Speak Easy, A New Brooklyn Speaker Series, Celebrates Doing It Yourself

From pizzerias to cupcake shops, local honey makers to music venues, Brooklyn is filled with businesses that serve their local community, all while keeping their quality up and their carbon footprint down. So it was only a matter of time before someone tapped the minds and personalities behind these businesses. Speak Easy (the name gamely references another New York trend), a new monthly series out of Veronica People’s Club, kicks off February 15, and will spotlight a different subject each month, highlighting the connection between entrepreneurship and the arts that its organizer, Cara Cannella, feels is too often overlooked – or underplayed. The Haslegrave brothers, the women of Ovenly, and musician Nathan Larson (Shudder to Think, A Camp) are some of the subjects Cannella has lined up.

“I think Brooklynites are really loyal to, and supportive of local businesses, especially those driven by a DIY or collaborative ethic,” says Cannella.“For the most part, we’re seeking authentic experiences and connections—at the farmer’s market, the Brooklyn Flea, the local butcher shop, etc.—rather than anonymous transactions, and we like to share what we know through word of mouth. The borough’s strong neighborhood and community ties, cultural diversity, creative energy, and relative affordability result in fertile ground for startups.”

Cannella’s interest can be traced back to a post-college internship at Inc. magazine, where she interviewed hundreds of entrepreneurs and where she continued to work on and off for ten years as a reporter. “Over the years, I’ve talked to hundreds of entrepreneurs, interviewing them, and I just find the whole process of creating something out of nothing and putting your whole heart and soul into it to be fascinating. And I think basically that’s what artists have to do too.”

Cannella counts among her friends many of Brooklyn’s small business owners and owes her luck with the series to the generosity of her friends, many of whom she’s made writing about small businesses and food, and not least among them Heather, of Veronica People’s Club. “I feel so lucky to have this space as a home base for Speak Easy. The owners are really supportive and community-driven, and their hosting of the series came about organically. One day, I was there hanging out with Heather (one of three owners, along with Dre and Stevie; Heather also owns Heathers Bar in the East Village), thinking out loud about wanting to do the series, and she generously offered the space. They’re all curious, passionate and open-minded, and their staff and crowd reflect that. The bar’s open design—along with rotating DJs, Sunday Suppers, projected movie screenings, and the relaxed garden out back—all contribute to a welcoming and creative vibe, which is exactly what I want for the series. During the day, they serve Inteligentsia coffee and locally made Ovenly pastries; with that and wi-fi, it’s also a great place to do work.”

Pictured top: Cara Cannella. image The Haselgrove brothers.

On April 5th, the Speak Easy will present “How to Bring a Restaurant to Life” in two parts. Part I will feature Oliver and Evan Haslegrave, the two brothers behind the design team hOmE, who are known for their use of recycled and repurposed material in the creation of spaces like the Manhattan Inn and other venues. “Oliver used to be a fiction editor for one of the big houses,” says Cannella.“Their company is called hOmE, which is the acronym of their four siblings. Their family is sickeningly close. Their sister now works with them. They all have a tattoo too that says hOmE, including their mom.”

It will also feature Paul Giannone, of woodfire pizza restaurant Paulie Gee’s (designed and built by hOmE), and Agatha and Erin of Ovenly, “who bake out of Paulie’s kitchen and create ice cream toppings for the restaurant. Agatha and I grew up together, and she and Erin met at Four Burners, a food-focused book club I started three years ago.”

So that’s going to be part I. The other part will Sean Dimin of Sea2Table,—which partners with fishermen from sustainable wild fisheries to deliver their catch overnight, creating a direct connection with chefs—and Jacques Gautier, chef and owner of Palo Santo, a Latin American-influenced restaurant that sources fish from Sea2Table and vegetables and herbs from its own rooftop garden. Gautier also “raises bunnies on his roof” that he cooks and serves to friends.

For June, Speak Easy will present musician and author Nathan Larson, of Shudder to Think. “He has a novel coming out called the Dewey Decimal System, which is set inside the New York Public Library, which I’m so excited about. “[Larson] scores a lot of movies. He scored Boys Don’t Cry. He’s married to the lead singer [Nina Persson] from the Cardigans. I’m a big fan of the Cardigans.”

For future guests, Cannella hopes to feature Brooklyn Brewery founder Steve Hindy, “since he was one of the pioneers of the recent local small business boom,” the founders of Etsy, and Lisa Price who started out mixing oils and fragrances as a hobby and now runs Carol’s Daughter, a multi-million dollar all-natural beauty company. Cannella will also feature “less conventional business owners,” like subway buskers, food truck vendors, and farmers who sell at local Greenmarkets.

As for how Cannella managed to swing Colm Toibin for the first guest? She met him ten years in Newport Rhode Island to write a profile on him. “We spent the whole day together—did the Cliff Walk; went to a used bookstore where we found some of Colm’s books; went to a lobster dinner. He was imagining, ‘Do people think we’re father and daughter? That you’re my mistress?’ It all felt a little surreal. I played his Minnie Temple,” she says.She recently heard Toibin speak at the NYPL series. “He closed with Sylvia Plath’s Daddy from memory. It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop.”

While she reveres renowned and established discussion series like Live from the NYPL, Cannella admits her series is inherently different, though she aims to create a similarly exciting atmosphere. “First and foremost, I want the series to be fun. I want people to come together and share stimulating ideas, but for it not to feel formal. I really wanted to generate community—people in a room, connecting. Like the experience of hearing Colm recite “Daddy” the other night—chills up everyone’s spines. And that doesn’t happen when you watch a video.”

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