Photo: Chris Hondros/Getty Images. Courtesy GrubStreet.
When Pfizer closed its doors on its Flushing Avenue facility in 2008, the eight-story, 660,000 square foot structure was left hauntingly empty for almost three years. Then, in 2011, Acumen Capital Partners purchased the site for $26 million. The firm, known for brewing new businesses in older buildings, pursues “environmentally sustainable renovations that attract companies who share a similar corporate philosophy.” Nearly two years after acquiring Flushing Avenue’s Pfizer building, Acumen has created many new jobs in Brooklyn, belonging to over 70 different (mostly culinary) start-up companies.
Before closing in 2008, the plant, located between the borough’s Williamsburg and Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhoods, was home to Pfizer for over 150 years, as well as over 600 jobs and, at its peak in 2005, a manufacturing rate of over 2 billion pills each year.
So, one might imagine the mix of businesses and philosophies behind the walls of the building today. In just two years, familiar foodie favorites such as McClure’s Pickles, People’s Pops, Kombucha Brooklyn, Delaney Barbecue, and Good Eggs have moved their production base to 630 Flushing Avenue.
Remnants of the building’s days as a pharmaceutical factory still remain, but these companies have found new uses for the old facility’s unique details: old blue shelving and cabinetry that once held beakers and graduated cylinders now store bags of flour and artisanal pastas, while doors still hold warning labels that read “Laboratory: Potentially Hazardous Substances,” even though the processes behind them — pickle brining or macaroon baking — are harmless. The experiments that take place here now only stretch as far as developing new recipes or strengthening small business models. Within this cohort of small companies that are mostly in their beginning stages, there is an involved community of co-workers within the space, inviting collaborations of ideas and flavors. Kombucha Brooklyn hosts an evening “KBBK Social Party” on the first Tuesday of every month for the building.
New York States of Mind got an inside look at two companies that are not only working in this repurposed building, but are also creating products with greater causes and local influence. Meet Found My Animal and Sfoglini Pasta.
FOUND MY ANIMAL
The story behind the beautiful collars, leashes and pet accessories made by Found My Animal (and available on our Marketplace) began on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn in 2006. Bethany Obrecht and Anna Conway were walking their two rescue dogs, incidentally both named Walter, when they began the first of their soon-to-be-many conversations about animal rescue awareness; the two women were also pursuing educations in visual arts. That initial encounter quickly led to Found My Animal’s first prototype, a leash made from Marine grade rope, and a lifelong friendship between Ms. Conway and Ms. Obrecht.
In 2012, Found My Animal received their certified B Corporation status, which recognizes a company’s influence on solutions to social and environmental problems; the company also strives to source materials from the local region. Today, the company works with and supports as many animal rescue groups as possible, including Adopt NY, Hounds of Love, and The Washington Humane Society. In the coming years, they would like to become more involved with international animal rescue organizations.
Found My Animal products have always been produced in Brooklyn. “We love being a part of a community of new and interesting businesses that are blooming,” says Ms. Obrecht. Having joined the Pfizer community in March of 2013, Found My Animal currently occupies its third space within the building. “There is so much growth here,” says Bethany, who was introduced to the venue by her husband, who founded the sustainable fish company Sea to Table.
A native of Maryland, Bethany grew up surrounded by animals in an open space, and has always supported pet adoption and rescue. She adopted her first New York rescue dog in 2006, a chihuahua from Posh Pets Rescue (the New York City-based animal shelter is run by Linda Vitrano). Ms. Obrecht has been fostering dogs and cats in her home in Bed-Stuy ever since.
Every Thursday, the subtle smell of homemade pasta and bolognese wafts through the sunny top floor of the Pfizer Building. Sfoglini chef and co-founder Steve Gonzalez is making a pasta lunch for anyone in the Pfizer community who would like to purchase. Mr. Gonzalez is often experimenting with new recipes to complement the pasta varieties he produces with Sfoglini co-founder, Scott Ketchum. Mr. Ketchum brings advertising and branding experience to the company’s development, marketing and operations. Meanwhile, Mr. Gonzalez mastered the art of pasta-making in restaurants from Philadelphia’s Vetri to Italy to New York’s finest, including Roberta’s and Frankies Spuntino. It was in the basement of Frankies where the two, who met through a mutual friend of Mr. Ketchum’s wife, began experimenting with recipes for their new business idea.
With a mere $30,000 budget, Mr. Ketchum and Mr. Gonzalez originally envisioned a restaurant with a pasta shop on the side. Instead, they devised a two-part business plan: fresh pasta for restaurants and dried pasta for consumers. The result: an organic, Italian product with an American twist. Beginning with local semolina flour as the recipe’s base, Mr. Ketchum and Mr. Gonzalez are constantly experimenting with new flavors and pasta shapes that incorporate the best ingredients and elements from New York State farms. Mr. Ketchum and Mr. Gonzalez joined the Pfizer community as a team of only two in July of last year.
The name “sfoglini” comes from Italy (of course). A “sfoglia” refers to a sheet or a leaf of fresh pasta; a “sfoglina” is a traditional woman in Bologna who makes pasta by hand. Mr. Ketchum and Mr. Gonzalez, never intended to branch out beyond a basic pasta recipe. But a friend at Eagle Street Trading Co. one day decided to bake a basil scone, which in turn inspired them to create a basil pasta; and it worked. Many of their fresh ingredients hail from Eagle Street Farm or other New York City rooftop gardens and green markets, resulting in flavors that are wholeheartedly New York. Leftover grain from the Bronx Brewery is incorporated into Sfoglini’s “BxB” radiators for a hearty and nutritious otherworldly flavor. Everything bagel spices are crushed and added to their basic recipe for a unique “everything bagel fusilli.” Basil Reginetti incorporates fresh herbs from the rooftop farms of Brooklyn Grange and Eagle Street Farms.
While Sfoglini will occasionally reach beyond New York for ingredients, every component of its pasta is domestic (dried porcini mushrooms from the Pacific Northwest’s Foraged & Found Edibles flavor their porcini trumpet pasta). Despite its Italian influence, the company focuses on American ingredients and twists when creating its 14 different year-round flavors and additional seasonal varieties.
A recent renovation expanding their factory on the eighth floor of the Pfizer building will allow Sfoglini to make even more than its present 160-pound-per-day production. While fresh pasta is only supplied to restaurants (17 and growing in New York City, to be exact), their dry pasta is sold at retail outlets and the outdoor New Amsterdam Market. They have created custom fresh varieties for restaurants like RiverPark, including cocoa, fennel and buckwheat. The fennel variety was so favored that they incorporated the recipe into their dry pasta repertoire. The company also produces recipe cards and offers a pasta-of-the-month club, pairing seasonal varieties with new recipes they concoct.
Entering their third year, Sfoglini hopes to expand their reach. While their original company is based in New York, the model works “anywhere where there is a viable grain community,” says Mr. Gonzalez. It’s a great American pasta made with local ingredients; why not share the tradition and replicate it across the country? Learn more about Sfoglini at sfoglini.com.
Other Acumen Capital Partners projects include the Standard Motor Products Building, a multi-use property where a farmer’s market is hosted in the lobby and Brooklyn Grange resides on the rooftop, and Austell Place in Long Island City and Miami International Airport. Learn more at http://www.acumenny.com/.