When the Brooklyn Kitchen founders Harry Rosenblum and Taylor Erkkinen told their friends and family of their intention to quit their jobs and open a cooking supply store, initial reaction lacked the optimistic edge they hoped for.
“Everybody told us we were nuts to go into retail. Everybody,” Rosenblum said.
And everybody was probably right. However, through a mixture of customer service acumen and an expansionist vision, Rosenblum and Erkkinen have transformed a neighborhood pots and pans shop into a combination cooking school, organic butcher and foodie supply depot that draws customers from around the New York City metro area.
“We thought, ‘We’re young, we’re smart, we might as well give this a shot,’” Rosenblum said. “We knew if it failed, we weren’t going to die. The worst that could happen is we go into bankruptcy.”
Getting the ingredients together
The idea for the Brooklyn Kitchen began in 2004, after Rosenblum and Erkkinen moved into their house in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn.
Their backyard was covered in grape vines that had been cultivated by the previous owners. By the fall, the couple had harvested 30 pounds of grapes. The only way to save the fruit was to make jam, but Rosenblum and Erkkinen couldn’t find any stores that sold pectin, an important ingredient in preserves. In that absence, they saw an opportunity.
Conscious of the fact that any customer could purchase the same products online at about the same price, Rosenblum and Erkkinen realized their success hinged on providing something the Internet could not: hands-on knowledge.
“Yes, people can go onto Amazon.com and buy these things. But we provide a different way to buy them,” Rosenblum said.
If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen
Initially, Rosenblum and Erkkinen failed to secure any bank loans to start the business. Undeterred, they used their own savings as the initial investment, and augmented that seed money with maxed-out credit cards that they essentially used as low-interest loans.
They didn’t take home any money from the store for the first year, with Rosenblum continuing to work two jobs to make ends meet.
“All of our projections were meaningless, because we were speculating about a business we weren’t in,” Rosenblum said.
Later, when they changed locations, they repeated the process, although they could secure some loan money with elements from the first store as collateral. Although they still haven’t finished shifting their personal debt onto the business, the Brooklyn Kitchen is now generating yearly revenue twice the size of Rosenblum and Erkkinen’s initial investment.
Dinner is served
Early on, the Brooklyn Kitchen began offering cooking, butchering and kitchen skill classes in their store. In many cases, the cost of a product would get rolled into the cost of a class, allowing customers to walk out of the store with both a new knife and a lesson from a professional chef on how to use it.
As the classes filled up, Rosenblum and Erkkinen began looking for a space large enough to accommodate the growing crowds spilling out of the front of their 700-square-foot store. In their new 5,000-square-foot space, The Brooklyn Kitchen houses its core kitchen equipment business, a butcher shop that sells organic, locally raised meat, a home brewing store, a separate upstairs area for baking supplies, and fully functional test kitchen and auditorium for cooking classes.
Now, four years after opening, the store has linked up with other leading members of the vibrant Brooklyn food scene to serve as the base of operations for a community of culinary hobbyists. Through its active Twitter feed, its website and its blog, the Brooklyn Kitchen keeps that community up to date about knife care and recipes, food events and seasonal offerings.
And most importantly, Rosenblum and Erkkinen finally have a place to get pectin.