Marlow & Sons Founder Weighs In on Local 360 Mercantile"/>
Local 360 formally opens its mercantile tomorrow, giving customers the opportunity to purchase wine, beer, freshly butchered meats, Local 360-branded sauces, and many of the ingredients the staunchly locavore restaurant uses in its own kitchen.
It's now nearly obligatory for restaurants with artisanal leanings to dedicate a portion of their square footage to retail; restaurant owners who've scoured the surrounding area for quality products are eager to share their finds with customers--and the product displays make for elegant visual statements of their restaurants' guiding principles. But the owner of the restaurant which may have launched the retail trend warns that the concept never makes financial sense.
"I think we were the first," says Andrew Tarlow, owner of Marlow & Sons, which was fronted by shelves stocked with dry goods when it opened in Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood in 2002.
"The idea came from hedging our bets," Tarlow says. "I was nervous about a full-fledged store and nervous about a full-fledged restaurant, so we thought about splitting the difference."
Historically, it's not uncommon for a retail store to experiment with prepared meals. Many legendary barbecue joints got their start as butcher shops. But, with the exception of Cracker Barrel, few dedicated restaurants sold anything other than souvenir T-shirts and signature sauces until Tarlow and his partner Mark Firth introduced their in-eatery grocery.
As a restaurant annex, the store was a fiscal failure. It's much easier for a restaurant owner to reap profit by devoting space to tables at which customers can order pricy entrees than to a counter where a customer can buy coffee and a dozen eggs, Tarlow says.
"The dollar amount is very different," he says. "I don't think anyone's done it well. You have to be really committed."
Tom Douglas' Seatown Seabar and Rotisserie last year offered a range of jarred products from local artisans. When the restaurant reopened for the summer, it had replaced its pocket-sized general store with a selection of Tom Douglas seasonings and rubs.
"From the bottom-line perspective, it's problematic," Tarlow says. "But if you have other priorities, it's 100 percent worthwhile."
Tarlow initially reckoned a store could help his restaurant connect with its community. He was right. The restaurant's retail section was so popular with neighbors that it's since become a stand-alone store. Rather than sell cheeses and salts, the store now specializes in what Tarlow calls "secondary goods." The inventory includes tanned leather from the cows that provide the restaurant's beef, and sweaters woven with wool from sheep milked for the restaurant.
"We're working toward the next generation," Tarlow says.