Brooklyn Bounty ’14: Mast Brothers Chocolate

In anticipation of Brooklyn Bounty, BHS’s premier fundraiser at 26 Bridge on October 22nd, we are profiling our participating restaurants and honorees of the Food & Heritage Awards. Below is a profile of Mast Brothers Chocolate, one of the delicious participants in our evening’s tasting menu.

Mast Brothers Chocolate: Honoring Brooklyn and the Cocoa Nib

Mast Brothers Chocolate Bars, displayed at their Williamsburg store.

Mast Brothers Chocolate Bars, displayed at their Williamsburg store.

Chocolate is probably the world’s best loved treat, but most people are having too much fun savoring the stuff to find out where it comes from. This is exactly the quandary that brothers Michael and Rick Mast set out to fix in 2007 with the opening of Mast Brothers Chocolate. The local, authentic food movement was starting to take hold in Brooklyn, and as the brothers set out on various culinary expeditions, such as brewing, pickling and baking, they ultimately discovered that their passion and creativity were with chocolate.

Pod Nib Beans edit

The cocoa pod, nib, and beans.

What immediately set them apart from other chocolatiers is their pure and simple adoration of the cocoa bean. Anyone who has sampled their classic “single-origin” bars, which contain only cocoa and raw cane sugar, can attest to the value of letting the cocoa speak for itself. Naturally, this Brooklyn-born chocolate revolution is going to be on hand at Brooklyn Bounty this year for all to enjoy.

So where does a chocolate bar come from? A visit to the Mast Brothers Chocolate shop in Williamsburg quickly answers this question. You are greeted with enthusiasm by their knowledgeable staff who are eager to offer tidbits of chocolate and information about its origins, and they offer tours for those who want a deeper look into the chocolate-making action in the shop’s factory.


The two day grinding process in action.

On my recent visit, I quickly got my chocolate basics up to speed. The journey of a chocolate bar starts from a cocoa pod filled with cocoa beans, and inside of each bean are small cocoa nibs. I tasted one of the nibs in its raw form and was surprised to find that it tasted like a bitter nut. For their single origin bars, Mast Brothers imports these nibs from Belize, Dominican Republic, Madagascar, Papa New Guinea, Peru and coming soon, Tanzania. Each country of origin has its own bar using only its native beans. They roast the nibs for 20 minutes at 300 degrees before they are winnowed and ground up. Then they are aged for 30 days, making the total time for the production of each artisanal bar a whopping 40 days. Finally, each bar is hand wrapped in their colorful designs.

The meticulous process Mast Brothers uses is one of the many ways that they show their Brooklyn food revolution roots. Beyond their purely beans-and-sugar line of bars, they also offer homemade creations like “Stumptown Coffee” or “Sea-Salt,” all based off their “Brooklyn Blend,” a mix of nibs from various sources. Their Williamsburg store and factory space is a vibrant fixture of the neighborhood, a place where people can explore chocolate and also attend their monthly dinners, where guest chefs craft full menus utilizing chocolate and cocoa nibs.


Mast Brothers Factory portion of the Williamsburg store.

With burgeoning demand, Mast Brothers continues to expand. Nearby their flagship store is their new Brew Bar, a bar dedicated to the craft of chocolate beverages, and they have opened a supplemental factory near the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Their chocolate bar distribution runs far and wide, with Mast Brothers Chocolate found in 40 states and eight countries, and local factories are set to open soon in Los Angeles and London, bringing the magic and mystery of chocolate closer to home for many more.

A true Brooklyn treasure, Mast Brothers embodies creative entrepreneurship and community building. It doesn’t hurt that their brand is comprised of a pure and deluxe edition of everyone’s favorite food, which will be in plentiful supply at Brooklyn Bounty.

We’re giving away a Mast Brothers chocolate bar to a lucky BHS blog reader! Tweet about how much you love Mast Brothers using the hashtag #BKBounty14 and be entered to win! Winner will be chosen on Thursday, September 6th, and announced on Twitter. 

Don’t have your ticket to Brooklyn Bounty yet? Buy your ticket today!

Written by Avi Scher, Development Intern

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Photo of the Week: Walking with Eugene Armbruster


It’s shocking how fast July and August have slipped by, but at least the weather is still good. One of my favorite ways to enjoy both this weather and this city is to wander around with a camera. Based on the images in the Eugene L. Armbruster photographs and scrapbooks collection, that appears to have also been one of Armbruster’s favorite pastimes. Flipping through Armbruster’s photographs, it is easy to imagine him wandering around different neighborhoods in Brooklyn in the 1920s, taking pictures of whatever seemed interesting or beautiful in the moment. The four images above appear to have been taken during one walk around Williamsburg in November of 1923. There isn’t anything especially interesting about what is happening in these images, but the late afternoon light on the buildings is beautiful, and Armbruster was clearly enjoying the light. I love these images because viewing them as a collection almost feels like going for a walk with Armbruster. Day to day, I tend to go blindly between places without really noticing the sensations of whatever is happening along the way. Seeing Armbruster’s images is an inspiration to enjoy the in-between parts of the day, and to notice things like the light hitting the buildings. It’s almost Labor Day, but there is still time to go wandering like Eugene Armbruster did, with or without your camera, and enjoy the Dog Days of summer…

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our new website here.  To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m.


Citations for Images:

[Northeast Corner of Bedford Avenue and South 3rd Street, Williamsburg], November 1923, v1974.1.1271; Eugene L. Armbruster photographs and scrapbooks, v1974.1; Brooklyn Historical Society

[East Side of Bedford Avenue and South 3rd Street, Williamsburg], November 1923, v1974.1.1272; Eugene L. Armbruster photographs and scrapbooks, v1974.1; Brooklyn Historical Society

[Southeast Corner of Bedford Avenue and South 3rd Street, Williamsburg], November 1923, v1974.1.1247; Eugene L. Armbruster photographs and scrapbooks, v1974.1; Brooklyn Historical Society

[West Side of Bedford Avenue Between South 3rd and South 4th Streets], November 1923, v1974.1.1273; Eugene L. Armbruster photographs and scrapbooks, v1974.1; Brooklyn Historical Society

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Shop Talk with Brooklyn Makers: The Dynamic Duo of Boundless Brooklyn

Welcome to Shop Talk, our regular series highlighting some of the fantastic Brooklyn-made products (and their makers) available in the BHS Gift Shop, open daily from 12pm to 5pm!

Boundless Brooklyn

When it comes to handmade crafts, Brooklyn takes the gold medal. You can find almost anything made by hand, from soaps, to earrings, to cutting boards. Today, we get to know David Shulman and Terence Arjo, Brooklyn makers who specialize in DIY water tower models, magnets, coasters, t-shirts, and key chains. Much of their success is attributed to their ability to provide a product that is historic and beautiful, but their water towers offer something more: they are interactive, making the customer feel like creators themselves.

We caught up with the masterminds behind Boundless Brooklyn to find out who they are as a team and what the future holds for BB…

Who initiated the collaboration and how did you meet?

We met in graduate school at NYU. We were both students in the Interactive Telecommunications program, which mixes design, technology and art.

Before graduate school, David had a line of Brooklyn-centric t-shirts, which featured the original Dutch names of different parts of Brooklyn and Manhattan (ex: Breuckelen—Brooklyn; Konijn Eiland—Coney Island, etc.)… which also happen to be for sale at BHS! He was doing well with them, but with grad school it was too much to do both. But he always kept an eye out for opportunities to represent Brooklyn in unique ways. One day David realized that there was something so ubiquitous around us but we never saw it represented in ways other than atop buildings: water towers! They were the perfect distillation of Brooklyn spirit.

We met up for lunch on Smith Street (Zaytoons…yum!) and decided to give the water tower model a go. As a product designer specializing in tangible objects, I (Terence) was excited—the iconography is so strong and appealing that it felt as though most of the work had already been done. We just needed to find a way to scale the tower into something that would work in the home. Terence has always loved model kits—architectural models, scientific, what have you—so this was an opportunity to design something for an audience that includes people like me.

How long have you been creating together?

About six months! We launched our first product, the Mini Water Tower Kit, in December 2013.

What is the most challenging aspect of sharing a collaborative business?

The biggest challenge for us is finding the time to do the fun stuff, things like developing new designs or visiting our retail partners. A lot of our energy goes into production and fulfillment. As a small company, we do everything, so when you buy one of our products, we’re the ones who package it up, and in some cases, deliver it to your store.

What do you each bring to your business?

David has a great feel for developing products and knowing what people want. He has a background in advertising, which has no doubt helped him fine-tune his consumer radar. He has also launched several businesses, so he brings that know-how with him.

Terence has a background in industrial design, so he has a lot of experience in designing 3D objects and getting them into production.  He’s also a bit of a creative polyglot: he likes to design everything from packaging to branding to trade show booths to websites. He even art directed—and starred in!—our How-To video

Walk us through a typical Boundless Brooklyn day.

We typically start with a quick meeting to go over things, set a plan, and see if there are any fires that need to be put out. We also go over any emails that came in overnight. David usually handles the orders, so he might fill a few and ship them out. He also tries to reach out to at least one of our retail partners to check on how things are going and to see if they need anything from us. I’m busy with the new designs we are cooking up, and I handle any updates to the site or to our marketing materials. I also respond to press inquiries, so I do interviews like this one! It’s a little different each day, and we have to wear many hats.

What is your current inspiration?

Terence is always keeping an eye on the “maker” community, whether on Etsy or Make. Although it’s only tangentially related to what we are doing, it’s inspiring to see what creative people are doing in that DIY space. David has been looking at a lot of tagging and street art. He’s not actually doing any, but he’s really digging that scene, and the water towers are generating a lot of buzz in that community.  We’re working on putting together a show of street artists who have tagged Boundless Brooklyn water towers, so keep an eye out for that later this summer.

How has the city shaped what you make, and how you make it?

We wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing without New York City! We are steeped in its history, but also living in its latest dynamic incarnation. We are also fortunate to be part of a great art and design community here in Brooklyn.

Where do you live in the city and what do you love about your neighborhood?

We’re based in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. It’s perfect: hip, funky and diverse. Fort Greene is also home to BAM, the Brooklyn Flea and the Pratt Institute, so it’s a creative hotbed that keeps us inspired daily.

For more Boundless Brooklyn products, visit our Gift Shop! Open daily from 12pm to 5pm. You can also learn more on their website,

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The Great Trolley Strike of 1895 – Part 1

Brooklyn City Railroad Company – Third Ave. trolley, 1898.

Brooklyn City Railroad Company – Third Ave. trolley, 1898. Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection.

This is part one of a two part series on the Great Trolley Strike of 1895. Part two will be posted next Wednesday, September 3rd.

This is also the latest in a series of posts on the records of Brooklyn’s Corporation Counsel, which are currently being processed with funding provided by a Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) “Hidden Collections” grant.

On a brisk January day in 1895 a young man named Thomas Carney was high atop the roof of 444 Hicks Street. It was the second week of the trolley strike, so he had walked from his home at Union and Bond Streets down toward the river. He had been hired to patch the building’s roof, and while he was working he could hear the commotion on the streets the below. The strike had turned violent in the past week, and the militia had been called in to keep the peace. A regiment was stationed in South Brooklyn that day and it was escorting the few trolleys that were running through the neighborhood. At one point, Thomas decided to peer over the building’s cornice to see what going on below him. He saw the militiamen, and they saw him. Seconds later he felt a searing pain in his leg. He had been shot, and later that night he would die from his wound. To understand why Thomas Carney died that day we must first go back and examine the events which led up to the great trolley strike of 1895.

It’s been over 50 years since the last trolley ran through Brooklyn, but it was once the most extensively used mass transit system in the borough. They were originally drawn by horses, and serviced areas of Brooklyn where the elevated railroads had yet to expand. By 1890 the trolleys began to run on electricity. This allowed for speedier transit and, in the eyes of speculators, greater profits.

Gravesend-Church Ave Line, at Neck Rd., 1906.

Gravesend-Church Ave Line, at Neck Rd., 1906. Lonto / Watson Collection, New York Transit Museum

There were numerous independent trolley companies at the time, and the largest was the Brooklyn City Railroad Company (BCRC). They owned or leased 200 miles of track, from East New York to Court Street, and from Greenpoint to Fort Hamilton. In the early 1890s the stockholders of the BCRC began enacting a series of financial deals in an effort to drive up stock prices and increase their own dividends. First, they leased their entire track system to the much smaller Brooklyn Heights Railroad Company (BHRC), which operated a single line along Montague Street.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 15 November 1893

Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 15 November 1893

The BCRC stockholders then organized a new company in the state of Virginia, named the Long Island Traction Company, and proceeded to buy the BHRC. The company was not incorporated in New York, and therefore was not subject to the various regulations and taxes associated with running a railroad in the state. This arrangement was described by the special committee appointed to investigate the trolley strike as follows, “[the stockholders] had found a means of reaping and taking to themselves large and very exceptional profits, and at the same time avoiding and evading certain responsibilities to the laws of this State.”

The railroad companies clearly envisioned a bright future for themselves, and it should not come as a surprise that their workers believed that they should share in the profits. It was around this time that America’s working class began to form rudimentary labor unions, and many trolleymen were represented by one of these groups, the Knights of Labor (KOL).

Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 16 January 1895

Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 16 January 1895

The KOL was at one time the premier trade union organization in the United States. In 1886, their membership numbered 600,000, but by 1890 that number had dipped below 100,000. Although they conducted a number of successful railroad strikes in the early 1880s, the organization was plagued by weak leadership and general mismanagement. Much of their decline has also been attributed to the famous Haymarket affair, when anarchists (who were not affiliated with the Knights), set off bombs during a labor strike organized by the KOL in Chicago. By 1895, the Knights had not successfully waged a major strike in years, and were generally disdained by business leaders due to the Haymarket incident. As we will see, this would make good-faith negotiations between the trolley workers and the railroad companies virtually impossible.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 14 January 1895

Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 14 January 1895

There were several issues that the workers had with the trolley companies. The workers believed that they deserved better wages now that the trolley system had been electrified. They argued that the new cars required greater concentration, and that their work was subsequently more taxing, both mentally and physically.

Workers also complained that companies instructed their conductors to ignore the city’s 10 mile per hour speed limit, endangering the lives of the motormen and the public. But the main sticking point between labor and management was the 10-hour work day. New York law stipulated that laborers could not work more than 10 hours in a 12 hour period. The workers believed that the ten hours included meals and time spent waiting for their trolleys at the train depot. The companies, on the other hand, did not intend to pay workers for any time not spent actually running the trolleys.

When the workers’ representatives presented their demands to the trolley companies in January 1895, the companies balked. As Brian Cudahy noted in How We Got to Coney Island: The Development of Mass Transportation in Brooklyn and Kings County, “management still believed that … it enjoyed a unilateral authority akin to the divine right of kings.” Labor soon dropped its demands for better wages, but would not budge on the 10-hour work day. On Sunday, January 13th, the Knights of Labor’s executive board voted to endorse a city-wide strike.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 14 January 1895

Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 14 January 1895

On Monday morning 5,000 workers went on strike, paralyzing Brooklyn’s trolley system. Although the first day of the strike was generally peaceful, the situation quickly escalated, and violence began to ensue. The trolley companies immediately began hiring workers from New Jersey, Philadelphia, and as far as Boston and Pittsburg. The companies believed if they could replace the striking workers quickly enough, they would be able to get the trolley system up and running on a normal schedule.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 14 January 1895

Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 14 January 1895

Their strategy backfired, as explained by the special committee appointed to investigate the trolley strike, “the order was passed around the headquarters of the [Knights of Labor] that there was to be no violence. That did very well for the first [day] of the strike, but as it has progressed and the [companies] have not only not given in to their demands, but have proceeded to secure men to take the places of the strikers; the situation becomes more desperate for them.”

Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 14 January 1895

Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 14 January 1895

The striking workers made it their mission to stop every trolley still running in the city. They would cut the trolley wires, surround the cars, and often assaulted the new drivers.  Strikers would utilize anything they could to block the path of the trolleys. A local builder claimed that a mob had descended upon his stores of brownstone and slate to barricade Fulton Street. Children joined in, tossing stones at conductors.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 18 January 1895

Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 18 January 1895

The police were unable to control the strike. Trolleys were occasionally manned by an officer or two, which were no match for the mobs in the streets. During the height of the strike up to 4,000 workers would amass at the train depots. The city police force numbered only 1,700 in 1895, and many were sympathetic to the striking workers. According to the special committee appointed to investigate the trolley strike, the department also suffered was exceptionally poor leadership.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 7 February 1895

Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 7 February 1895

The Police Superintendent “was incompetent to command the force because of his age, lack of memory and want of physical condition.” The Police Commissioner, who had been appointed by the mayor, was also incapable of running the force (“Prior to [the Police Commissioner’s] assumption of office [he had] never been in a similar business or had any qualification or training for the performance of the duties of the chief of police.”)

Finally, Mayor Schieren himself had failed to grasp the severity of the strike until it was too late. A Brooklyn Daily Eagle report from the 5th day of the strike illustrates this point well. At a public forum held on 5th Ave., local business owners complained that they were losing a tremendous amount of money due to the strike. One of the men asked the mayor, “Why are we doing nothing?” To which the mayor replied, “Well, what can you suggest? We are making every effort to bring about a settlement, and if you have any suggestions we shall be glad to hear it.”

Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 19 January 1895

Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 19 January 1895

By January 19th, the sixth day of the strike, the Mayor finally took action. He decided to call in the National Guard to restore order and prevent further violence. Although the militia eventually achieved its goal, which was to restore regular trolley service to the city, some would argue that they actually stoked the violence that was gripping the city.

Thus concludes part one of the Great Trolley Strike of 1895. Check back next Wednesday, September 3rd, for the conclusion of our story.

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Photo of the Week: The Feast of San Gennaro


[Feast of San Gennaro], circa 1978, v2008.013.17; Lucille Fornasieri Gold photographs, 2008.013; Brooklyn Historical Society

If you missed this year’s Giglio Feast in Williamsburg as I did, there’s still the promise of the Feast of San Gennaro in Little Italy, pictured in the image above, circa 1978. There seems to be a certain amount of rivalry between these two Italian-American New York City street festivals, echoing the rivalry between Manhattan and Brooklyn. People loyal to the Giglio Feast are proud that it has a longer history than the Feast of San Gennaro. Brooklyn first celebrated the Giglio Feast in 1903, while the Feast of San Gennaro was first held in 1926. Loyalists of the Feast of San Gennaro instead emphasize that, while other Italian Saint festivals might have a longer pedigree, the Feast of San Gennaro is bigger.

Both feasts originated in New York as a result of the wave of Southern Italian immigration into New York City in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The Feast of San Gennaro was started in Manhattan by immigrants from Naples, celebrating San Gennaro – the Patron Saint of Naples, while the Giglio Feast in Brooklyn was a way for immigrants from Nola, Italy, to celebrate San Paolino. Both of these feasts evolved from solemn, one-day long, religious, Italian traditions into longer, more boisterous Italian-American events with music and street food. While some people might want to debate which feast is better, I personally am not fussy. Regardless of the debate, I know that I will enjoy eating my weight in Italian sausage at the Feast of San Gennaro in a couple of weeks and I am excited…

For more images of Italian feast days in New York City, you might be interested in the Williamsburg Giglio Feast photographs (v1990.021), Our Lady of Mount Carmel Giglio Feast photographs (v1990.052), and Jim Kalett and Thomas Bello photographs of the Giglio Feast in Williamsburg (v1991.085).

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our new website here.  To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m.


Author: Halley Choiniere


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