Smorgasburg returns to WTC at full capacity, expands internationally during COVID
By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso
NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Despite large-scale festivals and events being limited the past two years, Smorgasburg has expanded its widely popular open-air food market across the country and around the world.
It has operated in Williamsburg, Prospect Park and the World Trade Center since before the pandemic. This month, Smorgasburg opened a new location in Jersey City following openings in Los Angeles and Miami and pop-ups in Osaka, Japan and Sao Paulo, Brazil.
“We always have great launches at these things,” said Smorgasburg co-founder Eric Demby on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by Dime Community Bank.
Sustaining initial success in a market is the biggest challenge for the weekly open-air food market. Locations in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. were not as successful as New York City because there are fewer visitors.
“If you’re not a mega city like New York or L.A. or Miami with a lot of tourists, it’s really hard to sustain a weekly market with at least 40 vendors on a weekly basis throughout the year,” he said.
Smorgasburg made its debut at the World Trade Center in 2019, attracting tens of thousands of visitors every day. It reopened at full capacity this month after being takeout only in 2020 and limited last year.
It has given numerous local chefs their start through market exposure and direct feedback from customers, which has led to dozens of new food businesses.
“It’s not the kind of thing where you can just open a restaurant in New York unless you have access to the high six figures, even for a small space to fit it out, and pay the rent, and pay the minimum wage and all these things,” said Demby.
Smorgasburg charges low rent and vendors are responsible for their own equipment, but they’re guaranteed customers.
“You’re making money immediately.”
Smorgasburg grew out of the famous Brooklyn Flea market, but their accession did not happen overnight. Demby told WCBS 880 the business grew “gradually” driven by the success of the small food vendors they host.
“Every vendor has a little story. Sometimes there’s a big story and they want to share it with the world. They want to connect with people through food. And that’s a guiding light,” he said.
Watch the WCBS Small Business Spotlight video above.