Eastern District Comes to Greenpoint
It’s never too early to start your second life. Beth Lewand and Chris Gray, first partners in marriage—they got hitched in October—and now co-owners of Eastern District, afood market on Manhattan Avenue specializing in American craft beer, cheese, and snacks, just recently decided to do so. Lewand, self-proclaimed cheese nerd and former Web site executive for several cable TV networks, had dreamed of opening her own specialty food store for a couple of years and when she got laid off from her corporate job last spring, the opportunity arose. After a brief stint at Bar Artisanal to confirm this is the path she wanted to take, Lewand was on her way.
“I decided I was really ready for something different. I wanted to interact with other non-corporate people, and being associated with food and sharing food and helping other people learn about new foods is really, really fun for me,” Lewand said.
Gray, whose primary pastime was as a musician (he played in Double Leopards and Endless Boogie), was also ready for a change. Similar to Lewand’spassion for cheese is Gray’s love for beer and home brewing. Before making the leap to Eastern District, Gray had started up the home brew section at Brooklyn’s own Meat Hook. With Gray’s home brew expertise combined with Lewand’s knowledge of cheese, a beer and cheese store was an obvious choice.
Though beer and cheese will beEastern District’s staples—they’ll have growlers and five taps plus a wide variety of epicurean cheeses—the store will also have snacks and sandwiches. “The kind of place that we’re trying to be is someplace where you can come to grab snacks [or]a big spread for a party; or if you’re just coming home from work and too tired to cook a real meal, you can grab some simple food to take home,”Lewand said.
Also, largely important to Lewand and Gray is that a lot of their products are regional, localand from smaller producers. About 80 percent of the goods they carry will be American andat least half of those local, though they will have some imports just for fun. There are certain things that can’t be duplicated- specialty Belgian beers and selectItalian cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Judging from her fierce love of cheese, imported and local, it’s no surprise that Lewand was born in Vermontand continued to spend time there throughout her childhood even after moving to Baltimore. One of her earliest memories is going to the dairy farm and getting the fresh milk out of the creamer. “Cheese was always really interesting to me. I’d go on vacation to Vermont [and] I would want to go visit the cheese producers and the dairy farms,”Lewand said. After the seed had been planted, her love for foodonly furthered when she later worked in a“so-called gourmet deli”—which as shedescribed it was “a world away from what is considered gourmet now in New York City”—while growing up in Baltimore.
But before there was Baltimore and Vermont, there was Greenpoint. Not for Lewand herself—she only moved here in ’97—but for her family who has been here for over a century. Lewand and Gray currently live in the house Lewand’s grandfather grew up in,her grandmother who loves to come visit and still has her favorite butcher shop and bakery they have to go to,grew up on Driggs Avenue, and her father grew up on Driggs and Broome Street. “So this store, for me, is sort of rediscovering my roots and setting my roots in a little bit deeper in my family’s neighborhood,” Lewand said.
Perhaps the most fun element ofopening this deeply family-rooted store is also the hardest: trying to decide what to carry. Some highlights to expect on the beer side are local favorites like Brooklyn Brewery, Sixpoint and Captain Lawrence, plus, in light of Lewand’s Baltimore upbringing, mid-Atlantic brewslike Stillwater and Heavy Seas.Some of the New York cheeses they plan to carry are Nettle Meadow and Coach Farm; and from Vermont they’ll have Jasper Hill Farm and CabotClothboundCheddar, to name a few.And, of course, Acme Smoked Fish, as Lewand and Gray are big fans.
Eastern District is located at 1053 Manhattan Avenuebetween Freeman and Eagle Streets. There will be an official grand opening in September.