Some people spend years trying to make it into Smorgasburg, and for good reason. With about 10,000 attendees every weekend, it's a guaranteed audience. Those who do well — like Mighty Quinn's and Dosa Royale — have ultimately opened several locations of brick-and-mortar restaurants. But it's competitive — about 1,000 vendors apply for just a dozen spots that open up every spring, and just a fraction of them even get invited in for a tasting with the Brooklyn Flea team. Still, there are ways to get a leg up. Here's what Eater learned from spending a day with the organizers of Smorgasburg as they tested potential vendors.
1) Do your research at the market — you may not get accepted if you're too similar to an existing vendor. If Smorgasburg already has a banh mi or barbecue vendor for the summer that they like, your chances of getting into the market with a banh mi or barbecue concept are lower. That said, it's not impossible. Co-founder Eric Demby says they sometimes know internally that an existing vendor plans on leaving, and they'll bring in a similar concept as a back-up. Other times, a certain vendor may only sell at some of the markets, leaving room at other ones for a duplicate. Still, your chances are higher if you bring in something completely different.
2) Keep your written bio concise and any attached materials professional. Operating at an outdoor market as busy as Smorgasburg takes a lot of work, and Demby and the crew want to see that you know what you're doing. Try to keep the description of your booth concise, and make sure any photos, websites, or menus you attach to the application look like they're as ready for the public eye as possible. It could mean the difference between being asked in for a tasting and being sent to the very big reject pile.
3) Don't come into a tasting with a bunch of subpar ingredients. Maybe this seems obvious, but the tasters have seen people bring in products that show they're not serious about food. One vendor added a bad grocery store ice cream to their dish, while another literally served pierogis that someone else had made. "That’s why we get them talking," Demby says. "Eventually something gets revealed."
4) Come in with a product you won't get sick of making. Once you're chosen as a vendor, Smorgasburg organizers prefer if you stick to the core food you pitched during the tasting. The market is curated so that there's a wide variety of foods, Demby says. The goal is to be the opposite of a traditional street fair, where it's the same hot dog vendors over and over again. "We really want people to go through and be like, 'This is not a street fair. This is real food,'" Demby says. Things like French fries and lemonade will always sell well, and changing your booth midway through to a more common street fair food violates the spirit of the market.
5) Have an idea of how your booth will look. Besides the food, Smorgasburg wants the experience of being at fair to feel like a serious food event. Part of that means nice displays. "We don't want a sagging banner," Demby says. "That's the curating part of it, the public-facing side." Applicants with photos of past booths that look sloppy are easy to reject.
6) Most people do not epically fail once they're in for a tasting. They've had people who come in with food that isn't great, but it's a small percent. Even then, most of them are not serving food that's awful, just stuff that's not memorable. The tasters could really only recall one particularly weird and bad tasting, for a ramen dog on a stick. The inside was a generic hot dog, and the outside seemed to be a dried or toasted instant ramen. "That was one where I was like 'I'll be in in one second!' And then [the vendors] walked out before I came," says Director of Marketing Georgia Frierson. "It was that bad."
7) Be yourself. This may be a high stakes job interview for a budding food entrepreneur, but relax — you're not in front of a House Committee. The tasting crew tries their best to be non-intimidating and friendly, knowing that people's dreams and livelihoods often depend on what happens during the tasting. Plus, the crew is interested in seeing personalities and hearing about personal experiences. "We want them to be interesting," Demby says. "We want people to go, and eat from them."