At Greenlight Bookstore in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn, N.Y., cookbooks have become such a growth area that co-owner Jessica Stockton Bagnulo ranks them as the third most popular book section after fiction and children’s picture books. “People buy them as collectible books,” she said.
To keep cookbook sales growing and foster a sense of community, last year Greenlight introduced Book/Plate with neighborhood market and restaurant Peck’s Homemade. The series, which pairs a nonfiction book or a novel with food inspired by it, will launch its second season later this month with a dinner in Peck’s backyard with Amanda Vail, author of Hotel Florida, and a menu based on her book and Hemingway’s Spain. April also marks the inauguration of a second foodie Greenlight series, Book Cooks, which is being held in partnership with Berg’n, the Crown Heights beer Hall. In this pairing, local food fans get to meet local cookbook authors and sample a small bite from their book.
Bagnulo credits Jeff Waxman, a former bookseller at Seminary Co-op’s 57th Street Books in Chicago, with coming up with the idea for Book/Plate when he moved to New York last year to work at Other Press as retail marketing manager. “Peck’s had just opened up across the street from my apartment, and I was sitting there last summer, reading at the counter. I struck up a conversation with [owner] Theo Peck about how lucky a guy had to be to spend a whole day reading and eating in his establishment. We got to talking about possible events and that’s when Book/Plate was conceived,” recalled Waxman.
Waxman and Peck contacted local bookseller Bagnulo, who helped turn the concept into a reality. She and Waxman work together on choosing authors and handle the promotion; Peck and his chefs do the rest, which includes preparing and serving a multi-course dinner and a cocktail for 40. Waxman regards the series as “a perfect expression of our favorite things: great writing, excellent food, independent bookselling, and good company.”
But Bagnulo acknowledges that the first season had a few hiccups: some of the books weren’t new enough, and she and Peck had a tough time getting the pricing right. This year the tickets range from $50 to $55 for a drink, dinner, and a book. Ticket-holders dine family-style and get to meet the author in a more casual way than a typical author event. And the topics vary greatly. In May, Book/Plate will feature Jim Shepard, author of The Book of Aron, and a menu inspired by the Eastern European Jewish diaspora.
For Book Cooks, Bagnulo strives to keep it local by choosing chefs who have either worked in a Brooklyn or a New York City restaurant. The event takes place in a private room that holds 60 people. Since the series was announced, sales have taken off, especially for A Girl and Her Pig author April Bloomfield and a prepub event for her follow up, A Girl and Her Greens. Tickets are priced at $40, which includes the cost of the book and an appetizer. In addition to a book signing, the chef/author is presented in conversation with Brooklyn Flea founder Eric Denby.
Although these events are food related, Bagnulo points out that they are in line with what Greenlight has been doing for its events in general: “more and more partnerships, being more creative, and getting a new audience. All of it helps to raise our profile, she adds.” While Book/Plate and Book Cooks may be based on the customer experience, she notes, “the business model is still selling the book.”