Thursday, June 17, 2010

My Friends are Cooler Than Your Friends: Jason Goodman and Jeremy Lovitt of Goods Restaurant

When the world ends (which might be soon), I can say for a fact that Jason Goodman and Jeremy Lovitt will be among the few to manage the daunting task of recreating civilization.  Their Mad Max approach to sustainability not only allows them to make lemonade out of lemons, but helps them find the right lemons to use.  Case in point, Goods--their recently soft-opened food concept in Williamsburg, Brooklyn--began as an empty lot and an abandoned trailer (that they tracked down in upstate NY).  Two years later, they've transformed the two into a kitchen, bar, and outdoor eating/drinking spot.  Some of the neater details: the fully custom kitchen is inside a 1946 Spartan, the outdoor flooring will be repurposed wood from Coney Island's boardwalk,and the menu--created by chef Alex McCrery--will feature beef sourced from Pat LaFrieda, hot dogs made with grass-fed beef, house made pickles, and beignets made to order; quite possibly the freshest donut you'll ever eat.  I went with a Goods burger and curly fries.  The loosely packed ground beef made for a surprisingly juicy burger for what I'm told is an 85/15 blend.  Topped with local cheddar, caramelized onions, and served on a potato roll, I made a mess of myself eating it, but it was too delicious to put down and bother with napkins.  And the curly fries.  It was amazing to see these on the menu, not only because hand cut fries aren't my favorite, but because I haven't had them in years, and they're really fucking good.  While I ate my face off, Jason took time out of his busy schedule to catch up with me about the project, about 3rd Ward, and plans for the future.  It's a bit long, but we hadn't caught up for while.  Regardless, it's an excellent opportunity to deconstruct the synapses of an artist who has launched himself, along with his business partner Jeremy, head first (and nuts on the table) into the role of being an entrepreneur, and a successful one at that.

FG: Okay, Fidel Gastro, interview with Jason Goodman, proprietor and handsome gentleman of Goods restaurant in Brooklyn. We’re only doing one take, so let's get started. Tell me where the concept came from

JG: Definitely, definitely, definitely, a work in progress, we redesigned it like 50 times. The inspiration came from living in the neighborhood and seeing this vacant piece of land that nobody could figure out what to do with, and such an amazing location. What would we as people who live here want to patronize? A garden to hang out in, with really good inexpensive food, beer, basically an outdoor oasis, and then, how can we actually do this and be allowed to do this by the city. We were originally going to use a shipping container, but since it’s on top of the MTA, you can’t really build anything there. However, you can park a really beautiful 1946 Spartan trailer there. So we started looking around thinking, well, maybe we could do a food truck with a kitchen, and we thought, if we’re going to do a food truck, it’s gotta be the coolest food truck ever made. So we started looking at different types of trucks and trailers, and we fell in love with this [Spartan] design and we were able to find one really cheap in upstate New York at a junkyard. It had 6 layers of paint on it. We had to completely gut the thing. There were animals living inside of it. There were three different wasp nests inside…fuckin’ crazy man. It was crazy. 6 layers of paint, got all the paint off, 250 hours of polishing, about 2 months of computer aided design, and then about 4 months of it being in the factory where the food truck guy made a completely brand new kitchen, brand new chassy, brand new axle, everything from the ground up.
FG: So, the food truck guy, what’s his deal? Is he local?

JG: He’s about 10 blocks away. He’s probably the 2nd biggest in the tri-state area, the biggest is a conglomerate in NJ, and they pump out food trucks. Our guy’s much more creative. He’s based out of New York City, his name’s Ernie, runs a place called Shanghai Stainless. He was willing to sit down with us and go through a ton of renderings. It had to be completely custom because of the trailer’s curves and the space constraints. He figured it out, was totally hospitable, and got it done only two months behind schedule, which really puts him ahead of schedule. Michael Burns, the genius designer, he really figured it out. It was a lengthy process with no room for error, because once [the guts] are in they’re in. We actually came out with a kitchen that has more space than a lot of New York City restaurant kitchens. We have 6 people in there right now working comfortably.
FG: With everything above, from trailer procurement and construction all the way to serving your first plate of food, how long was the process?

JG: We just got in a day under two years.

FG: Did you anticipate two years?

JG: No, we’re a year and a half late, and we’ve still got a long way to go to flesh out the full vision. We thought, being super na├»ve, this would be a really inexpensive way to a cool little food project. Turned out to be the most expensive thing we could possibly do. It would have been much cheaper and faster to open up a storefront. Funny thing is that a lot of time was spent dealing with the city agencies. They had no idea how to deal with this [type of project]. We are a food truck, but the way it works for a food truck is that the licensing and permitting is catered to individual owners. It’s a solo operation that requires not only the food vending license, but also a sales license. The agencies didn’t anticipate more than one person in the truck, which doesn’t make sense. It seems pretty plausible that one would want to hire employees for their food cart, but whatever. So, all the employees there need to essentially go through the process of becoming a small business owner, just so they can cook. In a regular restaurant, you get hired, and you’re cooking. In our case, it’s at least a 3 month process. You have to take a class, then you schedule a test date a month in advance, then you take the test (hoping you pass it), and then, you have to wait for the forms to arrive in the mail. It’s fucking crazy. So, basically, the city doesn’t really get it. We went to the department of land, they sent us to the department of buildings, and when we got there, they sent us back to the department of land. We lost a year on stupid stuff like that.

FG: Ridiculous. Let’s go back to the trailer. How do you find a trailer?

JG: On the internet.

FG: What’s that?

JG: There’s a buyer and a seller for everything. We found the trailer guy. I think he goes around looking for scrap trailers. He’ll get them on the road, but won’t take it any further than that. It’s a family business that he inherited from his father.

FG: Tell me a little bit about the chef and the menu. What are you serving and what are your specialties?

JG: The chef is a New Orleans native. He cut his teeth as a sous chef at Commander’s Palace, the quintessential fine dining New Orleans resto. Real southern food, very high quality. Paul Prudhomme was there, Emeril Lagasse was there. He came to New York City, where he’s worked at Aureole and Antonucci’s on the Upper East Side. He’s also been invited to cook at the James Beard House. Now he splits his time between us and private chef work. He did our menu with the concept of “food that people want to eat more than once a week, simple enough to be accessible to the masses, but with really high-end ingredients.” That’s the heart of the menu. Children love it, the old people in the neighborhood love it, hipster kids love it, you don’t need to speak three languages to understand the menu, but every single ingredient is sourced to represent the highest quality available. And since we have such low overhead (we’re renting an empty lot for the price of an empty lot), we can keep our costs low and our quality high. So let’s make a menu that suits a neighborhood hangout. I would be happy if everyone in the surrounding blocks came by three times a week. Have breakfast one day, lunch another, and dinner and drinks the next. That’s the idea. We’re not trying reinvent the wheel, we’re not trying to be celebrity chefs, we’re not trying to be the next “it” thing/restaurateur genius. We just want you to chow down.

FG: Food is a proxy for community. How does Goods fit into your vision of community? 3rd Ward’s success is really attributable to the fact that you want people involved, having a good time…

JG: ...Yeah, and enjoying life, and when people are doing so, they start meeting people, they open up, and that’s how communities form. That’s what we wanted with 3rd Ward. There’s so much talent here. Allegedly, there’s more artists living in Williamsburg than anywhere else in the world, but there’s no real center or gathering place. Lots of things retard communities from developing, political, economical, stuff that’s out of our control. But one factor that we can control is architecture, so if we can create a place where people want to gather and feel comfortable doing so, then we can foster that community. We don’t have any waiters, there’s no rush once you’re sitting down, it’s basically your own backyard.

FG: Which is great because there aren’t many backyards in Brooklyn.

JG: No backyards, man. We provide an oasis to sit down and hang out, enjoy the weather , eat some food.

FG: Do you think this represents a shift in 3rd Ward’s focus or is it more of a diversification strategy?

JG: Diversification for sure. We haven’t really taken anything away to add this. So, We’ve been expanding the program at 3rd Ward, and we’ve always been food lovers. In fact, we’ve actually been talking for a while now about doing an incubator program like 3rd Ward for culinary people. Private chefs, people who want to do food startups. There’s a real culinary renaissance happening, which again doesn’t have a real center to it. There’s people doing really great stuff, there’s a lot of culinary heads hanging out at Frankie’s, the Meat Hook is doing really great stuff. But I don’t think that there’s a laboratory for culinary mad scientists. And if we’re talking commercially, if you want to start a small food product, you can sell it to your friends, but if you pick up some steam and want to sell it in stores, you need a commercial kitchen to make it happen, and there’s not really a commercial kitchen to rent, so we’re thinking of things like that, and then doing some cooking classes. We’ve been thinking a lot of the importance of food. It’s environmentally important, it’s important for your health, and once you start learning about food, you start learning about all kinds of tangential things that are really important. Learning about food right now, you start learning about agriculture, you start learning about how much crisis there is with agriculture, you learn the economics of food, the carbon footprint of food, and more you learn, the more you realize it touches everything that you do.

(conversation about M.I.A. and truffle fries)

FG: I think 3rd Ward is a great place for food education because of its grassroots approach to community building instead of being elitist.

JG: Exactly. I like really good food, but I also like really good curly fries, almost as much as I like a 45-day dry-aged ribeye. I also like to know where it comes from, and I like to think about how it gets to the table. It’s really the most basic thing, and we’re so uneducated about it. It’s mind boggling. It’s the most unifying element across all people and platforms and yet, very few people spend much time thinking about it.

FG: I think that’s going to change (at least, I hope it does).

JG: It’s changing. There’s a serious renaissance happening. There’s an artistic renaissance, there’s a media renaissance, and there’s a real culinary renaissance/movement that I would be honored to join.

FG: Great. What’s your timeline for expanding 3rd Ward to Philly and hiring me again?

JG: I wish. We got our homework to do here.

FG: Do you have plans to expand outside of Brooklyn?

JG: We have another project that we want to execute by 2011 in NYC, and then we’ve got the food incubator. We may actually go to Manhattan for that if we can find a place. After that, we may put together a multi-city strategy, so 2012, 2013, I may show up at your doorstep. By the way, how’s that burger?

FG: It’s a damn good burger. I’m really digging the pickles. Thanks for your time and for feeding me.

JG: No worries. Come back soon.

Goods is located on the corner of Metropolitan and Lorimer Sts in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. They are soft open until 6/19, at which point they'll have the garden open for your chilling pleasure. They are open M-Thu 7a-10p, Fri 7a-12a, Sat 9a-12a, and Sun 9a-4pm. You can get rather full for less than $15.

1 comment:

  1. I live right next door to the Goods food fairyland. These two dudes have been douches since they first landed in the hood. I've tried to speak, they turn away. I've had their coffee - the sassy chick at the window has the social skills of a termite. I've just eaten their over-priced sloppy burger - honestly, I'd be happier with the White Castle burger a few blocks away. Really. Why can't these dudes Jason and Jeremy speak to their next door neighbors. I'm not looking to be their best friends, but even as I write this hungry (bored) customers are eating from their very limited menu on the other side of my kitchen wall. There. I said it. C'mon, guys. Say hello the next time I visit.