Red Hook isn’t a super convenient ‘hood to get to… which just adds to its appeal and novelty.From midtown, our cab driver asked if we would please type our destination address into the maps app on his phone. A good slap of cold wind greeted us as we stepped out into the bustling little Brooklyn corridor of small business fronts, with a bright green façade signaling that we had in fact arrived. Immediately apparent was the warmth of Betsy, Nekisia ,and Homa a.k.a. 24 Commerce a.k.a. “home”, whose intimate kitchen cooperative produces some of the best cheese, granola and yogurt (respectively) we have EVER tasted.
Tell us how your interest in food came to be, how did you find one another?
ND: I hail from Texas but, while I love the food I grew up with, what I experienced at the Gramercy Tavern and Franny’s (two of the cities’ best restaurants) was just so fascinating and complex, yet so simple. I understood where food came from, when certain things were grown, how to cook it, how to eat it, and what to drink with it. So now, when people ask why my granola is so good, I tell them it’s seasoned like a bowl of pasta – with plenty of olive oil and salt.
Betsy and I met through mutual friends and coincidentally worked adjacent booths at the Brooklyn Flea.
BD: I think like attracts like. Neki and I have so much in common as “young mothers” to a food business. We fell in friend love almost immediately, and I’m quite sure I would not be here without her. When Homa came along, we grabbed her up like lions would a roaming cub. Stay close, young one… together-we-are-strong-separate-we-won’t-make-the-long-dark-night sort of thing.
HD: What I do love is the majesty of a meal, a party, a social gathering, an event… whereby you happen to need warm and beautiful things on a table and in your mouth. I think eating should always be an experience or enhance an experience. It is a way to connect hearts and homes and the ultimate expression of hospitality and love. The fact that anyone in our society goes hungry or is eating improperly is an insult to all the progress humanity has made and what we are capable of doing. Food should be a celebration.
Talk through a normal day at the warehouse. It’s very cool that your food ‘works’ together — how much of what you do is dependent on one another… or, how much do you feed off of one another?
BD: I am the first one in, and I nonverbally fumble (not a morning person, ok?) to get all the fresh cheese packed and out the door on to our affiliate shops and restaurants. By 9:30 Neki saunters into work. Her head is up, she is smiling, she floats around the room and says good morning to everyone and she is usually carrying a coffee for me. I mean, thank God. I can’t believe how much she can chat in the morning, though. The rest of the day is spent doing administrative work – making sure inventory is in-house or on its way, making cheese, packing cheese, and getting ready for the next morning’s deliveries. Homa comes in for the afternoon shift right around the time I’m dealing with some sort of dairy crisis and she is always right there with hope and ideas and a joke. That’s all I need, actually: Hope. Ideas. And a joke. And Homa delivers.
HD: I usually can’t see past three hours ahead in my day. I wish there was such a thing as a normal day. It’s a roller coaster every day.
Our food definitely seems to work together — I mean Early Bird Granola and our Yogurt are practically soul-mates and make sense together; and Betsy and I both make dairy so we can help each other out a lot. But what really is helpful is just sharing a space together. And coming into a workplace where people inspire you every single day to be better — is awesome. And exhausting. And sometimes you just don’t want to be better and stay in bed, but how can you when you share a space with such badasses?
ND: It’s always filled with music, lots of people, delivery guys… the most important thing to me is that the people who work for me are happy. Oh, and that we make the most delicious f*$#ing granola on the planet, and maybe even in the whole town.
As far as being dependent on one another… for me, it’s moral support. The dairy side and I don’t share equipment or ordering, but we do share many conversations about what the hell to do next, why isn’t money coming in, did anyone order C-folds… you know… normal business stuff. But yes, we feed off one another FOR SURE. Thank God.
What is your favorite part of what you do? What advice would you impart on anyone looking to start a small business?
HD: My favorite part of what I do is when I see/know/hear of someone enjoying one little pot of White Moustache Yogurt. It makes it all totally worth it.
We are loving this movement of “waste turned to art”— we are selling our whey for brining meats, drinking in smoothies or cocktails and lots of other hydrating uses. We’re super proud that we can spend some time trying to think of how to make use of this multi-faceted by-product, and we can get creative and bounce ideas off of people and customers instead of using our energies just to focus on our bottom line or how to make more yogurt. It feels very holistic and we are inspired by other companies and industries that are also doing the same. It makes us feel really good about the direction consumer products and manufacturing are going in.
ND: My favorite part is that I create something that people love. It’s an amazing feeling and it’s one that I hope I can keep going for the long haul. And advice for anyone starting a new business? Get a thick skin and also, you know nothing. Promise. I’m still learning how to do this every day.
BD: My favorite part is the little world we have created here. Between the three companies there are a lot of amazing employees and it’s lively. There are usually 3 stereos playing drastically different loud music, lots of laughs and hubbub, and lots of beautiful FOOD. My heaven.
My advice: find like-minded good people to surround yourself with. For us, it’s made all the difference.
What does the word ‘free’ mean to you?
HD: I was born in Iran, immigrated during the Iran-Iraq war, moved to California, and got kicked out of California for making yogurt. I know that sounds super melodramatic —“freedom” means being able to choose the risks you want to make in life, work, and love. Freedom FEELS like putting on a f*cking sundress and flirting with everyone because you aren’t afraid. It is the most glorious.
ND: “Free” means being able to make the choices that you want. I am happy and proud that I run my own business because in a lot of ways I am free. It’s one of the hardest things I have ever done and some days I feel like I certainly won’t make it, but I still feel like I have the freedom to live the life I want. And I’m so proud.
BD: The word free represents the greatest challenge and the greatest payoff. It’s not always easy to have the freedom to make your own way. There are a million forks in the road where you have to make the choice as to where to go next. It’s an amazing feeling. Sometimes you want Siri just to tell you to go left or right, but that’s not what it’s all about. It’s about choosing your path and learning along the way. Free is about getting lost, then found, then lost again, only to find yourself right where you should be.
Truer words couldn’t be spoken – thank you Betsy, Nekisia and Homa for doing what you do.
+Early Bird is running a special for the Free Peeps until 3/25. Take 25% off anything on the website… and there is always free shipping. Use coupon code: EB-HEARTS-FP
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