A Chat With the Creators of the City’s Biggest Outdoor Food Fair

Eric Demby and Jonathan Butler have reinvented how Brooklyn eats.

Manhattan has Broadway, but in Brooklyn from April to October, Smorgasburg takes center stage. Each weekend, the open-air food market on the Williamsburg waterfront has 20,000-30,000 visitors and 100 vendors, with cuisine as varied as it is entertaining.

“People do things like torch their meringue: They really put on a show,” says Smorgasburg co-founder Eric Demby.

Smorgasburg, brought to life in 2011 by Demby and Jonathan Butler, is an offshoot of Brooklyn Flea, a huge food fair/flea market the duo started in 2008. “I’m proud that we created a showcase of the borough,” Demby says.

Smorgasburg in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Other events include Berg’n, a combination food/beer hall in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and the first brick-and-mortar location for Butler and Demby, featuring food from Mighty Quinn’s BBQ, Landhaus and Maizey Sunday Tacos. Housed on the bottom floor of a building codeveloped by Butler on Bergen Street, “it’s become a gathering place for the community and building [which also houses offices],” Demby says. “At night, it’s a vibrant food scene.” There is also Smorgasburg LA, concessions for Central Park SummerStage, an outdoor festival of the arts held each year at Rumsey Playfield in Central Park, as well as a three-day event called Smorgasburg Osaka in Japan. This year, the partners initiated a new event of outdoor film screenings via “Movies With a View,” in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Other projects have included providing food for the Bridgehapton car show and servicing various events in Los Angeles with food.

Not every venture has kept its legs, though, with the closures of Smorgasburg Upstate in Kingston, New York and Smorg Square at Varick and Canal Streets in Manhattan. “We’ve tried a lot of things over the years,” Demby admits. “But, sometimes, there’s simply not enough traffic, not enough profitability." But, no matter what, the pair will continue to look for opportunities to expand, which begs the question: so, what’s next?

“We’re always talking and thinking,” Demby says.

Scott Rouch
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