Gia Giasullo and her brother Peter Freeman are the co-owners of the Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain; 513 Henry Street, Brooklyn, New York.
A family place where I love to go in the morning for a delicious Cappuccino or with my kids for the countertop old-school classics like sundaes, vintage ice-cream float and the famous sodas like the original chocolate egg cream, that my 2 boys love (soda, milk and Fox’s U-Bet syrup).
Gia, Peter and their team make delicious, original and handcrafted drinks loved by adults and kids, sourcing local and with seasonal ingredients.
Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain opened in 2010 with a renovated Bastian-Blessing soda fountain. The place is a restored 1920s apothecary. It is a place « where old-time is the idea of a good time », with a unique atmosphere where authenticity and the decoration makes you feel that you are in a retro nostalgia pharmacy, with a touch of American Classic like Elvis Presley and with a modern twist. A great mix !
The place is very kid-friendly and you can also stop by on Thursday mornings to listen to live music.
Hello Gia, where do you come from, and how long have you lived in New York?
I was born in New York, lived around the country for many years, settling in the Bay Area. But was living in Israel with my family when the idea of Farmacy was introduced to me by my little brother. I moved back to Brooklyn to open the Farmacy with him.
When and why did you decide to start your own business with your brother?
My brother took an apartment above the Farmacy and was introduced to the owner. The shop had been effectively closed down for over 15 years. He convinced the owner to let him clean the shop, and then to be able to open a soda fountain.
Did you always know you wanted to launch a business in the food sector ?
Not at all! I spend 25 years as a graphic designer, and the past ten years before opening the Farmacy as a book designer. I came into the Farmacy with an eye for design and continue to do all of the marketing, social media, menu design, interior and window design. Plus a whole lot more!
What’s different now that you are a business owner?
I have always worked independently, but being a business owner means you are accountable to a larger audience. I also work with many young people, for some of them this is their first job. Also, as a small business owner, I wear more hats than I can count. I am everything from a floor staff manager to a marketing manager.
How easy or difficult was to get Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain off the ground?
We were very fortunate in that as we were trying to figure out how we could open, we were “discovered” by the Discovery Channell and a show called Construction Intervention. We were featured on this show, as was the renovation. Our opening was a bit of a miracle, and we have always felt that this soda fountain was determined to be.
What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received? what advice would you give to someone launching a business in NYC?
I think the advice that one often gets doesn’t completely apply to us. And that is that you should work on your business and not in your business. While this is important — to work on your business — one of my great joys is actually working in my business. Particularly a community oriented place such as ours, getting to know customers, engaging with neighbors, this is what makes working so hard worth it for me.
Can you describe your typical day?
There is an expression that no day is the same in the restaurant business, and I think it is true! My day can begin with cleaning (it often does), and then I do a variety of things from updating our menu, to updating our website. I try to work in the fountain at least two to three days a week, and so a lot of my time is spent serving and interacting with customers. I live upstairs so often when my teenagers come home from school I dash up to make dinner, and then I often go down to the fountain again to manage the floor. When I look at what I have accomplished in one day the list is long and varied.
Which communication tools do you use to promote Brooklyn Farmacy? (website? Twitter? FB? product testing ? others…)
We use Facebook, twitter, and Instagram, as our place lends itself to beautiful imagery. Though I honestly think my best form of marketing is my board sign outside the soda fountain. I love sign making and so if cherry soda is on the board, I am not surprised when people walk in and say, “Cherry soda, please”. We also participate in many fundraisers and events, which helps spread the word about our store. We say yes to most press that want to shoot in our store — the more exposure the better.
What are your future goals for Brooklyn pharmacy ?
We opened a little soda fountain in Kiehl’s briefly, but we found that it was not a great fit for our customer. As a small business, everyday we get up and fight the good fight to keep our doors open. Doing business in New York is expensive, and we are not offering a high ticket item. That said, we are honored to serve the community and we are this summer, going into our ninth year of doing so. We are coming into ice cream season (though it’s always ice cream season at the Farmacy), and look forward to a lively summer with our community of neighbors, and tourists who come from far distances to see us.