Pratt Graduates Catch the Food Biz Fever

Pascale Tran prepares an order at Tigerlily. Photo by Cheryl Chan

Several small food businesses around the neighborhood share a common thread — they were started by Pratt Institute graduates. Mago Crepes & Delices, a crêperie on Grand Street, Tigerlily, a bánh mì shop in Clinton Hill, and The Stand, an artisanal lemonade and homemade fruit preserve brand are delicious business ventures with Pratt alums at the helm.

These artists and designers with Pratt degrees have used their creativity to become their own bosses and to make more than just food — they’ve each used their design skills to craft the identity of their business, from interiors to labels.

Pascale Tran, who owns Tigerlily, designed and decorated her store’s interior. The siblings behind The Stand, Nathalie and Jake Weisner, illustrate the labels and tags attached to bottles of their homemade syrups and marmalades.

Paul Bongoy and Roodolph Senecal reflect on business at Mago Crepes.

At Mago Crepes & Delices, which opened last August, the sweet and savory French crepes are not the only things whipped up from scratch; all the furniture was handcrafted by Paul Bongoy, a Pratt architecture alum and Roodolph Senecal, a 17-year Fort Greene resident who used to have a metal shop and now owns Park Slope Bikram.

The large wooden table that is the centerpiece of the shop, on the corner of Fulton, is crafted from pine structural beams sourced from a house on Long Island.

“We took it from scratch, built it up, collected some material from different projects, and put it together,” said Mr. Bongoy, 37.

Mr. Senecal, 45, co-designed the steel bar stools that line the right side of the shop and the glass tube lights hanging overhead. The flooring at Mago is ipe timber from the Brazilian rainforest, donated by a friend who makes rooftop water tanks with the wood. Paintings decorate the walls, a mix of art by friends and Mago staff members — all of whom happen to be painters. “Maybe it’s a hidden criteria to work here,” Mr. Bongoy joked.

Those painters serve up crepes folded with Jacques Torres Chocolate, filled with the classic ham and Swiss cheese, or stuffed with smoked bacon, fresh spinach and gorgonzola.

“We wanted to do a place we like, enjoy the food, and hopefully in some future time, if we start to actually make some sort of profit, we would turn around and donate part of that profit to the Rural Haiti project,” said Mr. Senecal, who is originally from Haiti.

Over at Tigerlily on Greene Avenue, Ms. Tran’s past as a former art director is evident in the interior of the Vietnamese sandwich joint. She decorated her take-out space with dark wood furniture juxtaposed against a bright orange back wall, to create the feeling of a Vietnamese plantation.

Ms. Tran moved to Clinton Hill for a degree in graphic design at Pratt, and has made the neighborhood her permanent residence since graduating in 2002. Last May, Ms. Tran opened Tigerlily in her neighborhood after an eight-year career in advertising left her feeling burned out.

Like her fellow Pratt-pedigreed entrepreneurs, Ms. Tran took on the task of curating a menu as an extension of her artistic inclinations, developing a number of non-traditional and experimental sandwiches, including grilled eggplant, curry chicken and tofu bánh mìs. This January, she launched an East Village Tigerlily outpost on East 10th Street.

From its roots as a gourmet lemonade stand, started last April on the corner of DeKalb and Washington Avenues, to a winter stint at the Brooklyn Flea selling homemade preserves, The Stand has become the full-time job of the Weisner siblings. They spend three days a week at a commercial kitchen, where they develop fruit-infused marmalades, syrups, and garnishes such as candied citrus peels, spiced cranberries and brandied cherries.

Ms. Weisner said that overtures from grocery stores influenced them to turn their summer lemonade stand into a more permanent business endeavor.

Ms. Weisner, 28, studied architecture at Pratt and has lived in Fort Greene for the past seven years. Mr. Weisner, 26, studied film for his undergraduate degree in Boston and moved to Brooklyn to run The Stand full time. Neither have had any formal training in the food industry, but both agreed that there is some overlap between creating art and developing whimsical flavors like mint-rosemary-cucumber limeade and syrups flavored with blueberry, maple and rosemary.

“It’s just a different medium, but very much the same sensibilities of balancing ingredients ” Ms. Weiser said. “Sometimes, I just think of whatever it is as a composition — how am I composing it, what are the elements that are there, is it a light flavor, a heavy flavor, a kind of sweetness. I think that correlates closely to my sensibilities as an artist.”

Published at The New York Times, The Local Blog:

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