There has never been a better time to appreciate specialty coffee and live in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Among the beloved existing cafes, the neighborhood has seen its share of roasters and brewers opening left and right. At the same time, Brooklyn as a whole is seeing a resurgence of locally-sourced, sustainable, organic meat and produce. In Foster Sundry, those two great tastes have come together seamlessly. The specialty food store has stepped up the grocer’s in-house coffee game, offering a specialty coffee program among cheese, meat, and dry goods for discerning home cooks.
Realizing the dream of owning his own gourmet shop has been a long time coming for proprietor Aaron Foster. His years-imagined vision had been to combine the best of specialty stores in one location. Foster spent time immersed in curds and whey working for Murray’s Cheese, and then in the specialty market scene at Brooklyn Kitchen. There he saw the benefits of one-stop shopping for customers looking for specialty ingredients. Foster knows that in New York City convenience is king, and he had seen that there was a physical gap in the market of markets carrying the foods he loved east of Williamsburg. And knew from friends in and around Bushwick that there were locals looking to maximize quality in their cooking and meal preparation. “We aim to support the neighborhood,” Foster told Sprudge, saying he hopes to offer “high-quality, thoughtfully sourced products” in a convenient location.
And convenience he brought. Foster Sundry is essentially four shops in one; a full butcher shop, a cheesemonger, produce retail, and coffee supplier. While this makes shopping a little easier for consumers, the practical concerns for Foster are not negligible. There are three walk-ins to keep the cheese, raw meat, and produce separate. Raw and prepared foods need to be stored separately according to health codes, but different prepared foods also require different types of storage for practical reasons (cheese likes to be stored in more humid conditions than other dry goods, for instance). But that’s one of the easier things Foster had to deal with.
As a first-time shop owner, Foster knew there would be a lot he didn’t know. But even bracing for the inevitable difficulties, he was still surprised. From walls that needed to be removed, to appliances that just didn’t fit, to emergency surgery (his), obstacles plagued buildout. Then, of course, there are the health certification hoops (city, state, and federal) to jump through. And there’s no rest for the weary even after opening: the rare problem in NYC of having too much sun meant rearranging some shelving to save meltable goods. No hurdles were insurmountable, though, and Foster Sundry proved to be a juggernaut of a dream, opening just before the new year in December 2015.
Foster’s first priorities for his store were to bring the cheeses he loves to a public that would appreciate them alongside sustainably-raised meats (organic when possible). And while he always knew he wanted to serve good coffee to patrons, the original idea was to keep the coffee program simple and nimble, offering batch brew and maybe some pour-over options. To help him put the coffee program together, Foster brought in a coffee industry insider (who happens to be his sister), Dana Foster of Cuatro M, winner of the 2015 Notable Producer Sprudgie.
Once they began discussing the options for coffee at the shop, it became clear that the scope was going to expand. Wanting to devote as much attention to the coffee as to the cheese and meat meant that coffee service would look more like that of a cafe, with a separate staff devoted to preparation. And an espresso machine.
For the bean supplier, the Fosters chose Brooklyn roaster Parlor Coffee. As the scope of the program expanded, Aaron and Dana Foster appreciated the Parlor team’s flexibility, including Foster’s plan to have a guest roaster program, rotating beans from small and notable producers. To brew espresso, they landed on a two-group La Marzocco Linea PB. Dana Foster felt it was a solid workhorse that could handle staff shift turnover easily. A FETCO was brought aboard for the batch brew, and coffee brewing is rounded out with a Curtis Gold Cup in lieu of single cups of pour-over.
Despite the shop’s attention to coffee, tea drinkers aren’t ignored. A lover of tea himself, Aaron Foster is working with In Pursuit of Tea for the leaf side of brewing.
The service didn’t escape the team’s discerning eye. The beautiful robin’s-egg cups and saucers are Churchill Super Vitrified. Aaron Foster tips his hat to Tilda All Day, where the china maker first caught his eye. The vintage spoons were the result of a thorough search and are a source of pride. One set has detailed illustrations of birds and the other has simple Art Deco coffee beans in subdued hues.
Having a serious, full-service coffee program offers a few benefits to Foster Sundry. From a business angle, it was a way to extend the revenue opportunities of the store. It would also expand the versatility of the store and add value for the neighborhood. But more than that, Aaron Foster had over the years developed an appreciation for the relationship that regulars had with businesses they patronized. Even more so than with the other goods he’s supplying, good coffee and tea can be a way to bond with his shop’s new neighbors—a critical ingredient for success when establishing a fancy food store in a rapidly changing community.
Soon, look for this shop to help locals make one less stop with the addition of beer to go, as well as prepared food. The coffee area will continue to see expansions and improvements—particularly as clement weather rolls back in and sidewalk benches become de rigueur. And those outdoors seats? Just one more link to the neighborhood, which by then, Foster hopes will be hooked on all the lovely things he’s got for sale.