When I lived in Italy I was surrounded by a plethora of delicious foods and wines. Yet, despite living in a food lover’s paradise there were things that I missed from home. My mother snail mailed me tastes from home. In her care packages she would include her homemade cookies, she would tuck in Saratoga Water in its distinctive blue glass bottle, bags of The Original Saratoga Chips, and a jar of Saratoga Peanut Butter. All tastes of home sent thousands of miles away from Saratoga Springs. It boils down to people leave the Capital District for whatever their reasons. Enter Empire Crate, a subscription box service that offers New York-inspired food boxes with regionally made products encompassing the entire state. But, don’t be fooled. This service is not just for those suffering homesickness. Food lovers rejoice!
For Brandon and Brianne Dingeman their idea for Empire Crate stemmed from their time living in Astoria, Queens. The couple missed products they used to eat in the Capital District and couldn’t find in New York City. When they eventually moved back to the Capital District there were products they used to eat in New York City that they couldn’t find Upstate. “That’s when we said, ‘There has to be more people like us– why don’t we put together a monthly shipment of the best foods from across the state?”’ Brandon said. And they’ve been doing just that for over a year while both still working full-time jobs.
Empire Crate offers custom boxes, gifts boxes and monthly subscriptions. Brandon said, “We do custom boxes for corporate customers; for most recipients it’s a surprise! Customers can also purchase one-time shipments of past Empire Crates from our website– this way they know what they’re getting without signing up for monthly deliveries.” Gift boxes are a popular option. “We offer The Empire Crate as a gift box as well– people love the simplicity of leaving the curating, the handwritten note card and the shipping up to us. They know their gift recipient is going to have a great experience when they receive their crate!” Brandon explained. Then, there is the subscription box. “For subscribers, typically people who love trying new regional foods will love The Empire Crate. We’ve also found that folks who’ve moved away enjoying getting a taste of home every month!” People can sign up for 1, 3 or 6-months without renewal (according to Brandon usually these are gifts, but you can buy this for yourself, too!). People can sign up for a subscription and cancel anytime.
Brandon notes that the biggest benefit of Empire Crate is that he and Brianne are the ones charged with finding delicious regional food so that their customers don’t have to. “I think it’s still true that one couldn’t find all the contents in any of our boxes in one place,” he said. “That aside, it’s a great way to get exposed to new food products (some of which are regional specialties that you may not have heard of before) and support small businesses across the state.” All products that go into a box are New York food products that are typically very small-batch and handmade. Chocolates, coffee, sauces, nuts, condiments and much more have all been included in the past. Some of Brandon and Brianne’s personal favorites include Copper Horse Coffee from Ithaca, Biggies Crack Toffee from NYC, Buenos Angies Alfajores from Brooklyn just to name a few. “We have truly had some outstandingly delicious food in our Empire Crates– people email us weekly to see how they can order more!” he said.
For Brandon and Brianne an important component is the ability to promote local businesses while promoting their own. “We are seeing that, overall, people are placing increasing importance on being connected with their food. Knowing where it comes from, sourcing as close to home as possible, etc. We support this exact notion with The Empire Crate– we include products from small (extremely talented and passionate) food artisans across the state– most of which you’ve never heard of before and deserve a spotlight on a broader stage!” he said. Brandon said that the relationship between small food businesses and Empire Crate is the perfect recipe for success. “They receive exposure to a very active and captivated audience,” he said.
The future for Empire Crate is bright. Brandon admits that they have a couple things in the works they can’t comment on just yet. However, there is the continued promise of working with multiple state-wide organizations. “Aside from these larger deals, we are continuing to work with Realtors to send new-buyer gifts to clients and hunting for new food makers at farmer’s markets across the state and with food bloggers in different regions of NY,” he said.
Although Brandon admits there have been some challenges in learning to be a small business owner, he said the operational elements have ironed themselves out at this point. Their focus now is on building and maintaining relationships with small food makers across the state, while providing their customers with top-notch food experiences delivered to their doorsteps. When Brandon is asked why people subscribe to Empire Crate he responded: “Homesickness is definitely a factor for some people, but the ability to have a service that travels a large area (NYS) and send you the best tasting foods they’ve found every month for under $40 is probably the most common draw. People love trying new things, especially when they’re local!”
For more information on Empire Crate please visit their website: http://www.empirecrate.com/.
Emily Marcason-Tolmie, a Saratoga native, is a writer, researcher, wife and mother. Emily and her husband, Ryan, are the parents to two wonderful little boys, ages 4 and 1.