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Smorgasburg Will Have to Compete to Keep Its Longtime Williamsburg Home

The State Parks Department is set to put out an RFP to solicit new applicants for the site at Marsha P. Johnson State Park

A group of people sitting on a green lawn looking at the Manhattan skyline and the East River in front of them
A previous iteration of Smorgasburg in Williamsburg
Gregorio Koji/Shutterstock

Smorgasburg — the annual food festival that brings tens of thousands of visitors to the Williamsburg waterfront — may be in danger of losing its longterm North Brooklyn home. The State Parks Department, which oversees the management of the area the food festival operates in, at Marsha P. Johnson State Park, is looking to put out a Request for Proposals (RFP), to solicit new applicants to use the space, the Brooklyn Paper reports.

A spokesperson for the Parks Department did not provide a date for the new RFP, but told the Brooklyn Paper that it “is expected to be issued in the coming weeks.” Since 2013, the Parks Department has continually renewed Smorgasburg’s annual permit, but it’s unclear why the department is planning to move forward with a new RFP at this stage. A spokesperson for the agency told the Brooklyn Paper that the state periodically issues such requests to get more options to “provide the best experience for park visitors.”

Eric Demby, the co-founder of Smorgasburg told the Brooklyn Paper that he plans to submit a proposal once the RFP is out with the hopes of bringing the food festival back to the Williamsburg waterfront this spring or summer.

“As a publicly-controlled entity, State Parks has a responsibility to periodically revisit its agreements with third parties which, as New York State residents and members of the Brooklyn community, we respect and support,” said Jonathan Butler, who co-founded Smorgasburg with Demby, in a statement to Eater. “We plan to respond to the RFP and believe that our operating experience in this location, our unparalleled relationships with vendors and our strong contributions to the park and community over the past decade will enable us to put together a compelling and competitive proposal.”

Smorgasburg opened in Williamsburg in 2011 as a food offshoot of Demby’s popular Brooklyn Flea market that was originally located in Fort Greene. Smorgasburg initially operated on private property along the waterfront before moving to its current home in the state park in 2013. Since its inception, the food festival has propelled many food vendors from market stalls to brick-and-mortar outposts like barbecue spot Mighty Quinn’s and South Indian restaurant Dosa Royale. The festival’s success has helped it launch outposts in Prospect Park, the World Trade Center, and Los Angeles.

On the flip side, some Williamsburg residents have complained for years about the number of people the annual event brings to the neighborhood and have previously requested that the event not take place on certain weekends over the summer to allow residents a break. The Parks Department has previously dismissed requests for any such pauses, according to the Brooklyn Paper. A representative for the Parks Department previously hinted at the coming RFP during a local community board earlier this year.

The Parks Department canceled the 2020 iteration of the festival, which typically runs on the weekends from April through October each year, due to the pandemic. Demby, however, opened a brief takeout-only version of the market across from its Williamsburg home last summer, and briefly opened the Prospect Park outpost of the food festival last year as well. Smorgasburg’s website indicates that it’s hoping to reopen all its locations sometime this spring or summer depending on COVID-19-related safety concerns. Both Demby and the State Parks Department did not immediately return a request for comment.

UPDATE: This story has been updated with a statement by Smorgasburg co-founder Jonathan Butler.

Smorgasburg Williamsburg

90 Kent Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11249 (718) 928-6603 Visit Website

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