Today in Navy Yard, Sophia Florendo-Stevens was unloading barricades off a truck and setting up picnic tables, all part of preparing Tingey Plaza to host the more than 30 local food vendors she’s picked to participate in the city’s first Smorgasburg tomorrow.
As general manager of the outdoor food market’s new D.C. operation, Florendo-Stevens is hoping to lure crowds numbering in the thousands just like the Smorgasburgs in New York and Los Angeles. Navy Yard will host the market Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. until at least October. Admission is free.
To maintain the element of surprise, Florendo-Stevens has only had a few months to build a lineup. But her connections in the hospitality industry helped her assemble a diverse cast — “lots of people of color, lots of women,” she notes. She wanted a comprehensive representation of D.C. food culture, so in addition to pizza and ice cream there will be stalls selling Ethiopian injera wraps, mumbo sauce poutine, and crab cakes.
Formerly a general manager of Beuchert’s Saloon, Florendo-Stevens has worked at Daikaya and Red Hen and helped open Maketto and the Line hotel (in D.C. and Austin). She was consulting on operations and taking short-term contracts before the braintrust at Smorgasburg asked her what she thought about bringing the market to D.C. She had already befriended them in L.A.
“They called me and they asked me if it was a good idea,” she says. “I was like, ‘Yeah. It’s actually the best idea you’ve had in a while, and can I help you?’”
When she went up to New York to interview for the GM role, she brought with her a wish list of vendors and a case for why she thought Navy Yard was the right spot to plant the market. Upon landing the job, she started making calls, landing commitments from proven hospitality vets at Timber Pizza Co., Sloppy Mama’s BBQ, and Milk Cult. Himitsu chef Kevin Tien will bring his Hot Lola’s chicken sandwiches to a stall. Sushi Taro chef Nobu Yamazaki will try out a Skew’d stall for yakitori.
While building her list, Florendo-Stevens focused on referrals. That helped her ensure she’d be getting people with a collaborative attitude while unearthing sous chefs and line cooks who had projects they wanted to explore but not the support system.
“We’re trying to get people to listen to the best and brightest,” she says, “but they’re not the loudest because they don’t have investors. They don’t have COOs. They have me.”
One example is the Eat 170 stall, a project from chef and first grade teacher Vernon Price. He’s making D.C. poutine with smoked turkey and mumbo sauce and frying egg rolls filled with collard greens.
There’s also Hilana Falafel, which showcases locally grown chickpeas. Mastiha, a Greek bakery based in Kensington, Maryland, is going to be tinkering with Mediterranean tlayudas built on fresh pita. Rabia Kamara, who’s cooking at Thamee on H Street, will be slinging her Ruby Scoops ice cream at Smorgasburg. Seylou worker Yonathan Haio is working on a Ethiopian stall (not part of the first weekend) that figures out a street food format for the cuisine that will integrate kifto and fresh cheeses.
With a mix of established chefs and up-and-comers they can mentor, Florendo-Stevens is hoping to build an attraction that has lasting power. Smorgasburg is committed until October, but if it proves to be a success, it could find an indoor location for the winter and run year-round.
Here’s a look at the vendors lined up for the first market this Saturday:
- Arepa Zone
- Balo Kitchen and Pho Wheels
- Bay Pearl (crab cakes)
- Bun’d Up
- Chaia (Veggie-based Mexican)
- Cracked Eggery (breakfast sandwiches)
- Criosho (South American)
- Eat 170 (Mumbo sauce poutine, soul food egg rolls)
- Ekiben (Asian-American fusion)
- Gwenie’s Pastries (Filipino desserts)
- Hilana Falafel
- Hot Lola’s (Sichuan-style Nashville hot chicken)
- Kuya Ja’s Lechon
- Lei Musubi
- Lost Sock Roasters
- Mastiha (Greek)
- Milk Cult (ice cream sandwiches)
- New Standard Sandwich
- Pinch Dumplings
- Rebel Taco
- Roy Boys (oysters and chicken)
- Ruby Scoops (ice cream/sorbet)
- Senzu Juicery
- Seylou (bakery)
- Skew’d (yakitori)
- Sloppy Mama’s BBQ
- SnoCream Company
- Spot of Tea (boba)
- Sweet Crimes (gluten-free bakery)
- Swizzler (burgers and dogs)
- Z&Z Za’atar (manoushe)
- Otabe (Kobe-style food)