Artisans of South Florida: What are they up to now?
Over the past six years, weíve written about bakers, butchers, brewers and everyone in between. While "artisan" is a buzzword that has certainly lost its meaning for many (maybe it was the McDonald's Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich that did it), it's still an apt description for those individuals who use traditional methods and high-quality ingredients to make food, drink and related products. What these artisans share is a passionate pursuit of their craft.
Gaby Berryer of Gaby’s Farm Ice Cream, our very first artisan in our winter 2010 issue, had just started featuring her tropical fruit ice creams and sorbets at seven Florida Whole Foods Markets. Today, they’re in all 24 Whole Foods Markets in Florida plus hotels, restaurants, resorts and caterers, and her flavors have grown from 13 to 30. “I remember the first flavor we had introduced, Blissful Black Sapote. No one was buying it because it was so new,” recalls Berryer. It’s now in demand, thanks to tastings at stores and festivals. Among her goals: “To continue to promote the tropical fruits we grow here; bringing them out of their hiding place at the farm.”
Some artisans have moved out of town, taking their business with them. Loren Pulitzer, whose Simply Sharon’s vegan cookies appeared in our winter 2014 issue, went to Gainesville, where she still makes cookies and other desserts for clients and does catering. She remains involved with FEAST Miami, vegan pop-up events at art venues that financially support new and emerging creative projects. “Running my own business is both the most rewarding thing I have ever done and the hardest,” she says.
Rigoberto and Eliza de la Portilla, the Tattooed Beekeeper and his wife featured in winter 2013, moved to Central Florida, but their bee removal services still cover South Florida from the Keys to the Green Swamp. “Along with our variety of honey products, we have also started working with goats, pigs and livestock guardian farm dogs.,” Rigo says.
Our winter 2011 artisan, asado aficionado Gabriel Garcia of Gaucho Garcia and his wife moved to Northern California, where they still host traditional barbecues. “These days, our menu has a couple kid-friendly options, as our children, Luna, 3, and Diego, 1, have a few years until they can be grillmasters in training,” he says. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, they launched a line of hardwood grills, sold online in the U.S. and Canada. Garcia’s passion was prescient; one of the sources of his inspiration, Argentine chef Francis Mallmann, is now overseeing Los Fuegos, a South American open-fire kitchen serving grilled and roasted meats, at the new Faena Hotel Miami Beach.
For many artisans, selling at farmers markets is a cost-effective way to test-market products, sharpen sales skills and generate revenue. Says Helen Cole, whose Novae Gourmet Jerky was featured in winter 2012: “We started small three years ago at Art’s Upper East Side market, putting our profits and customer feedback right back into the next batch of jerky. We have since grown into the largest markets in the tri-county area,” including Parkland and Coral Gables. They also sell their jerky online and at special events and craft shows.
Sausage makers Babe Froman are gearing up for a busy season at markets at Pinecrest Gardens, Coral Gables and the University of Miami; the South Beach Wine and Food Festival Grand Tasting Village and Bloody Mary Brunch; the Burgie Awards and other events. Their curing program is set to begin this year, “allowing us to expand our line with house-cured deli meats, salamis, pepperettes and other cured meat products,” say Jason and Melanie Schoendorfer.
Harold Pitts, aka Doctor Pickle, a fixture at many South Florida farmers markets, has expanded his line to markets in the Northeast, figuring out the logistics involved in keeping his sauerkraut and pickle products cool during shipping. This involved a “thoroughly entertaining learning curve,” he says, but the increased distribution helps, especially during the slow summer season here. He has also opened a commercial kitchen and bought a bottling company for his Macho Gazpacho and healthy drinks. His products are now in Whole Foods Markets and Milam’s, plus 60 small stores.
Sometimes, life gets in the way of business plans, as in the case of farmers market jam vendors Tom Wilfong and Vanessa Safie of Copperpots. “While the birth of our little Copperpot put our business on a shelf, we are always tinkering in the kitchen and supporting other locals as best we can,” she says. “In 2016 Tom will harvest his first honey after becoming a beekeeper, so we hope to put some of that on the market.”
Some artisans have stepped up ably to fill voids in South Florida’s food culture with quality products and a steadfast commitment to maintaining that quality. At the forefront: Joel and Leticia Pollock of Panther Coffee, featured on our fall 2011 cover shortly after opening their Wynwood roastery in a town fueled by Cuban cafecitos. Since then, “we did grow a little bit,” says Joel. It’s a bit of an understatement. They’ve opened locations at Sunset Harbour and Coconut Grove; in the works is another in the MiMo district, plus a headquarters in Little Haiti to house their second coffee roaster and space to roast, package, taste and study coffees; a room dedicated to cold brew and cold brew nitro production, a professional coffee training lab, offices and a small coffee shop component. They serve 200 wholesale clients in Florida, New York, New Orleans, Boston, Phoenix, Portland and San Francisco.
In late 2011, Proper Sausages’ Freddy and Danielle Kaufmann started selling two- and four-packs of their hand-crafted Berkshire pork sausages at farmers markets. Within a year they had signed a lease for a brick-and-mortar butcher shop in a former deli in Miami Shores. Today, in addition to sausages, they sell quality meats and poultry, sandwiches for breakfast and lunch, boutique wines, craft beers and a range of condiments. New customers are unaccustomed to a neighborhood butcher shop, says Freddy. “They ask, ‘How do I order?’ All they know is reaching and grabbing prepackaged meats from the grocery store.” Building long-term brand awareness, rather than focusing on quick fame, is essential to Proper Sausages. They sell to small chef/owner restaurants like Blue Collar and Mignonette, The Seven Dials, LoKal, Essensia and Fooq’s, where they say their products will be treated, well, properly. Customers also can order sausages online, and Freddy hopes to make their products available at other retail venues: “Right now, the only place you can get our sausages are from us.”
If there is a poster child for the South Florida artisan, it may be Zak the Baker, on our winter 2013 cover. Zak Stern’s simple quest to make and sell rustic bread, nearly unknown in South Florida, started in a humble garage. “I did it because it was all I knew how to do,” says Stern, who sold his loaves out of crates at the Pinecrest farmers market. The demand was relentless. Every year, they expanded, from the garage to a Hialeah commercial kitchen to his current bakery and cafe and, in 2016, a bigger facility in Wynwood. The existing site will become a traditional kosher deli, with corned beef, pastrami, tongue, gribenes, gravlax, sturgeon, mackerel and Hungarian and Russian specialities. “Things have changed dramatically, beyond my wildest expectations,” he says. “But we are still doing the same thing: mixing flour, water, natural leavening, and keeping our integrity intact.” What drives Stern is preserving tradition in making his breads and for the deli. That he has found a wildly enthusiastic audience for this delights him: “I’m proud as hell that Miami is supporting its own culture,” he says. “This is where it starts.”