Brooklyn Slate started in upstate New York, where Parsons graduate student Kristy Hadeka’s family has a slate quarry. Founders Hadeka and Brooklyn graphic designer Sean Tice took a few pieces from the quarry back home, and discovered how many uses there were for them. Whether it’s being used as a cheese board, as a surface for a meal or as a coaster for a belgian ale, there are almost too many uses for these slate pieces. The attention to detail is remarkable, as Hadeka and Tice hand pick the red and black slates in upstate New York or Vermont and bring them back to Brookyln where they’re cut, cleaned and even chipped to achieve a more rustic feel. The slates are then packaged with material’s like burlap, twine, and kraft paper hang tag envelopes, making them minimal and homely. The brand’s logo resonates as well, managing to be both industrial and sophisticated at the same time. One of our personal favorite includes the soapstone pencil you can buy from BS, which allows you to chalk out the name of the cheese you’re putting out onto your serving slate. We sat down with Kristy and Sean to talk about branding, their inspirations, where they’re headed and which slates are perfect for new potatoes!
Why slates? How do your creative backgrounds tie into them?
K: We knew early on that we wanted to engage with the food community in Brooklyn. I had seen slate used for serving food, and I thought, “Hey, we can do this.” My family owns slate quarries in upstate New York and Vermont, so on our next visit up we grabbed a few samples to try out back at our apartment in Brooklyn. At the time Sean had just been laid off from his job at a TV network, and he had a logo and website created before we even had any finished products on hand.
How would you define your brand?
K: We set out from the very beginning to build a lifestyle brand. Someone once told us that browsing our website is like drinking a glass of wine. What we offer our customers tends to be what we would want to be offered in terms of products, aesthetic, and overall tone. We are really letting people experience how we live our lives. Built into that we have a value system of respect for community, food, our employees, customers, vendors, and suppliers.
What things did you consider when creating the logo?
K: When we set out to create the logo, we knew we wanted something that incorporated industrial and rustic elements and would look good stamped.
S: I knew we needed a prominent, tall font that felt industrial. Early iterations of the logo we’re definitely overly industrial (think scrapyard more so than cheese plate), and we realized we needed to inject some lighter, more feminine elements. The result is a logo that features some flourishes wrapping around the name of the company.
How do you achieve a clean, yet rustic aesthetic?
K: We achieve a clean look by being as minimal as possible with our packaging. The rustic quality comes through in the packaging materials themselves – twine, the kraft paper hang tag envelope, the burlap bag.
What are some of your inspirations?
K: Squire Fox’s photography has been very influential to us from the start. He really got us into the idea of photographing food from the overhead or “God” perspective, often with the dish deconstructed. This just seemed like such a great way to visualize our boards and how they can be plated. Whenever we photograph new products, we always include this shot.
S: I don’t even recall how we came across it, but Kinfolk Magazine really blew us out of the water. I’ve thought a lot about why we enjoy it so much, and it really seems to come down to tone – regardless of the subject matter of an article or photo essay, there’s a prevailing feeling or mood that just feels really great.
K: Pinterest and Instagram have become standard resources. I definitely spend too much time on both sites. I also look at wit and delight and a note on design all the time. I read WWD everyday as well. It is funny how trends tend to encompass everything from clothing to food.
What spots do you go to for inspiration?
S: We’re both runners, and we draw a lot of inspiration from exploring the city by foot. There’s really no better way to see New York than when you’re running – for some reason I feel like you just take more in, and there’s always time to stop and check out a building you’ve never seen or a side street you’ve never been down.
Where do you see yourselves in the future? What are you looking to grow into?
K: Our goal is to run a company that “does good” in every aspect of our business. We look to companies like Zingerman’s and Patagonia as examples of how to interact with and treat your customers, employees, suppliers, and retailers. From a product perspective, we’re focusing on growing our brand in different directions, from food to décor.
How important is the food to you? Are you foodies?
S: We love food. When we’re not working we’re either in the kitchen (recent experiments include homemade ricotta and half sour pickles) or trying a restaurant we’ve never been to.
K: We read a lot about food too – everything from recipe books to menus, if that counts. Right now I’m enjoying The Cheesemonger’s Kitchen by Chester Hastings.
How important is aesthetic when it comes to food?
K: Extremely important. Looks aren’t everything, but they’re a lot of things. We recently ate at Talula’s Garden in Philadephia. The plating displays for the cheeses were beautiful – small pieces, a lot of color, interesting flavor pairings. It was an all around progressive plating from the ingredients to visual. Deconstructed almost.
S: We’ve found that how we plate our boards for photo shoots or an event has evolved as our interests have evolved. When we first started we were thinking about how comforting food can be, so we were plating hearty slices of cheese with bread and fruit, and pairing that with wine. Then we began thinking about how our black boards make for a dramatic backdrop to food, so we began plating two or three huge wedges (at least ½ pound each) on a board and nothing else.
What do your slates do for the food?
K: Our boards are great vehicles for food, particularly because items like cheese – with lots of whites and yellows – and accoutrement – with purples, greens, and reds – really pop against the dark gray background.
Do the slates make the food more appealing, or does the food make the slates more appealing, or both?
S: I think this goes both ways. Ultimately bringing food out on a slate board serves as a catalyst for conversation about the food, which is the most important thing to us.
Your favorite restaurants for aesthetic…
The Boathouse, Lambertville NJ – We really love spaces that are hidden off of unassuming side streets, and this is one of them. The inside is covered with nautical paraphernalia, including paintings of old ships on the ceilings. The space borders on cramped while being extremely comfortable.
Seersucker, Brooklyn NY – We love the textures and colors inside Seersucker. The overall look is so deliberate and precise – including the waitstaff’s denim uniforms.
Frankies 17, New York NY – We love small spaces. This location is now closed, but their other locations still use the prettiest plates when delivering the check to the table.
Crescent City Steaks, New Orleans LA – This place is from a time when steak dinners were a grand outing. It still feels that way today, from the beautiful neon sign out front to the detailed tile floors, jukebox, and white tablecloths inside.
Club Car, Nantucket MA – We love all the red. It feels like an old saloon and contrasts just right with the shingled exterior of the larger room attached to the club car itself.
How important are collaborations to you?
K: Very important. One of the best aspects of running a small business in Brooklyn is that everyone we run into embraces the idea of collaborating.
S: Kristy and I started the business as a collaboration, and we continue to approach new projects in that way. Last year we approached photographer Michael Harlan Turkell to photograph our boards for a small lookbook, and before we knew it the idea had evolved into a mini cookbook featuring dishes and recipes from some of our favorite Brooklyn restaurants.
How is your product different than other goods similar to it?
K: We love wood cheese boards, but we think our boards make for a more compelling visual presentation. Additionally, our boards are impervious to fungus or mold, so they will not discolor or deteriorate over time. Also, all of our boards come with a soapstone pencil, which you can use to write the names of cheeses and hors d’oeuvres directly on the board.
And most importantly…how do you feel about new potatoes? Is there a perfect slate that hosts this wonderful ingredient?
K: We feel great about them. We love them cooked, unpeeled, and smashed with butter, buttermilk, chives, salt, and pepper, then served up directly on black slate of course!
*Photos by Gabriela Herman