Ever since Smorgasburg launched in 2011 as an offshoot of the Brooklyn Flea, it’s been a fixture of the Brooklyn food scene — a place for dozens of small New York food vendors to come together each week, where eager eaters could dine on everything from fried anchovies to ramen burgers. And when Smorgasburg LA debuted in downtown Los Angeles this summer, they wanted to recreate that sense of a vibrant community, bringing in an eclectic array of vendors and attracting Angelenos to gather every Sunday. We spoke with co-founder Eric Demby and market manager Zach Brooks about how the market has evolved in its first year.
LA-area food folks: Are you interested in joining Smorgasburg? The team is now considering applications for new 2017 vendors. Apply online here.
How would you compare Smorgasburg LA to the Brooklyn original? Co-founder Eric Demby: One of the things we’re most proud of—mainly because it’s an intangible—is how the entrepreneurial and community spirit shared by vendors in Brooklyn has bloomed in LA with much the same feeling. This is both our hardest and most important task, as we believe it is the key to creating a successful market, and it’s what’s most gratifying to us personally. LA took that spirit, translated it into Angeleno, and just six months later there’s a full-blown network of folks on a collective new business adventure. I’d say it was all part of the plan, but honestly we just don’t know until a market starts what kind of organism it’s going to become. We love this one a lot.
In looking for vendors, what were your criteria? Market manager Zach Brooks: We were looking for a little bit of everything. Smorgasburg has always prided itself on being an incubator, first and foremost — a place where a unique concept can launch, or an established chef can try something new. We’re not just a food court of existing businesses.
So vendors are at varying stages of development. When we launched in LA, we knew that in order to draw people, we did need some well-known names — either chefs who wanted to try out a new concept, or a sous chef at a well-known restaurant who wanted to break out.
And Ugly Drum pastrami from Erik Black. He’s been running Ugly Drum as a pop-up for years, at Mendocino Farms and at Spice Table; he put it aside for awhile to take a job at Bludso’s, one of the best barbecue places in LA. Smorgasburg was his chance to relaunch it. So it’s not a completely new concept that no one has heard of; it’s a chef’s own thing, separate from the restaurant. That’s sort of our sweet spot.
How has Smorgasburg evolved over its first months in operation? Are there plans to expand it further? Co-founder Eric Demby: Aside from “lucking out” with insanely hot August and September days plus a few rainy fall days (bonus!), Smorgasburg has grown quite consistent in both how many vendors and people come each week—about 60 and 3,000, respectively. We’re relieved and proud to have stabilized so quickly. In fact we’ve already been able to partner with a number of outside events to curate-cater with some of our vendors, including the Airbnb Expo, an LA Auto Show launch event, two LA Weekly parties, the Griffith Park 120th anniversary celebration, and a Kensington Presents gig at The Viaduct coming up this month. So we see that as a path forward for the market in the coming year, and we’re also growing curious about how a one-off in different parts of LA might go, if the right location comes along.