Anatomy of a Smorgasburg Pop Up: The Psychological Stress of Lost Opportunities

Noah offered khacapouri, a Georgian cheese bread, as a special this past Saturday. The bread was baked by Burakhoff, his partner in Torpedo Palace. .

Editor's note: What's it like to be a vendor at Brooklyn's popular—and competitive—outdoor market Smorgasburg? This series will follow one of the market's new vendors and get the inside story of how a pop-up food business goes from idea to reality.

May, as we discussed last week, has been a tough month for Smorgasburg's vendors. A streak of dreary skies and rain reached its apex on May 25th, when a perfect storm of rain, chilly winds, and suspended L-train service laid the promises of a holiday weekend to waste. By 10:00 a.m., only seven vendors had arrived. When Momo Sauce's tent was blown over the fence, it became quickly apparent that sticking it out was ill advised. Noah, seeing that the market was a lost cause, called it quits before opening hour.

Three weeks ago, we talked about the psychological and physical stress of running and funding a Smorgasburg pop up. In that column, we dealt primarily with Noah's situation as the sole owner of Scharf & Zoyer, the struggles of juggling multiple responsibilities including a full-time job and a web startup, and the limitations on how much time can be invested into the business. But what are the psychological stresses of losing business to a streak of bad weather?

It goes without saying that anyone willing to take the risk of starting a food business in New York feels an intense amount of passion for what they're doing. It is not something you enter into lightly; there is too much to lose. The leap that Noah made is something very few people, even those with years of experience in kitchens, have the chutzpah to do. In applying to Smorgasburg, he cheerfully submitted himself to baptism by fire.

Just as Noah experiences the stress of running a startup acutely because he is the sole proprietor of Scharf & Zoyer, Smorgasburg's requirment that vendors not participate in other weekly markets means they must make the most out of every Saturday. Its a one and done kind of deal, and the stress of that lost opportunity--to sell, to make money, to progress--is significant. Making these decisions, knowing you could be wrong, isn't easy. If the forecast changes on Friday and there is a 50% chance of rain on Saturday, vendors must make a calculated choice. If they opt out and the day is sunny, they lose business. If they set up and no one shows up all afternoon, it's money down the drain. Coming to peace with your decision requires a kind of mindful resolution.

"Every Saturday is a chance to be "discovered" by one person or another."

There's also the fact that, for these vendors, Smorgasburg functions primarily as a platform for exposure. Being out there every week is absolutely necessary: a Smorgasburg stand is far from a cash cow, you're likely working overtime just to stay afloat, and a lost week is one less opportunity to make an impression. Every Saturday is a chance to be "discovered" by one person or another. An influential writer's endorsement can mean a serious uptick in business; an investor who takes a liking to your idea can change your life. These three weeks have been discouraging, but participation means going all in. When push comes to shove, the only choice you have is hold your chin up high.

"I expected the first week, I'm cool with that. I learned my lesson to pull the plug early if it's going to rain," Noah said. "The second week was bad luck, which pissed me off, and last weekend was a disaster. So, hey, there's nowhere to go but up."

Noah offered khacapouri, a Georgian cheese bread, as a special this past Saturday. The bread was baked by Burakhoff, his partner in Torpedo Palace.

Still, new challenges always present themselves. After three weeks of poor weather and worse sales, sunny skies returned to Smorgasburg this Saturday. Noah was hopeful that droves of fans would descend on the market, but the promise of summer has not panned out yet. While hawkers of light, chilled treats like Kelvin's Slushies made a killing in the heat, others peddling heavier fare were left in the dust. Seasonal adjustments are a top priority, and Dr. Brown's popsicles may be on the horizon. After three weeks of rain, Noah is now presented with the challenge of pushing his kugel double down, Scharf & Zoyer's killer app, to an audience made skeptical by the heat.


Introducing Scharf & Zoyer »
Opening Day on 1 Hour of Sleep »
Getting in Focus, Developing a 'Killer App' »
How a Vendor Figures Out Portion Control »
Meeting Customer Expectations and the Bottom Line »
The Physical & Psychological Toll, Part 1 »
A Look at Couscous Specialists NY Shuk »
The Setbacks of Bad Weather »