Well, if you’re Benjamin Sloan, you ask the chef you’ve never met if she needs you to jump on the line and put out some food.
Benjamin’s kind of a tale of two personalities. He tells me that on a macro level he’s just trying to be a good person, and he’s focused on helping others. But on a micro level, he’s nitpicky, hardcore, hardworking, and has the highest expectations. It seems right, then, that he jumped in to help Chef Connie Sun of Bite Size Kitchen.
In his book Give and Take, Wharton professor Adam Grant works to uncover why givers achieve the greatest successes. From the book: “If we create networks with the sole intention of getting something, we won’t succeed. We can’t pursue the benefits of networks; the benefits ensue from investments in meaningful activities and relationships.”
When Benjamin jumped on the line that day at Smorgasburg, he did it because the kitchen was going down fast. He’d been there before. Ever since he was a kid Benjamin knew that he wanted to be involved with food – probably why he was a chef at “Career Day” in 6th grade. So after working some odd jobs he went to culinary school at the French Culinary Institute. From there he worked in kitchens all across the city, but his passion for food wasn’t being fulfilled on the line.
So in 2012 Benjamin and a partner launched Deeply Rooted, an all-natural nutritional supplement company. Their first product was Roots, a blend of antioxidant-rich fruits, vitamin-rich vegetables, and chlorophyll-rich algae, combined in powder form. The company was Benjamin’s first “real go at it,” and he looks back fondly on the experience. While Deeply Rooted tread along the breakeven point financially, Benjamin sees the time as an incredibly valuable intrinsic exploration of self. He always had dreams of starting a business, but actually taking a product to market was a hurdle he never really knew he could cross.
Tiny Drumsticks was born out of Benjamin and Connie’s shared frustration for the risky and capital-intensive nature of opening a restaurant in NYC. It’s expensive. And there’s a really good chance you’re not going to make it. After some incredible successes at Smorgasburg, Connie set out to find the perfect digs for a brick-and-mortar shop for Bite Size Kitchen. But months went by and she couldn’t find a great spot for an attractive price. Instead of giving up, she simply shifted course. “There’s an incredible ecosystem of food, drink, culture, and business there at Smorgasburg,” said Benjamin. “It’s a real community, and everybody seems to be in it together.” Connie decided to team with Benjamin, call on all of the great relationships she had forged at Smorgasburg, and create a commercial kitchen that was efficient, affordable, and accessible to chefs of all kinds.
In May ’13 the two found a space to open their first commissary kitchen – a shared workspace where chefs, cooks, and caterers could pay by the hour to use a certified commercial kitchen. Eighty-five days after breaking ground, Tiny Drumsticks was rolling.
Benjamin has self-funded all of his projects so far. He’s big at managing risk. His background, though you might not believe it, is in investments – Benjamin manages a family investment fund with his uncle and has learned about his own appetite for risk. “I like the idea that I’ve built something out of nothing. I took an idea and executed on it, brought it to fruition. What’s been so important in these past few years has been proving to myself that I was willing to take the risk and create something from nothing.”
When he’s not at Tiny Drumsticks, he’s most likely cooking, traveling, drinking Manhattans, or just walking around Williamsburg. And, last but not least, he says he’d recommend Paolo Coelho’s The Alchemist. That means he gets an A in my book.