The air inside the Brooklyn Bowl smells like well worn leather, sawdust, and evidently hops (from the nearby Brooklyn Brewery, but I’ll get back to them). All around me are authentic Coney Island early 20th century amusement park props, like the tin targets from shooting galleries. There’s a band putting their gear together onstage for an evening event, lots of percussion and fewer amps, so I’m guessing it’ll be some kind of folk or world music. In front of me, Charley Ryan, cofounder of the Brooklyn Bowl (with partner Peter Shapiro) is pressing his business card into my hands and is about to say the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard while receiving a business card.
“I hope my phone number goes from this card into your phone and that you use it whenever you want to get in touch.”
It’s heart-fluttering, how genuine and personal this touch ends up being. I have no idea if Charley’s said this thousands of times, but I swear that in this moment, if Charley asks me to run out into the street and get hit by a hipster on a unicycle, I will do it! I thank Charley, store his card in my pocket like it’s a piece of treasure (it is!), and I move on to the next leg of the tour.
How Did I Get Here
This whole tour was put together by entrepreneur and author Lewis Schiff. He runs the Inc Business Owner’s Council and several other projects. He invited me down to do a few things, including this tour of Brooklyn. I’ve been kept in the dark about the details of the tour until the last moment (which I loathe, but in retrospect, it’s because Lewis and his team were juggling a lot of very high profile people’s time). I went from being somewhat frustrated to being overwhelmed with appreciation at the experience.
But the reason I’m here is for something bigger. Lewis believes in relationships. That’s why he’s put everything together the way he has. And because I believe the same thing, I took a train ride down from Boston to see what’s going on in Brooklyn.
The Rest of the Tour
This was a tour of Brooklyn, most specifically the Williamsburg area. Everything I visited was in a brisk walk’s distance from everything else. I stayed at the McCarren Hotel & Pool, which was fun but not exactly part of the tour.
We started with the Williamsburg Hotel, a project by Toby Moskovits, who I didn’t meet, but I met one of the people she’s charged with making it run, Evan Altman (with James Stuart). Evan took Lewis and I up into the guts of the being-built hotel and shared what’s to come. It’s pretty beautiful, plus I learned a lot about who knows who in this little world. (That becomes a theme.)
I told you about seeing Charley and his amazing venue (there are two other Brooklyn Bowl locations now, one in London and the other in Las Vegas). It made me wish I had an active band. What a cool place. Charley knows Toby and Lewis and he knows Steve Hindy at Brooklyn Brewery.
I didn’t get to meet Steve Hindy (or Tom Potter) who founded the brewery, but we got a great tour from Erin. Evidently, in the way old days, there were over a hundred breweries operating in Brooklyn, but then Prohibition knocked them all down and it stayed that way for quite some time. Hindy gave up his job as a war correspondent (a mortar barrage in Beirut gave his family ample ammunition to get him to change his job) and started the brewery. I was amazed by how fast it has grown, and just how much production capacity they have. In short time, they went from being able to produce 10,000 barrels a year to over 100,000, which makes them one of the larger independents out there. (When I asked our guide, Erin, if Steve knew Sam Calagione from Dogfish Head, she said everyone knows Sam – I sure do.)
From there, we went on to meet the man himself.
The Last King of Brooklyn
Norm Brodsky is a lot of things to a lot of people. To me, at first, he’s an author. Someone I have known for decades through his books and through his work at Inc magazine. I know him to be an entrepreneur (he’s got quite a bit of land in Williamsburg, for instance, and sold a few companies recently for over $100 Million; he has a fast casual Japanese restaurant company, stakes in a few hotels, and I forget what else). He’s also working with Lewis Schiff on a cool education project (which is why Lewis has brought me to their mutual temporary office space down on the water that looks towards Manhattan.
Norm is tall. I’m 6’2″ and he’s probably 6’4″ or so, but his presence is even bigger. He’s got a million stories, knows everyone, and laughs easily. We talk about everything. I’m there, specifically, so that Lewis and he can talk to me about their new education project (not sure if it’s out of stealth yet), but we talk about lots more. Relationships. People. How business really is.
Norm (and Lewis) know and are friends with everyone I’ve met on the tour. They know hundreds of other businesses just here in Brooklyn, not counting all the companies they know from their various roles at Inc. Norm and his wife Elaine throw parties for hundreds (thousands) of people at a time there in Brooklyn. When their warehouse apartment burned down at the beginning of 2015, they were put up at local hotels and had whatever they needed. They’re royalty.
We had an amazing dinner at Peter Luger steak house (lots of meat, lots of laughter, and a few magic tricks I won’t explain, but Norm knows the magic of relationships built over time), and I was able to give some thoughts on the few things I know. I’m glad we have started these connections. Norm and Lewis know what they’re doing.
(By the way, I have zero pictures of Norm and me. Imagine it. It’s good.)
Which Brings me Back to Charley Ryan and Beyond
Every interaction I had while in the presence of Lewis Schiff and Norm Brodsky was a relationship-minded experience. I felt (and still feel) like I’m on the inside. I got tours that others won’t get. I got access that others don’t get. I learned who knew who and who knew what, and I saw the slightest sketch of all the work going on in Brooklyn (it’s not all lumberjacks and artisan pickles, as it turns out). At every step of the way, I met people who had been fortunate, but whose fortune came through hard work, relationships, and an investment in each other.
Did I learn a lot about business? Yes. Did you?
Notice how none of this involved a social network, how none of this required any technological savvy, how all of this is based in relationships and connections.
The inside is where it’s at. And it’s something you, as an owner, can make real for the people you serve, as well. There’s more to this. But I’ve already talked far too long for one sitting.