When Nathalie and Jake Weisner, a sister and brother from Massachussetts, decided to sell lemonade for fun at a friend’s stoop sale in Fort Greene last Spring, they never imagined that it would lead to an actual full-time business.
After the one time lemonade stand morphed into a neighborhood phenomeneon, with crowds turning out each weekend for a taste of their greenmarket-inspired lemonade flavors of the week, they began to realize that their little lemonade stand might have the potential to be a whole lot more.
We met with Nathalie at The General Greene in Fort Greene to hear the story of how a lemonade stand evolved into a full-time job – a true childhood fantasy, Brooklyn-style.
Nona: So Nathalie, where are you from and how did you get interested in food?
I grew up in Cambridge, Massachussetts and I went to Pratt to study photography, art history and architecture, but I’ve always been really interested in food. My family is really into food and making things, and we all did a lot of cooking and crafts when I was growing up. I grew up in an environment where almost all my family members worked for themselves, had their own ventures of some sort.
Our parents ran their own store in Cambridge – they opened it right about the time I was born and I was practically raised there. For my entire childhood people would come in and say, “Oh my gosh I knew you when you were in a playpen in here!”
I think growing up in that kind of environment gave us a lot of confidence to dive into The Stand.
Nona: Tell us about how The Stand came to be.
I had been doing a bunch of different things – I was working for an architect and was planning on going back to school for architecture. Back in April, a friend of ours started having stoop sales in front of his place on Fort Greene Park. They were going really well, so he asked, “Why don’t you make something? You’re good at making stuff! You’ll love it!” So I thought it sounded like fun.
I decided to make lemonade, just thinking it would be a one-time deal. I made a few different flavors with produce from the farmers market. I made a blackberry lavender lemonade and a mint lemonade, and it was just a huge hit! So we thought OK, let’s try it again next weekend…and it just got bigger and bigger every weekend!
We started at my friend’s stoop by the park, but then realized we really wanted to be on the corner to get the foot traffic on Dekalb. So we moved over there. At first we just had a little table, but every week we were making more and more sales so we kept needing more and more space. We got a cooler, then a bigger table, then more coolers…before we knew it there were literally lines of people in the street waiting for lemonade!
We were getting all our fruit from Wilklow Orchards, who were at the farmers market right next door. We’d tell people the fruit was from them – right over there! So we’d send people to them and they’d send people to us. It was just a lot of fun.
We started getting a ton of regulars from the neighborhood who’d come out every weekend morning and just say, “What’s the flavor this week!?’
One funny thing was that most of the people were adults, not kids. That was a little surprising to us. I think it was just that people really loved the fact that it was an adult lemonade stand and we were having fun, they were having fun…
Because it was a lemonade stand, I think everyone felt an element of nostalgia. People would bring out all these stories – about their experience of having a lemonade stand as a kid, or things their parents made when they were little and that felt like a really important part of it.
We were totally taken aback by all of it. We had no clue…we didn’t have a plan. It was just like this wave that we got caught up in. But we were having a lot of fun. It was amazing! We’d just make lemonade and hundreds of people would come out and they loved it! It was like having a dinner party or something. I could just experiment and make things and people were just excited about it – it felt like we became a real part of the neighborhood overnight!
Of course, it was totally crazy too. At that point we were doing everything in my apartment. We’d get everything on Thursday – we didn’t have a car. We’d go over to the Borough Hall farmers market to buy fruit from the Wilklows, and then we’d stay up all night Thursday, all day Friday and all night Friday making lemonade and rotating things from the fridge and freezer and back to keep everything cold.
We’d be dead tired on Saturday morning and we’d take a cab from Myrtle car service down to the corner with all our things of lemonade and our chalkboard and tables…This guy Tito was the only driver for Myrtle who had a minivan. He became our regular driver – he picked us up each morning and was like part of the team!
It was just insane – our lemonade stand just took over our lives. People I hadn’t seen or spoken to in a while would ask me what I’d been up to and I’d have to answer, “You know, it’s a little weird, but I’m actually running a professional lemonade stand and it’s doing really well!”
Nona: So what flavors of lemonade did you come up with? And how did you come up with them?
All the flavors were inspired by what the Wilklows had at Borough Hall on Thursdays each week. We’d just go over there and see what they had, buy a bunch of stuff and go home to concoct recipes. We did a strawberry rhubarb lemonade, which was really popular but one of the hardest to make – lots of grating rhubarb. We did a blackberry lavender flavor, a mint lime, a currant lemonade, a meyer lemon version…
We’d just improvise recipes each week based on what inspired us at the Wilklow Orchard stand at Borough Hall on Thursdays. I’d just see something like blackberries and think, “Oooh…those look really good! Let’s mix them with brewed lavender!”
Nona: So what ended up happening with The Stand? Are you going to do it again next summer?
Things just got too crazy!
We started to get a little bit of coverage in the local press, and the crowds just started getting too big. There were big lines in the street. Some of the neighbors started getting a little concerned about the amount of traffic on the block. Most people were really supportive, but we had a few who weren’t happy about the crowds. We understood that it was starting to get to be a little much for some of the neighbors and we didn’t want to cause any problems, so we decided to shut it down.
We were really sad, and we felt guilty too. We’d see people in the neighborhood who’d say, ‘There’s the lemonade girl!’ and I’d hear people whispering it sometimes as they passed by…it was really funny. For a while we felt terrible being in the neighborhood. People would see us and ask us, ‘What happened? What’s going on? We want our lemonade!’ We felt like we had let a lot of people down.
In the weeks before we closed the stand, restaurants and shops had started approaching us and asking whether we did any wholesale. We were like, “No! We’re just having a lemonade stand!” Wholesale never occurred to us at all – we could barely make enough for the stand!
So we started thinking about it. The response from the neighborhood had been so good, and we were starting to get interest from restaurants and shops – we thought that maybe we could carry it someplace. Maybe we should go with this! People love it and we’re having fun…maybe it’s a viable thing to do!
So we decided to close the stand and work on trying to bottle stuff, which I’d never done before. I’d preserved stuff before, but never on this scale. I got to work doing that which is how syrups became a big part of what The Stand is now.
Early on in the summer, I wasn’t sweetening any of the lemonades. Most people liked that, but some were really taken aback. It was funny – some people would take a sip and be like, “OH MY GOD THERE IS NO SUGAR IN THIS!” And I’d be like, um, well, do you want some?
So I started doing syrups – just with fruit – to use as sweeteners for the lemonade. The first one I made was a raspberry syrup that we used in raspberry lime rickeys…one of our favorite drinks from when we were kids. After that I just kept going.
So then we started going back to the places that had asked us whether we were carrying the lemonades anywhere, and a bunch of them were interested in the syrups.
Nona: How did you learn about making and bottling syrups?
It was a ton of research. I was creating all the recipes so it wasn’t like I had much of a reference. Canning is really popular right now, so there are tons of jelly recipes and marmalade recipes, but there wasn’t much regarding syrups. So I just taught myself how to do it. I looked at a lot of colonial era cookbooks and found a lot of guidance from sources like that.
Once I had some syrups ready to sell, I sent them to the Northeast Center for Food Entrepreneurship up at Cornell – they sort of approve your recipes and tell you whether you’re doing it right, and test them for nutritional content.
It was actually a big transition for us. We loved being out on the street – having people taste stuff and make suggestions, share stories. It didn’t seem like the same thing to be delivering stuff to stores. Now we just make stuff and bring it somewhere? That’s it!? Not nearly as much fun.
In order to balance that out, we want to do as many markets as we can. We’re at The Foodshed Market at The Commons on Atlantic Avenue on Sundays and we’ll be at Brooklyn Flea on Saturdays starting next weekend. We might look into doing the New Amsterdam Market and Hester Street come spring too…just to keep that connection with our customers.
Nona: So tell us about the transition from lemonade to syrups…what are you making now?
We’re really improvising and being creative right now. One challenge we have is that we want to stay seasonal. I froze a ton of fruit at the end of the summer thinking it would be more than enough to get me through the winter, but since the syrups have ended up being a lot more popular than I thought, we ran out.
Right now I’m making a caramel apple syrup, but the apples from this past season are just about gone, so there won’t be much more of that. I think that’s a sort of double-edged sword…It’s exciting to find something and love it and then not be able to get it anymore because it’s out of season.
I’ve got a little bit of the blackberry lemon lavender syrup left from the summer. I’ve got a Meyer lemon, a blood orange and grapefruit, a rose syrup for Valentine’s Day, and a quince cardamom syrup. I’m kind of obsessed with quince right now.
The syrups are great for cocktails, sodas for kids, or just added to seltzer water. That’s one of the reasons I started making them – I love anything with seltzer. My mom uses them in things like vinaigrettes. My aunt said she used the lemon syrup on grilled shrimp and loved it. And my grandmother calls me regularly saying ALL OF THEM are really good with Prosecco! And vodka! No matter what it is!
Nona: Are all your relatives creative cooks? Sounds like they act as a whole remote test kitchen for you.
Absolutely – I get calls literally every day from relatives with suggestions on new ways to use our stuff.
Nona: Anything other than syrups coming out of your kitchen right now?
I’m also making these spiced cranberries – they’ve actually been the most popular thing we’ve made, probably because they’re so versatile. I made them thinking they’d just be really good with food, but then we were like, “Ooooh, these would be really good with champagne!”
It turned out they’re really good in any kind of cocktails or mixed drinks too. Radish, over on Bedford in Williamsburg just started carrying them and they’ve been using them on their jerk chicken sandwiches. It’s been fun to see all the different uses people come up with!
I’m also making some fruit pastes which are really fun – like a membrillo or quince paste which only a few people in this country make. I’m doing an apple spice paste and a pear one as well – perfect for pairing with meats or cheeses.
And another thing I’m really excited about are our candied citrus peels. With the lemonade stand, we ended up with so many lemon peels that we didn’t know what to do with them all. It was sort of a nightmare. My landlord started getting upset with me because I was using all the trash space! It was unbelievable – NOT something I had thought of! So it occurred to me that I’d better do something with the peels – I started candying them.
Then when I started using grapefruits, the peels were really long and it occurred to me that they would be gorgeous if I put them in syrup. So I started candying them but not covering them with sugar which is how it’s usually done. I just rolled them up so they sort of look like flowers or roses, and put them in jars and with syrup. I just started doing those – I’m seeing those as cocktail elements or as garnishes or cut up on cakes or something.
Nona: So where can we find your products?
We’re at Foodshed Market on Atlantic Avenue between Hoyt and Bond on Sundays, and we’ll be at Flea on Saturdays starting next weeend. Bedford Cheese carries some of our stuff. Blue Apron in Park Slope, Spuyten Duyvil, The Brooklyn Kitchen and Radish in Williamsburg, and Brooklyn Victory Garden in Clinton Hill all carry a little bit of everything.
One of the most exciting ones for us is Formaggio Essex! The original Formaggio is in Cambridge – right near where we grew up. My brother worked there in high school. It’s exciting because we used to go there all the time. Formaggio Essex called me a couple of weeks ago and said they were interested in carrying my products! I was like, “How do you know about me!?”
Nona: What are some of your favorite Brooklyn spots?
Blue Apron is one of my all-time favorites – I love it. I feel like I’m in a different country or a different time in there.
I also love Café Pedlar over on Court St. in Cobble Hill. Great coffee, pastries, little sandwiches on pretzel bread…so good.
I love Liddabit Sweets too. Particularly their lollipops. I got some for a little girl I take care of sometimes and tried one myself and was like, Wow! These are dangerous!
Last one – Greenlight Bookstore here in Fort Greene. Love that place too!
For more on The Stand, check their website.