Mon, Apr 9, 2012
Some were curious, others a little baffled; one resident even thought it was a joke—a store selling only mayonnaise, artisanal-flavored mayonnaise? Though the concept was a little more plausible in a foodie haven like Brooklyn, it still seemed quirky even for the borough.
But Empire Mayonnaise is more than a trendy idea. The small store, located at 564 Vanderbilt Ave. in Prospect Heights, opened its doors Sunday. By late afternoon around 100 people had stepped inside, sampled the store’s flavored mayonnaise and liked what they tasted.
To mark Easter, on the store’s opening day it gave away deviled eggs—made with local, fresh eggs and three of their flavored mayonnaises, White Truffle, Red Chili and Smoked Paprika—as well as glasses of champagne, store coupons and mini samples of their products.
Elizabeth Valleau and notable New York City chef Sam Mason started selling their line of gourmet-flavored mayonnaise last spring at the Brooklyn Flea’s open-air food market, Smorgasburg. The most popular flavors include Black Garlic, Vadouvan (French Curry Masala) and Lime Pickle.
“There’s just really nothing else out there [like our product],” says Valleau. Through her own cooking habits, she knew mayonnaise tasted better homemade and infused with flavorful ingredients. But as a designer, Valleau had no professional food experience, so she brought Mason on board, whom she met through a friend of a friend.
Together they came up with the line of gourmet mayonnaises, made mainly with organic, local eggs, vinegar, salt and different spices and other flavorings, such as truffle oil and lime. Currently, they sell 12 different flavors at $6 to $8 per 4-ounce jar. Empire Mayonnaise is also planning on coming out with a vegan line soon.
When they started selling their products at Smorgasburg, they got a great response, and people loved it, says Valleau. For her, one of the best experiences at the market was when people who didn’t like mayonnaise, tried the products and changed their opinion of the condiment. Brooklyn consumers are very brave and excited about trying new products, she says.
Though Empire Mayonnaise found success at the food market, a brick-and-mortar store seemed like a big jump to some.
After several websites reported on their future store, Valleau says that some people online were saying things like, “That’s so ridiculous why would you need a whole store just for mayonnaise.”
But the store’s purpose isn’t just to sell mayonnaise. It’s also a secure place to make it. The company was renting commercial spaces short term to make their products, but that was costly and inconvenient. “We wanted to have a place that we could really call our own,” says Valleau.
They found one on Vanderbilt Avenue that was the right price and size—only about 100 square feet. The retail section fits no more than a few people at a time.
The store is more of a processing place for us, says Valleau. The rest of the space is used to stock orders and for the kitchen/walk-in refrigerator where they make the mayonnaise and let it sit so the flavors can steep.
Opening a storefront in Brooklyn, where they already had a customer base through the food market, was a logical choice. Both Valleau and Mason also have roots in the borough: Mason lives there, and Valleau, who now resides in SoHo, was born in Brooklyn.
In particular, Prospect Heights is ideal because it’s a place where Valleau has many friends, and she likes what she sees happening in the neighborhood. The area has seen a growth in food businesses recently and is family-friendly.
On Easter Sunday, locals were happy to see that the store had finally opened and welcomed it to the neighborhood. As one resident tried a deviled egg sample, he remarked that he had passed by the storefront and it had piqued his interest. He was glad to finally see what it was selling.
The store plans to hold more events and cooking classes to show how its mayonnaise can be used beyond just sandwiches and burgers.
Valleau loves using the flavored mayonnaise as marinade for chicken or fish. It’s also great to use as a substitute for hollandaise sauce with poached eggs or vegetables, to make tuna, chicken or tofu salads, and as a dip for french fries, she says.
The store has no set hours yet but is planning on being opened from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. most weekdays and shorter hours on weekends, from 1 to 4 p.m., so Empire Mayonnaise can still sell the products at the Smorgasburg food market.
The complete product line is also available to buy online and includes themed flavor samples of their regular 4-ounce sized mayonnaise jars, such as Austin mix (Red chili, Black Garlic, Bacon) and Kyoto mix (Wasabi, Yuzu Chili, Lime Pickle) and a six pack mini sampler of 1-ounce jars.