods, Lipari’s Greenpoint bookstore dedicated to cookbooks and titles about food with an attached cafe, debuted in 2015. The unusual name (pronounced Ark-eh-stratus) references an ancient Sicilian poet who is considered the author of one of the world’s first cookbooks.
“I come from a poetry background, so I’m always going to be obscure,” Lipari says. “I really believe that cookbooks are like personal documents; the most appealing thing to me is the voice behind the cookbook, and even though Archestratus is from 350 BCE, he is really funny.”
Most importantly, the store’s namesake writes about “keeping things simple and letting the ingredients shine,” paraphrases Lipari. Indeed, the store has “more of an artistic angle” than a technical one, meaning that the community forming at Archestratus is “less concerned with knife skills and more concerned with having the script of ‘My Dinner with Andre.’”
To prepare for Archestratus’ opening, Lipari, her father and her nonna spent a year “picking” books at church sales and library sales throughout the tristate area to find the unique and out-of-print titles on Archestratus’ shelves.
“When I started this I didn’t know [what people would buy],” Lipari says. “I knew that having less expensive, eccentric books would be exciting, but the new books really do sell.”
Archestratus’ customers, who range from neighbors to tourists who’ve read about the store in a Japanese guidebook, frequently buy popular new cookbooks like “Love and Lemons,” based off the blog of the same name, Joshua McFadden’s “Six Seasons” and Alison Roman’s “Dining In.”
The cookbooks may lure customers into the space, but Archestratus is just as focused on building a community.
Part of that is regularly serving inexpensive Sicilian dinners prepared by Lipari, for no more than $20. “It can be cheap to have a meal when everyone’s eating the same thing,” Lipari says.
Diners might feast on timballo (a cake-shaped pasta bake) or vegan pesto while sharing a communal table in the back of the store. Beer, wine and vermouth are also for sale.
When pop-up dinners aren’t held, the tables in the back cafe are filled with locals for lunch or people attending trivia night, craft night, cookbook club or social activism events.
“I loved the idea of designing and creating a space and a community space for people to come together,” Lipari says. “Coffee shops used to have that energy, but now everyone just sits very quietly at their laptops. I wanted a space for people to sit down at a table and have a meeting of some kind.”
- America’s most beloved cookbook is one of the worst sellers: “I’ve sold very few copies of Julia Child’s ‘Mastering The Art of French Cooking’ — I think everyone already has it or something,” Lipari says. “It’s the most famous cookbook but hardly anyone buys it.”
- Weekends bring an arancini happy hour. With the purchase of new cookbooks or a drink, customers are treated to a complimentary (and highly acclaimed) deep-fried risotto ball.
- The bookstore is located at 160 Huron St. in Greenpoint. For more info, visit archestrat.us.