Washington’s casual home cooks, gourmands and avowed foodies might find themselves waiting in line this weekend to sample high-end Utah salami while noshing on a pork bun from the District and cooing over stylishly packaged chocolate from Brooklyn.
If the scenario sounds insufferable, well, friend, perhaps the modern artisanal food market is not for you.
But those who enjoy nothing more than thinking about, Instagramming and eating food will want to make haste for the first District edition of the Emporiyum as it descends on Union Market.
For the vendors coming from across the country, the Emporiyum is a chance to land in the pantries (and bellies) of discerning Washington food lovers, for whom, in turn, it’s an opportunity to read the artisanal tea leaves. The savvy Emporiyum-goer will be among the first to taste goods from restaurateurs soon moving into the Washington market — and a few who might be considering it.
Momofuku Milk Bar, set to open in CityCenterDC next year, will be there, as will Ohio’s beloved Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams; the growing chain has outlets in seven cities, but curiously, nothing — yet! — between New York and Charleston, S.C.
Austin’s Paul Qui, the former “Top Chef” winner and owner of the East Side King food trucks and restaurants (and the recently lauded Thai-Kuntruck), will serve steamed buns and other Asian snacks. Qui is practically a local: His mom still lives in Springfield. Could he someday plant a (way, way) East Side King in Shaw, or on H Street NE? “You never know,” he said with a laugh. “I have thought about it in the past.”
With a roster of nearly 60 vendors, the Emporiyum has managed to assemble a mouthwatering lineup despite a relatively brief track record. The first Emporiyum event took place over two days in April in Baltimore’s Fells Point.
Behind the mix of handmade caramels and pour-over coffees are Mindy Schapiro and Sue-Jean Chun, friends who say they were as inspired by the millennial-driven boom in food-makers as they were by artisanal markets in Brooklyn and Los Angeles.
Both live in Baltimore, and after Schapiro visited Brooklyn’s Smorgasburg food event two years ago, she was struck by the idea to bring something like it to Charm City. A veteran event planner from New York, Schapiro had logistics down pat; Chun, a restaurant publicist, knew precisely whom to call and how to persuade chefs into taking a gamble on a first-time market.
“My first instinct was to ask the people I was working with,” Chun said. “At the time, I was working with Bryan Voltaggio, and was working with Erik [Bruner-Yang, of Toki Underground and the forthcoming Maketto]. A lot of D.C. vendors think of Baltimore as this cool, gritty, foodie city only an hour away. So we were kind of racking up our vendors.”
But the women say the purpose of the market is not for visitors simply to walk away stuffed and happy. Of Smorgasburg, Chun said, “People love to go there as a food destination. You go for lunch and brunch. We wanted that, but we really wanted to encourage people to shop, to buy gifts, but also buy for their own pantries.”
So, in addition to food that you can eat on-site, from well-known sellers such as Shake Shack and Taco Bamba, expect tables to be stocked with bags of fresh and dried pasta from Sfoglini, an organic pasta company from Brooklyn whose rigatoni is on the menu at Rose’s Luxury; and Black Seed Bagels, whose New York bagels don’t require the trip up the New Jersey Turnpike.
Jeni’s will bring its holiday collection of ice creams — including sweet potato with torched marshmallows and buttercup pumpkin with amaretti cookies — for sweet tooths to eat on the spot, said Jeni Britton Bauer, the chain’s founder. But for delayed gratification, customers can place orders at the Emporiyum for ice cream to be cold-shipped in time for the holidays.
Other vendors will peddle something beyond the edible: nostalgia, updated for the adult palate. Jami Curl’s fruit chews might remind you of a Starburst, texturally, but they’re made with apples, cranberries, blackberries and cherries that Curl’s Quin Candy sources from its home in Portland, Ore. “It isn’t just that we’re dumping a bunch of ingredients into a hopper and having it squirt out of a tube and be wrapped in a wrapper,” Curl said.
The candy maker, who also took part in the first Emporiyum, sees the event as a chance for the nation’s disparate food scenes to mingle.
“There was a coffee roaster there, and a person that made doughnuts, a caramel corn company and a person that does brownies,” Curl said of her experience in Baltimore. “It was fun to see even what they’re doing with packaging. Especially the local people — to see what they do and talk to them about the stores that they sell in.”
Some might grouse about having to pay admission for what amounts to a shopping event. The organizers note, however, that pulling off an indoor market with food isn’t without overhead, including rental of the space, power and other needs of the businesses. The ticket price, Chun says, allows vendors to keep every penny of what they will make this weekend.
You might even consider doubling-down on the $20 ticket price to fork over $40 for VIP access, which comes not only with early admission, but a gift bag filled with items from sponsors and vendors, cocktails and a free brunch buffet from the food-makers at Union Kitchen.
With other markets, said Britton Bauer of Jeni’s, “Sometimes you pay your admission fee, and it’s this really crowded free-for-all of eating.” What the Emporiyum is doing differently, she said, “is that that’s like an art fair. You walk up, you’re in the space, you’re sampling the fare, you’re looking at it, you’re tasting it. And then you have this option of purchasing it. It becomes an experience.”
If you go:
Where: The Maurice Electric Warehouse, 500 Penn St. NE, on the Union Market campus. Metro: NoMa-Gallaudet. Union Market won’t shutter to make room for Emporiyum shoppers this weekend, so get to the venue early if you plan to park.
When: Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. VIP tickets include access at 10 a.m.
Price: $20 a day for general admission; $40 for VIP, which includes food from Union Kitchen Catering, early access to vendors, specialty cocktails and a gift bag. Advance VIP tickets are sold out, but both types of walk-up tickets will be available at the door.
Pro tips: Co-founder Sue-Jean Chun says there will be “ample samples,” meaning “plenty to eat and drink without additional money.” You should be prepared to buy more food, although she recommends a little self-control. There’s no need to get everything. Chun suggests going to the Emporiyum with a strategy. Are you there to buy things for yourself? Maybe you want to purchase items for your Thanksgiving table. (Frozen Crack Pie from Momofuku Milk Bar, anyone?) Or perhaps you’re looking to buy holiday gifts for the food lovers on your list. Setting goals will give you a sense of purpose and focus.