We sold our last tacos for this season at New Amsterdam Market on November 18th. I remember that morning because the tide lapped the underside of the piers off of South St. louder and higher than they'd ever been before. Sandy struck the next day. We returned to the market two weeks ago selling tamales and packaged products and lot of people were surprised. 'Why did you stop selling tacos!?"
We've always planned to be more than just a taco stand; what a lot of people didn't realize is that New Amsterdam Market has been our proof of concept.. It's allowed us to figure out whether our ideas and preconceptions based on educated guesses would hold up under market conditions in NYC. To our delight, they have, and to a large extent we've exceeded our expectations and learned a great deal more than what we had set out to find.
But why turn off the griddle and turn on the stove for tamales instead of tacos? Well, that last Sunday was a fairly cold day and our hodgepodge of equipment that comprises our makeshift outdoor restaurant was really put to the test and found wanting. It just didn't keep hot enough. We had one of the most difficult days of service and were a bit glad it was slower than usual because of the cold. Yet another thing to add to the checklist for outdoor markets: 'Is the equipment tested in the weather conditions you are heading into?' Sadly, it was not. And we didn't want to outlay more expense on equipment this late in the year, so we had decided to stop being at the market altogether in December.
But we had a really fantastic day, highlighted by a nice chat and visit with one of our favorite culinary mentors, Alice Waters. But it wasn't her glow or the privilege of having a celebrity chef come by to taste our food that changed our minds, but rather it was my relationship to her philosophy of food and my past experience in her kitchen that got us thinking about how we could adapt and continue for a few more weeks.
Food brings people together and establishes a centerpiece for conversation. From there we can leverage it as a political force. In being something we are inevitably connected to, we all have a stake in how we eat, what we eat and where it comes from, and Alice has led this country in a revolution of food knowledge. Her actions have led to such movements as the Edible School Yard, inspiring our first lady Michelle Obama to step up and lead her own initiatives, putting health and food in one of the biggest spotlights it has ever been in our lifetime. So, it's a humble delight to have her come by our stand, fittingly on our 'last market day', to taste our food and enjoy our ideas. She shared stories about similar businesses she's encountered on the west coast that canhelp us think about how we can contextualize our own place in the culinary world.
And for me, I got to reminisce about that time I introduced her at a Share Our Strength Conference of Leaders and how I was then was invited to spend a few months interning at Chez Panisse. All before I dove into several years working under Chef Keller's watchful and stern eye as part of the opening team of Bouchon Bakery NYC.
It reminded us that we have a responsibility not just to our investors, regulars, and fans but we have a responsibility to the folks that run New Amsterdam Market and our family of vendors. More than anything, we've built friendships that reward us. We thought about how maybe our absence from the market would allow a quiet and cold to settle in. Their success is our success. One of the most rewarding things you learn in starting your own business, contrary to popular belief, that it isn't a battle of 'market capitalism' where competitors are in a constant frenzy to crush their competition, rather we talk to one another and learn from our mistakes and successes and ultimately we all benefit from one another's' successes more so than our failures.
So we adapted. We reflected on our business plan and right in plain sight was the answer. What a better time to launch our retail products than now? In two weeks we designed our first iteration of packaging for several products that had been sketched out, sourced ingredients and packaging, and set out back to New Amsterdam Market to test. The first weekend was pretty good. Sure, without the dramatic stage of a griddle and hand made tortillas and tacos being made before their eyes we lacked the long lines we were used to, but we also lacked the sheer weight of operational costs associated with producing a perishable inventory or products that require an additional two people to turn into our delicious tacos.
These new products gave us a moment to chat with other vendors. To walk around and re-connect with why New Amsterdam Market needs to grow and find a sustainable home. It needs us, it needs everyone. It's a living breathing thing, like us, like our business. We look forward to the coming year with our eyes wide open, our goals set, and our dreams alighting.
We thank all of you for continually supporting us by coming down to the market, by 'tweeting' about us, in sharing us on facebook or in conversation with your friends, and we are humbled by our champions and friends for their continued faith and support . We look forward to the day when we can invite you all into our own physical space.