Two years ago, Masliah, 54, who sold her Gula Gula Empanadas products at the weekly Riverhead Farmers Market, signed a lease to open a brick-and-mortar store in Mattituck.
But she knew she needed a partner. Holly Browder, co-owner of organic poultry farm Browder’s Birds, suggested Katz, a local baker.
It turned out to be a good fit.
The pair, who didn’t previously know one another, opened Goodfood in June 2015. The community has since embraced their offerings, including homemade baked goods, quiches, soups, salads and, of course, empanadas.
We sat down with them on Valentine’s Day — four days before Katz’s 50th birthday — to talk about their business, the future and the benefits of starting a venture at this point in their lives.
Q: What were you doing before you opened this business?
LM: I was doing insurance in East Hampton. I did mortgage finance for like 15 years. And then [after the 2008 real estate crash] that business became very difficult. I had a lot of clients that kept calling for help with mortgages and nothing could be done. I was like OK, what do we do now?
There was an agency in East Hampton that was looking for a bilingual agent. I applied for the job, I got the job, I went to insurance school. I did that job for like four years and I really did not like it at all. And that’s how I came back into food. I took a big a detour and that’s how Gula Gula Empanadas started. With me sitting at a desk.
AK: I worked in restaurants. I worked at North Fork Table and Inn. I started my own business doing baking and doing some things for the farmers out of the kitchen [at the Stony Brook University Incubator at Calverton].
But before I worked in food I worked in the fashion industry. I was a merchandiser. I traveled to Asia, mostly to price fabrics.
I liked it when I first started doing it. It was right after college, it was the ’80s, and fashion was exciting. By the time I finally left the job, we would meet with the buyers and the designers and it was like “find me the same polo shirt for the same price.” Then I went to culinary school [at the French Culinary Institute, now the International Culinary Center].
Q: Why did you open this business?
AK: I had been looking into opening more of a bakery, more like a smaller café. Holly Browder knew Luchi, and Luchi was opening the store and was looking for a partner.
It’s a big undertaking. It was kind of lucky to find someone who wanted to do kind of the same thing and was looking for a partner.
LM: I looked for a long time to see if I could find a space on the South Fork because that’s where I live. I could never find anything. One afternoon I’m looking through the papers and I saw an ad for a space in Mattituck and I said, “Let’s pick up the phone and call.” The next thing I knew I had signed the lease. And I said, this is not going to be just empanadas.
I’ve done food businesses before and I know how demanding it can be and how difficult it is to be in a place 24/7. If I was going to do it that way, I didn’t know if I was going to be happy about it. So that’s really why I wanted a partner.
Q: What is unique about your North Fork business?
LM: I think we offer quite a few things that nobody else is doing. We have the empanadas. We have Alison’s baked goods, which I don’t think anyone else does. We started launching certain items like the power bowls. I think what people really like is that everything is made from scratch in-house. The food is made in small batches, which ensures the freshness of it constantly. It makes it a little challenging in terms of planning for the business. But I think that’s what people really like.
Q: What’s the best part about coming to work?
AK: I love owning my own business. I love the people that come in. This community had been really supportive of us. People are so friendly. I was new to this community —my husband and I moved her from [Boerum Hill] Brooklyn and we spent a year on the South Fork — so we didn’t really know a lot of people here when we opened.
People are just nice, supportive and enthusiastic about what we do here, so I’m grateful for that. And I love baking, so I’m happy to come and do that.
Q: What is the most challenging?
AK: Two things are challenging. One is being able to plan our inventory, which has gotten a little bit easier as we are in our second year. The other is finding and keeping good help out here. We have a very good staff right now, both in the front and back. But it’s taken a couple of years for us to get what we needed when we needed it.
Q: What are the advantages of starting a business at this point in your life?
LM: I think it helps. Listen, it’s always an adventure and there are never guarantees of anything. But I think you look at things in a different way and that’s what experience brings.
You’re a little more at ease. You’re a little more relaxed. The day can be crazy, but at least you know it’s going to end.
AK: You realize if something goes wrong it’s not the end of the world. If you’re younger, you don’t get that as easily.
As you get older, you know you are going to get through things. You are going to recover and you will be fine.
Q: What’s in store for next year?
AK: It’s seeing what we have to do to grow the business or change the business to adapt to this community. I think owning a biz out here is challenging because if we were as busy every day as we are in the summer, we’d be making enough money where we wouldn’t have to worry.
We have to figure out how to make this business viable for the two of us as well as the community.
LM: We’ll see what happens. We would love to see this place keep developing. There are still things that could be different. There’s always a challenge. The community has been welcoming and the business is moving forward and we’ve seen some growth. But for any new business, you need to keep refreshing.