A bodega makes espresso in Brooklyn
There has never been a better time to appreciate specialty coffee and live in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Among the popular existing cafes, the neighborhood has seen its share of roasters and brewers opening up left and right. At the same time, Brooklyn as a whole is experiencing a resurgence of local, sustainable, organic meat and produce. In Foster Sundry, these two great tastes have seamlessly combined. The grocery store has intensified the grocer’s own coffee game and offers a coffee specialty program with cheese, meat and dry goods for discerning home cooks.
Realizing the dream of owning his own gourmet shop took a long time for owner Aaron Foster. His longstanding vision had been to unite the best specialist shops in one place. Foster spent some time in curd and whey, working for Murray’s Cheese and then on the specialty markets scene at Brooklyn Kitchen. There he saw the benefits of one-stop shopping for customers looking for specialty ingredients. Foster knows that convenience is king in New York City, and he had seen that there was a physical void in the market of the markets selling the foods he loved east of Williamsburg. And knew from friends in and around Bushwick that there were locals who wanted to maximize the quality of their cuisine and food preparation. “We want to support the neighborhood,” Foster told Sprudge, hoping to be able to offer “high quality products that are carefully sourced” in one convenient location.
And it brought comfort. Foster Sundry is essentially four stores in one. a full butcher shop, cheese shop, retail store, and coffee supplier. While this makes shopping a little easier for consumers, the practical concerns for Foster cannot be neglected. There are three walk-ins to keep the cheese, raw meat and products separate. Raw and prepared foods must be stored separately in accordance with health regulations, but different prepared foods also require different types of storage for practical reasons (cheese, for example, likes to be stored in more humid conditions than other dry goods). But that’s one of the easier things Foster had to deal with.
As a first-time shop owner, Foster knew there would be a lot he didn’t know. But even as he braced himself for the inevitable trouble, he was still surprised. From walls that had to be removed, to devices that simply didn’t fit, to (his) emergency operations, obstacles plagued the expansion. Then of course there are the health certification frames (city, state, and state) that you can jump through. And even after opening, there is no rest for the tired: The rare problem in NYC of having too much sun meant rearranging some shelves to save on fusible goods. No hurdles were insurmountable, however, and Foster Sundry turned out to be a juggernaut of a dream that opened just before the New Year in December 2015.
Foster’s first priority for his business has been to bring the cheeses he loves to audiences who will appreciate them alongside sustainably grown meats (organically grown if possible). And while he always knew he wanted to serve good coffee to his customers, the original idea was to keep the coffee program simple and nimble, offering batch brew and possibly some infusion options. To help him put together the coffee program, Foster brought in a coffee industry insider (who happens to be his sister), Dana Foster from Cuatro M, 2015 Notable Producer Sprudgie winner.
When they started discussing the options for coffee in-store, it became clear that the scope would be expanded. If you wanted to pay as much attention to coffee as you did to cheese and meat, the coffee service looked more like a café, with separate staff dedicated to preparing it. And an espresso machine.
For the bean supplier, the Fosters opted for the Brooklyn Roaster Parlor Coffee. As the scope of the program expanded, Aaron and Dana Foster appreciated the flexibility of the Parlor team, including Foster’s plan to run a gastro-roaster program using rotating beans from small and well-known producers. To brew espresso, they landed on a La Marzocco Linea PB with two groups. Dana Foster thought it was a solid workhorse that could handle employee turnover with ease. A FETCO has been brought on board for the batch brewing, and the coffee brewing is poured over by a Curtis Gold Cup instead of individual cups.
Despite the business’s attention to coffee, tea drinkers are not ignored. Aaron Foster is a tea lover himself, working with In Pursuit of Tea for the leafy side of brewing.
The service did not escape the discerning eye of the team. The beautiful robin egg cups and saucers are Churchill Super Vitrified. Aaron Foster taps his hat on Tilda All Day, where the china manufacturer first noticed him. The result of a thorough search, the vintage spoons are a source of pride. One set contains detailed illustrations of birds and the other contains simple Art Deco coffee beans in muted tones.
A serious coffee program with comprehensive service offers Foster Sundry a number of advantages. From a business perspective, this was a way to expand the business’s revenue opportunities. This would also add versatility to the business and add value to the neighborhood. Additionally, over the years, Aaron Foster had developed an appreciation for the relationship regulars had with companies that had supported them. Even more so than any of the other goods he supplies, good coffee and tea can be a way to connect with the new neighbors of his business – a crucial ingredient in building a fancy grocery store in a rapidly changing community.
Look for this shop soon to help the locals one less layover by adding takeout beers as well as prepared food. The coffee area will continue to expand and improve – especially when the weather comes back and the benches on the sidewalk become mandatory. And those seats outside? Just one more link to the neighborhood that Foster hopes will by then be amazed by all the beautiful things he has for sale.
D. Robert Wolcheck is a Sprudge employee based in New York City. Read more about Sprudge, D. Robert Wolcheck.
February 16, 2016