"So How Did You End Up Here?"
I wanted to Redo the "About" section of our website, but felt that the original has a place on here too. This is more of a tell-all, how I got started from the ground up take on the business. I think it's interesting, but maybe not succinct enough for an About section ;)
“SO HOW DID YOU END UP HERE?”
I consider myself a naturally born “maker.” Being hit with a spark of creativity, forging a more cohesive design, and then hammering out its details. If my life has had a theme, then this has been it.
What I’ve made through the years has varied a lot During childhood, you might have seen me making replicas of the dragon in Ruth Stiles Garrett’s My Father’s Dragon series. As the years went by, this evolved into a desire to make art. The “language” I would use in art making was highly influenced from my summers In Vermont, where I’d spend my days with my uncle and grandfather – two woodworkers and serious DIY project addicts. They introduced me to the basics of construction. With their hard work, a property from a barely inhabitable summer cottage transformed into a compound complete with a barn, a pond, an in-ground pool and two three-bay garages. Using this knowledge at Bard College, where I majored in Studio Arts, I tested my then-rudimentary construction skills by making large-scale sculptures and architectural installations.
After graduation, I gave Portland, Oregon a chance for six months before finally admitting that it wasn’t the place for me. The decision to go west wasn’t working, and as a result, neither was I. In the back of my mind, I always thought that I’d relocate to Brooklyn. Brooklyn has a vibrant creative community, so it felt like a good move. My friend Donna, who knew I was unemployed and uninspired, told me about a landmark article in the New York Times which featured young, innovative artisans living in the borough. She even highlighted a quote by noted Brooklyn knife maker and founder of Cut Brooklyn, Joel Bukiewicz, who, when asked about the new demand and supply for his products, stated that “it’s difficult keeping these guys stocked. It’s like sweeping a dirt floor.” Donna bluntly told me, “Sounds like this guy could use an assistant.” The next day I finagled a meeting with Joel, and shortly thereafter began working at Cut Brooklyn.
While apprenticing at Cut Brooklyn, I began making tangs – the part of the knife that eventually becomes the handle. I also developed a routing jig for Joel’s sayas (wooden sheaths for knives) while he oversaw the metal work. I was still pursuing art making in my spare time, but my frustration was starting to overwhelm me in my five foot ten inch basement studio (for the record, that is my height, so yes, it was very uncomfortable). I was having a hard time adjusting to New York’s confined spaces and began to think I was repeating the same mistake I made in Portland: basically, pursuing something that wasn’t bringing me any real joy or artistic satisfaction. There was still a void.
After a serious reality check, I decided I had to make some changes. I re-evaluated my life and realized that it was high time to try something new. My experience with wood in Vermont and at Bard, plus Joel’s influence as a craftsperson inspired me to turn my my low ceilinged art studio into a low ceilinged woodshop. Spending every free hour I had, I hunched over experiments, research and anything else I could get my hands on to learn more about woodworking. During this period, I made a few things, such as shelves, cabinets, tables and more. Joel had mentioned the value of end grain cutting boards months beforehand, so it felt like things had come full circle when I made my first butcher block. While I was intrigued with the ways I was able to treat, design and manipulate the wood into something both beautiful and useful, cutting boards were also a great fit because it gave me an entrance into the growing community of artisans. Enter Brooklyn Butcher Blocks.
I began attending markets, and as orders kept coming in and the buzz about the products grew, I realized that I would be a better help to both Joel and myself by going out on my own. I’m no metal worker, but I could still be a voice for Cut Brooklyn while promoting my own wares. Since then, I’ve been humbled and fortunate enough to appear in the New York Times, Tasting Table, Bon Appetit, New York Magazine and to have been recommended by Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods.
So far, it’s been an interesting ride, and I’m excited about what’s to come. And even though my toys and tools have improved, in many ways, I’m still that kid drawing and hammering, excited to keep working.
It's been a good 4 plus years since I've added an update, so I think I'll continue the original post here. Since this About was written in 2012, we have done a lot. In 2013 I relocated to Industry City, prior to its recent renovation. It was also the year that I went Full Time at Brooklyn Butcher Blocks, in part because my part time position with an artist was relocating to Los Angeles. It was scary, honestly, as I was equity financed, and it was everything I had saved from the years prior. This was for rent, rent security, and about $3500 in new equipment. Yikes! I ultimately decided it was worth giving it a go, for real. Fortunately, I held my own that year and then some. We got some help in the shop in the form of Julia and then Theo.
2014 was pretty incredible. I saw a clear interest in custom work and that has ended up becoming about 50% of the business. Plus we were starting to work with some of the finest restaurants, meeting some chefs who were really well-respected in their communities. Brooklyn Butcher Blocks was becoming a name in those circles. What's more is that I was aggressively trying to make sales, traveling to Los Angeles a couple times a year for a couple shows. 2014 was also the year that we were featured prominently in Esquire before the holidays, thanks to Bespoke Post who we would end up working with to a much larger extent the following year. That December was probably the single biggest month for sales made directly onto our website; we made over 500 pieces in those 5 weeks, granted it took 9 people and 14 hour days every day. No weekends, at all. Sorry I lied, I had one 9 hour day. If you ever wonder why it can be tough to get a hold of me, that's why.
2015 was vindication that what I was doing was starting to work. I traveled more than ever before, going to Austin, LA, Chicago, New Jersey and-I actually forget. At least a few people at every city had heard of our brand or recognized it. Unreal! I was perhaps most flattered when I went to 2nd Bar+Kitchen. I had just gotten done with the event and I wanted to see what fine dining was like in Austin. I wasn't dressed for the part though, with one of our Brooklyn Butcher Blocks pun T-shirts on. Regardless I thought it was worth a shot and the worst of it would be that they'd turn me away. How wrong I was! Instead, the hostess said the name outloud. At first, I thought she was just reading the shirt aloud like how people do signs, but her tone indicated otherwise.
"Do you work for them?"
"Because my husband, a chef here, is a big fan of their work."
'Oh, well, actually, I'm the owner.'
It was surreal, random and beautiful for me. I suppose I might just be easy to make blush. 2015 closed out with a bang. First, in the fall, we worked with Bespoke Post and sold 8,000 cutting boards through them in one of their gift boxes. While sales made directly on our site were more like 2013 than 2014, we collaborated with MadeClose and TheSkimm and sold 585 iBlocks.
2016 was a shift. The first half of last year was unprecedentedly busy for the first and second quarter of the year, but Summer was the slowest its ever been. It wasn't all bad though, as this had me branch out into cabinetry a bit. I'm glad I did, it acquainted me with a few new skills. Fall also was slow to recover, and what's worse is that few people from the press reached out, which meant we had no big features to carry us through Christmas. Fortunately, I've been aware that we've been lucky, and as a result, 2016 was the year of research and execution of marketing. I'm no guru, but we successfully sold all 200 of our Father's Day Boxes, featuring meat from Ends Meat and Zieba Knives. Then come Christmas, I went full-throttle pushing our wares and managed to keep sales in the same ballpark as years prior. 2016 was also the year to reflect on the promise of wholesale accounts, and something we expect to be a larger aspect of our business this year. I've did a lot of research last year, and I learned a lot. I'm excited to executing it and seeing the results!
On this date, January 6th 2017, we have easily put over 12,000 Brooklyn Butcher Blocks butcher blocks into lovely homes, and that's not including custom work. I look forward to the challenges of this new year. Cheers!
Oh man, and I didn't even get to telling you about some of the classes we did last year! Well, you'll probably get to learn about them plenty this year.