Sunday, January 31, 2010

Newcomer on Columbia Street: Nine Cakes

Betsy Thorleifson recently set up her shop on Columbia street. As we are always delighted to meet and welcome new businesses in the neighborhood, we asked Betsy if we could interview her. She graciously agreed and here it is. Introducing Cakes on the Waterfront!

WoCS: How did you decide to do cakes?

I was making my friend’s birthday cake, and had given notice at my job so I was trying to figure out what I was going to do next. I knew it had to be something that was my own thing, something creative, something I could make. And another friend who was a personal chef and in the kitchen with me while I was putting the birthday cake together suggested I start a cake business. It seemed like a crazy idea at the time and I don’t remember now how I ever thought it would work—but I just jumped right in and haven’t stopped moving since. It’s been a great rollercoaster whirlwind, and the best part was discovering that a cake business isn’t just about baking cakes, so I’m constantly challenging myself in learning all the aspects of running a small business.

WoCS: Do you have a background in pastry?

Nope. I have a degree in musical performance (piano, harpsichord, pipe organ) and then ended up working with kids in various childcare and teaching positions. I’ve always loved baking, and would always find a reason to bake something. Birthday cakes, scones and muffins for brunch, pies, tartlets for baby showers. Baking was always something I enjoyed doing, and always loved to explore. I’ve always “studied” cookbooks (there’s often a stack by my bedside) and loved all things pastry, if there was something I hadn’t baked before, I’d just read through recipes and figure it out. One summer I made a list of 20 different pies I wanted to make so I could perfect my pie crust. It was a delicious summer.

WoCS: Why "nine" cakes?

When I first started, I came up with a list of cakes I wanted to offer. I was sitting around brainstorming business names with friends. We came up with all sorts of ridiculous names, and then someone asked how many cakes I had. It turned out to be nine. My Dad is a math teacher, so numbers are comforting and intriguing on some level, and I love the mix of chemistry/math and alchemy/creativity I find in baking (and music for that matter). When I did a google search to make sure the name wasn’t already being used, a Lewis Carroll puzzle came up. He had written a children’s book of philosophy puzzles, and there was one about Alice needing to figure out how to arrange nine cakes in some particular order. And so it was settled: Nine Cakes. Sometimes people tell me nine is a very auspicious number.

WoCS: Why this neighborhood?

It was affordable. I wouldn’t have been able to do what I’m doing anywhere else. I’ve been growing the business a little at a time: sell some cakes buy some pans, sell some more cakes, sign a lease. The space also allows me to grow at my own pace and on my own terms; making small, intentional (often serendipitous) steps has been really good for me.

WoCS: What kind of events do you bake for most?

Right now I’m scheduling a lot of weddings, and making lots of birthday cakes, special occasion cakes, cupcakes for office parties, lots of kid birthdays. It’s fun. And now that I’m going on my second year, I’m getting orders for the same birthdays as last year—it’s very sweet.


WoCS: Which is your most popular cake?

I change the menu seasonally, so every season there’s a new favorite. This winter I’d say it’s the chocolate caramel fleur de sel, the chocolate chile, or the almond rosewater. Last summer it was the Strawberry Lemonade cake. Sometimes people won’t be able to choose just one flavor, so order cupcakes instead.

WoCS: Which is your favorite cake?

My problem is too many favorites. I just made a cake sample for a Valentine’s Day wedding, so now it’s my new wintery favorite: a dark chocolate cake with a chile-cherry filling and a dark chocolate cinnamon buttercream. It’s warming and decadent. Can you imagine a more romantic wintery cake? In the spring I love all the tea flavors and floral waters mixed into cakes and buttercreams. In the summer lemon raspberry, in the fall apple or pumpkin, with maple buttercream.

Up close

WoCS: What is the craziest request you've ever had for a cake or an event?

I don’t often receive requests for crazy cakes, my style is definitely more homespun with a little twist. Though I have done a laser tag cake, and a VW Bus for Brooklyn Based’s Lost party, and a cake that was supposed to be a military jeep but ended up looking like an English cab. Those cakes taught me I prefer making cakes that look like cakes.

WoCS: Do you watch Ace of Cakes? If so, do you like it?

I don’t have a tv, but I’ve seen it a couple times online. It’s completely mesmerizing and fun to watch, their kitchen is absolutely incredible. They make amazing sculptures… I always wonder how those crazy sculpted cakes taste though. Definitely seems like a fun show.
WoCS: Will you be opening the storefront?

For the time being, probably not. For now I feel like I’ve got the perfect set up, and opening a storefront seems like it would be a whole new venture. Though I do love it when people come in and see if I have any extra cake around. I like getting to know the neighbors, and the block has charm and a gritty sweetness. I love the view from out on the sidewalk. I’d love to have some benches out front in the spring and pots of flowers. And then I might as well make a pot of coffee and some little cakes to offer. Hmmm, sounds a little storefronty. Other ideas I’d love to make happen in the kitchen space: baking and cake decorating lessons, cupcake decorating parties for kids’ birthdays... Never short on dreams around here.
WoCS: Do you have a favorite hang out in the neighborhood?

Starting a business has limited my hang out time in any neighborhood. There are plenty of places I would love to hang out in, I really love the neighborhood… I’ve stopped in Sugar Lounge for burgers and drinks, and I LOVE Calexico for lunch (dinner if I’m working late!!). The lady who has the Union Max shop on the corner is so sweet and I love her little shop. I love the gorgeous window displays at Winkworth. And I’m a huge fan of Brooklyn General. Freebird bookstore is on my list of places to stop by, and there’s a hot dog place on Degraw I want to try, too. There are so many gems around, tucked away in little pockets of the neighborhood, I look forward to finding them over time

Nine Cakes is located at 155 Columbia street (between Kane and Degraw streets), and you can reach Betsy at (347) 907-9632.

Nine Cakes shares the space with Early Bird Foods,where Nekisia Davis makes "amazing granola gathered in Brooklyn".

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Talk on Columbia St Waterfront Irish-Italian History - Rocky Sullivans, 2/3/10

On 2/3/10 at Rocky Sullivans, author James T. Fisher will discuss very local waterfront history, including an "Irish-Italian split" that existed in the area during the early to mid 20th Century. His recently published book "On the Irish Waterfront: the Crusader, the Movie, and the Soul of the Port of New York" offers an in-depth look at the real situations that informed the classic Marlon Brando film "On the Waterfront." During a reading on Jan 3rd at Sunny's, he impressed many with proof that Budd Schulberg did not write the screenplay to exonerate his role in the HUAC hearings, that the hearings that inspired him were the ones about corruption on the docks.

Read more about that January 3rd event on PortSide NY's blog.



Rocky Sullivans

34 Van Dyke Street (at Dwight)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Pratt Inst. Presentation and Workshops on Columbia Waterfront - 1/28 @ LICH

This semester, Pratt Institute's graduate Preservation & Planning studio will be focused on the Columbia Waterfront (CW) neighborhood of Brooklyn, from the Brooklyn/Queens Expressway to the New York Harbor waterfront, from Atlantic Avenue to Hamilton Avenue. Their goal is to assess the land uses, economic conditions, and quality-of-life issues in the neighborhood and make recommendations as to how to address physical deficiencies, preserve historic and contemporary places of value to the community, and enhance economic development. The students will conduct place-based research and community outreach, prepare an analysis of the strengths/weaknesses/opportunities/threats in the neighborhood, develop plan elements that address these conditions, and finally to prepare a final plan and present it the community.

A key component of the studio is consultation with community members, beginning with an open meeting on Thursday, January 28 at 7:00 pm at LICH.* The agenda will include a brief presentation of historical information compiled last semester, followed by a forum where participants will be asked to share their concerns about and aspirations for the neighborhood.

*Meeting details:

Date: January 28, 2010

Time: 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm

Location: LICH building on Hicks Street, just off Atlantic Avenue. Enter the main revolving doors and you’ll come to a security desk. We’re reserved under Columbia Waterfront Neighborhood Assn. / Pratt Presentation. The security guard will direct you to conference room F/G -which is a short distance down the hall.

Please RSVP to: melissaum { at }

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Super Movers: A neighborhood based moving company

We don't advocate moving out of the Columbia Waterfront neighborhood - in fact, we strongly advocate moving in - but if you must move, consider supporting the locally based moving company Super Movers. We recently had the opportunity to interview Ariane of the Super Movers about her company, the moving business, the neighborhood, and related environmental issues. Check out what she had to say below, which is a great read, and seriously consider using them for future moving needs within the neighborhood and beyond.

TWOCS: How did you get started in the moving business?
A: Long story. Some other time. But in the winter of 2005 we took a cargo van and started a man with a van service that has since grown into a full fledged licensed and insured moving company, with our own website and a facebook fan page. I never thought I’d be a business owner, let alone the owner of a moving business. But it’s been a big adventure, all things considered.

TWOCS: How long have you been based in the Columbia Waterfront?
A: We moved to President Street in the fall of 2004, and started our business in the winter of 2005, so we’ve been here about 5 years now. When we moved here, Columbia Street looked like it had suffered a shelling – it was all potholes and rubble. There were four poultry houses in a three block radius, and prostitutes at the end of Sackett Street. We could park our trucks in the M&T Ice Cream lot, and get fairly inexpensive space on Van Brunt Street. It sounds worse than it was, but the neighborhood reall did change rapidly. 60 Tiffany Place opened in 2006, and then 26 Tiffany went up. The city repaired Columbia Street to make way for Fairway and Ikea, and two of the poultry houses departed.

TWOCS: What are some of the advantages of basing a moving business in our neighborhood?
A: This neighborhood, from a transportation perspective, is great for our business. It has easy access to the BQE in both directions; commercial traffic has to use the Manhattan Bridge to get into the city, and we’re fairly close to the bridge. We work with Treasure Island in Red Hook for storage, and its remarkably close to very desirable Brooklyn neighborhoods—much more convenient than the facilities on Second Avenue in Sunset Park or off Flushing near the Navy Yard.

TWOCS: Your website talks about an initiative to be a more sustainable moving company. Please tell us more about that and how progress has come along on that.
A: We’re happy to be able to report that we’re just finalizing a partnership with the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative to donate a sum of money from each move as carbon offsets. The Brooklyn Greenway Initiative will offer our customers a complimentary one year membership that includes invitations to the Greenway’s events. Besides that, we’re active composters, and have made personal commitments to take as much as we possibly can out of the journey to the landfill. We recycle. We avoid petroleum based plastics as much as possible. There’s a widening gyre of garbage twice the size of Texas in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and it’s full of plastics that get ingested by fish that get ingested by us, and then we end up full of bisphenol-A and dioxin. We switched to compact mercury vapor bulbs in the office. We use unbleached paper that can be put in our compost. More generally, we’re really working to build a thriving business in a small area. When we move people in Cobble Hill or Carroll Gardens or Park Slope, we’re hyper-local. We use less gasoline than if you hired Flat Rate or Moishe’s who come down from the Bronx. We know the neighborhoods, so we’re better at navigating and we don’t get lost. When our estimators go for a site visit, quite often they can walk.

We’ve made other commitments, as well, that will take more time to implement. When we add trucks to our fleet, they’ll be diesel trucks that can use B20 biodiesel fuel. I’ve looked at the city’s alternative fuel vehicle programs and would love to have trucks that run on compressed natural gas, but that’s a far longer range plan. Some popular movers now have plastic moving bins for rent as an alternative to cardboard boxes, claiming they’re “greener” because they’re reusable, but we’ve looked into it, and we don’t feel that way. The plastic bins crack after about half a dozen moves, so they’re only slightly more durable than book boxes, and cardboard can be put out with the recycling when it wears out. Plus, most plastics are petroleum based. The whole green thing is in a weird place. You can go to Home Depot and find a paint brush with a plastic handle that claims to be green because no trees were cut down to make it. The Ethanol boondoggle should have taught us to be a little skeptical about any sustainability claims made by someone with a profit motive, and I’m glad that you brought this up. The real steps we’re taking—to support the Greenway and to compost and keep waste out of the landfill as much as possible—are local and are about changing lifestyles and personal expectations.

TWOCS: What could be done by elected officials or large companies to help you and other moving companies convert to more environmentally friendly trucking operations?
A: I think if the city offered low cost loans or generous incentives to companies that switched to high efficiency or alternative fuel trucks, you’d see a rapid expansion of cleaner vehicle use. Fresh Direct uses B20 biodiesel (it’s a mix of diesel of biofuel that can be used without converting a diesel engine, but greatly reduces carbon emissions), which I think is great, but it’s an initiative that was undertaken for good publicity, without support from the city. For a huge fleet like Fresh Direct’s, the increased cost may be insignificant, but smaller companies with smaller budgets may need a few more carrots and sticks to keep them moving in the right direction.

TWOCS: How has the recession affected your company? Are more people moving or in general or are they staying put?
A: Our business has grown steadily since it opened in 2005, so it’s hard for me to really assess the impact of the recession. Winter is slower than summer. Business credit is really tight, we learned, when we were turned down for a loan to purchase a new truck recently. A lot more people have had to reschedule their moves because the closing got pushed back for one reason or another. But people are always moving in Brooklyn. We used to move people from Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill to the Columbia Waterfront neighborhood. Now they’re going farther afield—to Prospect Heights and Clinton Hill. Lots of people have moved from Park Slope to Gowanus. People are calling Windsor Terrace the South Slope.

One huge change brought about by the recession is in the people who apply to work for us. We have really sharp, talented and skilled individuals who have been out of work for a while who come to us and are willing to work for $10 or $12 a hour. That was unheard of in 2008. It’s been really surprising. Last summer, we did an open call and had over 200 people show up to fill out an application over the course of an hour and a half. Seeing that is really troubling to me. It makes me very distrustful of news that the economy is recovering.

TWOCS: Have you or your staff ever found or been given anything really interesting or crazy after a move?
A: This is a funny question. People try to unload things on the movers all the time — dressers, old television sets, sofas sometimes, mostly empty bottles of liquor, food from the refrigerator. A guy who was moving from Gowanus to Long Island City to take up residence with his girlfriend asked the movers to dispose of about 8 contractor’s bags full of pornographic movies on VHS. That was particularly excessive, but we end up putting boxes of girly magazines out with the recycling several times a year. People are always getting rid of one particular piece of Ikea wall d├ęcor—a painting of Audrey Hepburn as Holly Go Lightly. We’ve taken five of them in the last two years. I’m still puzzling this one out.

TWOCS: Any other funny stories or comments you'd like to add about the moving industry and running a moving company in Brooklyn?
A: I never imagined I’d own a moving company, but there’s something I really love about entering people’s lives at transitional points, seeing how they live and what they value. This area, the Columbia Waterfront Neighborhood to, say, the far edge of Prospect Heights to Ditmas Park and Kensington, is really special, too. We move lots of families here, more than elsewhere. We get to see the choices and trade offs people make. We’ve fallen in love with Ditmas Park just because we’ve moved such nice people there in the last few years. I personally have grown to appreciate Prospect Heights as the result of moving people there, and hope it survives the city’s plans for it. I’m always in awe of the apartments in the North Slope. I love the mansions of Ocean Parkway, and the stately prewar buildings of Eastern Parkway. We’ve had some horrible experiences—a woman was moving out of an apartment that was infested with mice. There must have been 200 mouse bodies in her apartment when the movers were there. The mice even lived inside her mattress. She was fighting with her landlord. The movers were gagging. It was completely unbelievable. When we finally got her out of there, most of her stuff had to go to the garbage, but she was so happy. The ordeal was over. And we’d helped. But the vast majority of the time, moves are pretty seamless and simple. That’s our goal. That’s what we want.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Haiti benefit at The Bell House - Wed., 1/27

Wednesday, 1/27, 6pm
at The Bell House
149 7th St, Brooklyn (between 2nd and 3rd Ave - near 4th Ave/9th St F stop)

100% of the proceeds will be split between Save The Children and Partners In Health.

All performers will be playing abbreviated, acoustic and/or stripped down sets. Scheduled to appear:
New York State Senator DIANE SAVINO

Early birds can come for free food courtesy of GREAT JONES CAFE, DUB PIES, and more.

A special two hour edition of keyboard karaoke will be hosted by SARA SCHAEFER and JOE McGINTY in the front lounge from 11pm-1am.

Raffle and door prizes courtesy of NONESUCH RECORDS, THE DOUBLE WINDSOR, DRILLTEAM, BAM, and more.

Buy tickets here

Book reading by John Dermot Woods at Freebird this Sunday, 1/24

Sunday, January 24, 7 pm

John Dermot Woods reads from his novel The Complete Collection of people, places & things

John Dermot Woods lives with his family in Brooklyn, NY. His debut novel is The Complete Collection of people, places & things (BlazeVOX). His stories and comics have appeared in many journals, including The Indiana Review, Hobart, American Letters & Commentary, Salt Hill, and 3rd Bed. His comic chapbook, The Remains, is forthcoming from Doublecross Press. He edits the arts quarterly Action,Yes and organizes the online reading series Apostrophe Cast. More information can be found at
Freebird Books
123 Columbia Street (between Kane and Degraw streets)
Brooklyn, NY 11231

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Red Hook based People's Urban Films featured on BK Independent TV

Long time Red Hook resident Danelle Johnson was recently profiled on Brooklyn Independent Television's Neighborhood Beat series for her community based youth video production program "People's Urban Films."

Check out the video above to see the piece and learn about this amazing program

Monday, January 11, 2010

Anselmo's closes

Just less then a year ago, there was much excitement over the new coal oven pizza place on Van Brunt called Anselmo's. Now, after a very short time being open, the restaurant has closed due to reported issues with the landlord.

Brownstoner has some extra info, but the info posted directly to the Anselmo's website is the most telling. Check it out here.

Its sad to see another business close - and their pizza was quite good - but thankfully we still have the excellent and longstanding House of Pizza and Calzones further North on Union st.

Image from Brownstoner

Friday, January 8, 2010

"Wedding Crashers" fair features Columbia St businesses

Two Columbia St. businesses will be featured at Brooklyn Based's "Wedding Crashers" event tomorrow at the Bell House (10:30am - 5pm), so if you are going to be at the event or are in the market for wedding services in general, be sure to check them out!

They are:

Denise Fasanello Floral Designs for your flower arrangement needs - which we previously posted about here.


Nine Cakes for your cake and baking needs. Nine Cakes recently took over the lease in the former Treats Truck space (Treats Truck moved to a different Columbia St. space). We will be featuring a post about them soon!

Between these businesses, the other related businesses in nearby neighborhoods, and the large amount of catering and photography options, South Brooklyn is certainly a NYC destination for wedding services - which is why Brooklyn Based's event is such a great idea!

Calexico needs a "Lil' Help"

Our favorite local Burrito joint Calexico needs a little help to win a competition. Please head over to the City Max Homepreneur's contest site here and for details and vote for Jesse Vendley and the Taco Bros @CityMax via twitter.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Liev Schreiber to play Red Hook Longshoremen

Liev Schreiber and Scarlett Johansson will be on Broadway starting January 24th playing A View from the Bridge. Set in the 50s, it focuses on an insular Italian-American community under the Brooklyn Bridge. Schreiber plays Eddie, a longshoreman, obsessed with his niece, Catherine, played by Johansson.

A View from the Bridge by Arthur Miller was first staged on September 29, 1955, at Coronet Theatre on Broadway. In the early 50s, the famous playwright was researching for a screenplay for Elia Kazan, about the corruption on the Brooklyn docks, entitled The Hook. It was never produced, but during his research he met a longshoreman who recounted a true story which gave him the basic plot line that became the famous play.

An original first edition cover

A piece of history.
More info here.

Red's Tapas Bar closed / Pit Stop to become Mexican Restaurant

Red's Tapas Bar closed
I spoke to Rishi, the owner of Red's Tapas bar, briefly tonight and he confirmed that the restaurant is now closed for good. He will continue to run his catering busines out of a kitchen on Commerce St. in Red Hook, so we will be posting details about that soon. This is another big loss for the neighborhood. Even though the restaurant was only open about a year and a half, it was great food, a great space, and an important piece in the diverse selection of food in the neighborhood. No word yet on what will become of the space

Pit Stop to become Mexican Restaurant
We received an email from Laurent, the former owner of Pit Stop, and he has confirmed that the new owner of the space will be opening a Mexican restaurant. It will probably take some time for this to open, as they plan to do a lot of renovations. This will be the third Mexican related restaurant directly in the Columbia St. waterfront, joining the likes of Alma and Calexico. It will be interesting to see what they bring to the table that differs from the others - and how they utilize that great backyard space.

Bobby Flay Throwdown features Red Hook and Fish Tales on 1/13

Bobby Flay's Food Network show "Throwdown" recently shot an episode at the Waterfront Museum in Red Hook, featuring Bobby Flay facing off with popular Cobble Hill store Fish Tales. The dish in question was Fish Chowder.

The episode will air on 1/13 at 9pm.

Check out more details at the Food Network Site or at Red Hook Waterfront

Image above from Red Hook Waterfront

Mulchfest this Saturday and Sunday - 1/9 and 1/10

If you've neglected to take down your Christmas tree yet, remember that Mulchfest is happening this weekend in parks nearby!

Rather than having your tree sent to a landfill, Mulchfest offers you the opportunity to have your tree recycled for use in parks and gardens throughout the city.

Nearby locations for our neighborhood include;

Added Value (Red Hook Community Farm)
Coffey Park
Cobble Hill Park.

Check out the official site here fore more details

Sunday, January 3, 2010

2010 Jalopy Banjo Roots Festival: 3 days to celebrate 274 Years of the Banjo in the Big Apple

The Fabulous Jalopy Theatre invites you to its first ever Banjo Festival:

The three day festival will showcase a wide varied styles of banjo music, from old-time, to African banjo to jazz banjo. The Festival includes workshops and lectures from leading banjo players and researchers of banjo history. Jalopy will line its walls with banjos and banjo memorabilia from the enormous and important collection of Shlomo Pestcoe.


Friday, January 8th - 8pm:


Saturday, January 9th - 8pm

  • Gil Sayer: Traditional Banjo Songs and Tunes from West Virginia
  • Allison Williams and her band: Old Time Southern Square Dance Party
  • Genre: Old Time
  • Cover: $10


Sunday, January 10th

Workshop 1pm: “The Banjo in the Big Apple, 1736-1940, a panel discussion.” Shlomo Pestcoe will discuss the banjo in NYC in the 18th Century, Bob Winans, the 19th century and Peter Kohman rounds out your understanding of the banjo in the 20th century.

Workshop 3 pm: Greg C. Adams and Bob Winans demonstrate Nineteenth-Century Banjo Playing Styles, including ‘Stroke Style Down Picking and Classic Finger Style Up Picking.

Workshop 5pm: Greg C. Adams and Shlomo Pestcoe present “Banjo Roots: The Banjo’s Afro-Creole Origins and West African Heritage."

The workshops cost $5 apiece, or $10 for all three. To stay for the evening show, $15.

Evening performances start at 7pm:

More information

The JALOPY THEATRE is located at 315 Columbia St. Red Hook, Brooklyn (718.395.3214)