While the usual suspects of the Rochester food scene are as popular as ever, with long lines and hoards of hungry customers the norm at places like Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, the Public Market, and even Wegmans, there exists a quieter, though just as intriguing, food option in the city, nestled on a side road off Main Street in the Susan B. Anthony neighborhood.
Small World Food, a worker-cooperative food producer, has been selling their goods at local farmers markets for years, but only recently did it open a retail location, where the small customer base has been a major boon for the emerging business.
Little more than a year ago, Small World purchased a studio on the ground floor in an old warehouse on Canal Street, behind Interstate 490 and adjacent to a vacant lot it plans to turn into a vegetable garden. The space isn’t appealing to the eye in the same way a manicured Wegmans is, but for the cooperative—which focuses on baked goods and fermented foods with ingredients from local organic farms—the warehouse was a perfect fit.
“The neighborhood was still really close to our old spot, which was near where a lot of us lived at the time, so that was really appealing,” said Allie Push, who has been with Small World for four years, referencing the old house the business used to work out of in the Plymouth-Exchange neighborhood. “There was a lot of space, the price was right, there was room to grow here.”
The retail location still only makes up a tiny portion of the business—it was empty on a recent Friday morning—but that’s not to say it hasn’t been successful. “It’s definitely been well worth it for us, both for the experience and the exposure, because the customers that come really like being able to come here,” Push said. “They often stock up and get a lot of their food needs in one trip, which is great.”
One trip alone can yield a wide bounty—two types of sauerkraut, two types of fermented garlic, fermented onions, gluten free sourdough bread, some meat from a local farm that Small World stocks in their freezer. The ability to purchase such an array of items is what makes the place unique, filling a void in the local food scene that many perhaps did not even know existed.
While their interesting food offerings are not new—countless items of theirs have been on sale at local farmers markets in recent years—having a retail space has given Small World much more flexibility.
“One big advantage we saw was a few weeks ago on Saturday when it was zero degrees out,” Push said. “We decided not to come to the [Public] Market, so we decided to open here. It was nice to have that option available.”
Small World is currently open for business Tuesday through Friday, mainly because that’s when its employees are in the kitchen, working. Given the small location and “mellow” customer base, as Push put it, the retail side of things doesn’t require much extra effort when the staff is already there. “Our goal is just to always be open when we are here working,” she said. “We’re here enough, so we might as well be selling stuff.”
Among the modest customer base is a mix of first-timers along with a small legion of regulars, according to Push. A sandwich board down the block at the intersection with Main Street reads “Breads, Kimchi, Granola,” and has been a helpful tool for attracting more people to the shop.
Small World’s role in the community as a producer and distributor of speciality food items is at the core of what the cooperative is about, but it is not the only way the startup interacts with the community. For years, the workers have wanted to offer cooking classes, though the idea was more of a wishful thought when they were based out of their old house. Once they moved into the warehouse last year, though, their dream became reality. “Last year was our guinea pig year for it,” Push explained. “We saw some really solid classes that were hits, but also some that were more of a miss.”
Year two of their cooking classes has been off to a successful start, with their most recent class, “Cooking for the Seasons,” actually filling over capacity. Attendees learned how to prepare root vegetables in a variety of ways, from stir-fry, to cole slaw, to root roasts, with the main focus on using organic ingredients from local farms, a pillar of Small World’s business model.
As a whole, Small World is continuing to grow, thanks mostly to their business at local farmers markets. Sure, their food can be purchased there amid the chaos and often long lines, but for a smoother experience, all it takes a trip off the beaten path to an old warehouse, in what might one day become the epicenter of speciality foods in Rochester.