2016’s major fashion trench of “merch” offered us a covetable way to represent our favorites across every industry. What started as vintage band tees evolved into new recording artists’ merch being inspired by vintage tees, college merch and even clothes emblazoned with our top choice restaurants. And then, it went a step further. Fashion brands were creating with those favorite food brands and not only creating highly desirable merch, they brought the benefits of collaboration to the food world.
We saw Telfar and White Castle, New York’s popular Lower East Side fried chicken spot Sweet Chick did a sneaker with FILA, Nike did shoes with both New York outposts Momofuku and Cha-Cha Matcha, and even Taco Bell got in on the trend releasing all-over printed hoodies, t-shirts, and bodysuits with Forever21.
But these were all restaurants collaborating outside the restaurant world. Owner of Num Pang Kitchen, Ben Daitz, is working on getting the spirit of collaboration back to his peers in the food world. Rather than a fashion meets restaurant collaboration, Daitz’s restaurant, Num Pang Kitchen, is kind of keeping it in the family and partnered with buzzy condiment company, Sir Kensington’s.
“Chef’s has always gone out for drinks after work together, even from like neighboring restaurants, there’s always that camaraderie, and I kind of feel like collaboration is a natural progression as the space becomes more and more crowded. Everyone is looking for ways to separate themselves from everybody else,” he says.
Sandwiches and condiments are far more complimentary than sneakers and lattes, and while it there’s value in bringing brand recognition to different consumer bases through collaboration, there’s also value in creating a sustainable and delicious product that buyers will always want more of.
We spoke to Daitz about collaboration within the food and beverage world their condiment collaboration.
Where did your the desire to collaborate come from?
The big hurricane in Haiti, 2010 maybe? We were making money. We were happy. We were kind of living the dream. We were doing the same thing everyday over and over again. I thought to myself how can we have fun and give back at the same time. The collaborative spirit was born from a charitable effort. We worked with another chef and his restaurant and raised a bunch of money by taking the Num Pang flavor profile and made a special cotechino which is like sausage that’s served over Christmastime in Eataly, cacio de roma cheese and pickled onions. We ran it for two weeks, did a bunch of promo and we made like $20-30,000 for Haiti. That was the first collaboration that sort of set off in my head that was like wait a minute, I can get out of my box of the same thing everyday and work with someone I respect.
Is that a normal thing in the food and beverage world to have chef’s come together and collaborate?
I want to say, you see a lot of that blueprint today. It’s definitely a newer thing in the space. I have a group of chefs I’m close with—Michael Turnout, John Seymour, Adam Eskin of Dig Inn, some of the Sweetgreen guys. I want to say we’re all pretty collaborative, but it’s really that we share information in a way that the generation that preceded us was mad guarded about.
I think the spirit for us is like, this is not an easy business. On Instagram, or whatever, it looks very glorious, “Oh, you have seven restaurants? You’re living the life.” The margins are very, very small. The failure rate in New York City is 85 percent. 85 percent of restaurants fail in the first year. I felt like I’m going through this thing. There’s not a lot of people I can relate to then I find these guys who are and we get to get together and commiserate.
Getting back to collaboration, we started a program after the charity called guest chef’s give back—Mike Anthony from Gramercy Tavern, Jean George, and Dan Kruger, and a bunch of really high profile chefs. My lifestyle and desire to have a little more fun came out. I’m friends with Ad-Rock from Beastie Boys. I always try to pull from my collaborator to make it fun for them. I asked Adam what kind of food he grew up on. He’s so New York. He’s like, “Yo. I wanna do a spaghetti and meatball sandwich.” I said, “That sounds crazy, I don’t know if I can go there. Might be good!” Eventually we settled on a pastrami Num Pang in a little kit served with cream soda and bag of wise chips. We raised like another $30,000 towards no-kill dog shelters in Brooklyn. We collabed with [Action] Bronson to benefit Puerto Rico last year, too.
So, it seems it’s has been fueled by charity and working with people you really like and respect.
It’s been great, organically from peers and people I respect and wanted to work with. I have a lot of guys that were mentors that are sort of friends. This guy Keith was an early investor in Sir Kensington. They got bought by Unilever for like $300 million. They’re a young company. They’re really disrupting the condiment world that’s dominated by Heinz and Hellmann’s. There’s definitely a lane for a young fun company that is using different ingredients as people care more about what they put into their body. I felt the brands were sort of aligned. I proposed the idea to them and before I got the words out of my mouth, it was like “Yea, let’s do it!”
The idea that it actually leads to a product that they’ll be able to sell on the shelf. So, this is sort of part one. This is only available in stores. Eventually there will be some branded either Ben Daitz or Num Pang and Sir Kensington line. I love it.
Would you say you think that collaboration is a trend that will progress food and beverage in a different way?
The power of collaboration in general is that the foundation is respect. North Face and Supreme, they respect each other. They’re going to take parts that each of them make really well and make something together that the public will enjoy, and they’ll have fun doing it. I’ve been asked to collab with people and it’s not always a fit. I think beautiful things come from people sort of stepping out of their box.