Here’s the scenario: You’re headed home after a long day at work and thinking about dinner. There’s a spot on the way that has both a butcher counter and a bar. The idea of ordering a pork loin and having a glass of wine while the butcher trusses it up causes the corners of your mouth to rise a bit. But does this magical place exist? It does in Brooklyn.
In Clinton Hill, the spot is Mekelburg’s. In Greenpoint, if you want fish instead of meat, there’s Greenpoint Fish & Lobster. In Williamsburg, Max and Eli Sussman just turned their Middle Eastern pop-up Samesa into a full-service restaurant complete with market area, and a short walk from there Lella Alimenteri serves coffee and piadine alongside Italian grocery staples. And in Gowanus, the trend continues at A&E Supply Co., slated to open later this month first for coffee service followed by a sustainable, local butcher and cheese counter then the restaurant and bar.
While convenience is what the customer finds at these all-in-one businesses, for the owners, being something for everyone is a necessity in an increasingly expensive city.
“You need to find the most amount of viability that you can have,” said Alicia Mekelburg, co-owner of Mekelburg’s. “A marketplace brings in the foot traffic. People always need eggs or milk and here you can do that and get a sandwich or have a couple of beers.”
Mekelburg said the “intense cost of rent” was responsible in part for why her business, located on a sleepy side street in a basement location, was more than just a bar and restaurant.
Mekelburg’s has thrived for a year because they are targeting two distinct types of customers, in addition to getting rave reviews for their sandwiches and elevated bar food, the salt-baked potatoes in particular. Locals get groceries and coffee on the way to and from work, and dinner lures them back, and also beckons those who heard about the restaurant in the media, through word of mouth or come to attend their very popular trivia nights.
The same reasoning came into play when A&E Supply Co. co-owners Ennio Di Nino and Adam Harvey were planning their business.
“It’s really difficult to keep the lights on in a restaurant,” said Di Nino. “[We asked ourselves] How are we going to make this work?”
They decided on the market-cum-restaurant concept because they wanted to maximize their viability.
“If you’re looking for true sustainability, it’s not just one little thing or two things,” explained Chef Harvey, who recently moved to Park Slope with his wife. “[We thought] Fuck it, let’s go!”
The Top Chef alum and Di Nino met while working at Danny Meyer’s North End Grill. The “brothers,” as they call themselves, have been plotting to open a restaurant together for years.
Harvey hopes the one-stop nature of his cafe and restaurant will appeal to A&E’s neighbors.
“What place can you pop in, order your meat and get a shot and a beer at the same time?” he said.
But while the trend is taking off now, it isn’t totally new. When Andrew Tarlow and Mark Firth opened Marlow & Sons in 2004 on Broadway in South Williamsburg the restaurant climate was different than it is today, and money was not a factor in why the business was both grocery and bar and eatery.
Marlow was first conceived of as primarily a store, but because their restaurant Diner located next door was crowded all the time they figured they’d offer drinks and oysters to people while they waited for a table at Diner, too.
“We hedged our bets,” Tarlow said, adding that the space became something of a community hang-out, with an energy that appealed to him.
The concept has a distinct Brooklyn quality to it, perhaps because so many residents agree that one of the cornerstones of a great neighborhood is a great casual restaurant and bar you return to again and again.
“There’s a different feeling [in Brooklyn]. People care about the community,” Di Nino said. “We hope that everything we do is going to be attractive to this community.”
Many parts of Brooklyn are growing at a rapid pace, too, which provides an opportunity for business owners.
“In this neighborhood there’s so much development but there’s nothing here,” Di Nino said.
The corner of Fourth Avenue and 15th Street is sleepy, though that will change when the mid- and high-rise construction projects on nearly every corner are completed. When A&E opens, locals will have a coffee shop serving Brooklyn Roasting Company beverages and Dough doughnuts, a sustainable nose-to-tail butcher counter and a seasonal-American restaurant.
Like most food establishments, it all comes down to ambiance. Welcoming and appealing works well in Brooklyn. Mekelburg, who grew up on the Upper West Side, said she was grateful Clinton Hill “hasn’t become Manhattan.”
“It has the neighborhood vibe,” she said.