Column: The American Dream is alive at the Stony Brook Incubator

Tainos

Vivian Jarrett at the Stony Brook Incubator at Calverton on Monday. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

If you’ve ever been to the Riverhead Farmers Market, chances are you have sampled the citrusy, garlicky goodness of Tainos Sofrito & Mojo sauces.

It might not have been because you are a Puerto Rican food enthusiast. More likely it was because you couldn’t ignore the sales pitch of owner Vivian Jarrett, doling out generous samples of the flavorful condiments.

And maybe you took some home for an easy topping on taco night or as aromatics to add to a pot of chili.

“I started off at a cooking competition at Garden of Eve [Organic Farm & Market in Riverhead],” Jarrett said during the Stony Brook Incubator in Calverton’s first expo day on Monday.

People told her she should bottle her recipe.

“I said, ‘who will buy this?’ Well, 300 jars later, it became a business,” she said. “I wish I could take credit for this, but this recipe is hundreds and hundreds of years old.”

Thirty two food entrepreneurs make their product at the incubator. There, they receive mentoring and education in food preparation, packaging and getting their product on store shelves. The producers gathered at the facility on Monday to show off their products and make sales pitches to buyers from stores like Whole Foods and Wild by Nature.

I stopped by as many vendors as I could to learn about how they got into the business of making niche foods.

Many of the vendors were home bakers and cooks while others owned restaurants and catering businesses. All had a hunch that their recipe, whether homemade rice pudding like Lucky Lou’s or a different take on a common condiment like Tink’s Red Ginger Cocktail Sauce, could make them some money.

They make their products at the facility’s commercial kitchen space, which allows some producers to cook, bake or brew in a bulk unavailable elsewhere.

NoFo Crunch

Deana Rayburn of North Fork Crunch. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

Deana Reyburn of Mattituck was baking granola for her company, NoFo Crunch, at Taste of the North Fork commercial kitchen in Cutchogue, but soon outgrew that facility. She was able to kick her business up a notch after moving to the incubator.

“I can do 50 sheet pans at a time,” she said. “Before, that would take me hours.”

The incubator, which opened in October 2012, offers entrepreneurs an opportunity not afforded to them even a decade ago. It is fortuitous for the crafters that the opening of this facility coincides with the growing local food movement and consumer avoidance of processed foods and preservatives.

“It’s much easier to do now than it was 20 years ago,” Tink Mortimer of Locust Valley said of making Tink’s cocktail sauce. “Before you would have had to go to a major bottling plant.”

It takes a certain level of brilliance to identify a need in the market and successfully fill it with a unique, high quality product. The idea is the spark and the incubator is the fuel needed to turn into an enterprise.

It’s hard not to be inspired by the stories of people like Jarrett, who rises before the sun to make her products before her two young children get out of bed, or Reyburn, whose daughters Kendall and Haley will be expanding NoFo Crunch to Oregon.

They probably are not looking to conquer the world with a global brand, but that’s OK. In fact, it’s preferable.

When you buy a bag of NoFo Crunch or a bottle of Tainos, you are supporting regular people making a living on Long Island and not some CEO who made more money in the past month than you might make in your lifetime.

Real median wages are still below pre-recession levels and as a Goldman Sachs analysis once saidthe strength [of profits] is directly related to the weakness in hourly wages.”

Sure, artisanal items might cost a few extra dollars, but you can ask where the ingredients come from and know that and it is probably a higher-quality product.

Let’s continue to support them. They are keeping the American Dream alive.

Vera Chinese