Q+A: John Coppola from Bread & Spread
If you have been in DUMBO at lunchtime, chances are you have stumbled upon a small counter on Front Street pumping out gourmet sandwiches for its loyal customers. We sat down with John Coppola to learn more about this DUMBO favorite.
Tell us about yourself and Bread & Spread and how you got started!
I was born in Brooklyn, and raised in an Italian family. I went to culinary school at the Culinary Institute of America. After that, I worked in Westchester for a chef named Peter Kelly who has been a mentor to me and has taught me a lot. I started working on my own in 2010 with a food trailer on a construction site and then from there I went from different trucks. I had a grilled cheese truck and then a Vietnamese banh mi truck. That one was in DUMBO near Foragers, and that is how I found this spot in DUMBO and was able to open Bread & Spread here.
Opening Bread & Spread was kind of an accident. I wanted to keep the banh mi food cart when I found this space, and I knew if I kept the food cart and did banh mi there then I needed to do something else in the new space. DUMBO was looking for good food, so I figured, as long as it's good, DUMBO will support. Sandwiches have been my thing since I was a kid; I’ve always made sandwiches. I just try to make them different and better and interesting with whatever you can fit between bread. I’ve always critiqued sandwiches because some of them are messy or you bite the middle and the middle pulls out and it splooshes out the back and sauce goes all over you. So I went to my butcher and we talked about what meats he could help me prepare so I didn’t have to prepare them in such a small space and he helped me create the menu. The name just came to me one day and within a month we were open.
Why have you decided to open restaurants in such small spaces?
I worked at hotels and the big restaurants and they just felt like factories. When I went to smaller restaurants, I learned a lot–I learned a lot about food and cooking and working with people. Also, there is a barrier to entry. I didn't have a lot of money, chefs don't make a lot of money. I was able to rent a food cart with a permit for around $300 a week, it was pretty cheap. He gave me the cart and said go make money and pay me back.
Everyone wants to do their own thing, everyone wants to go their own way. The food truck business gives you an opportunity to have a voice and do your own style, be your own boss and do whatever you want, plus it's not a lot of expense. When I was able to start the cart, I went to good locations and I was able to get followers and regulars in line. I saved up money from that in order to open up Bread & Spread. It was the only place that I was able to find to open up in DUMBO that was available.
When I found the old Rebar space, I thought it was such a beautiful space that was just abandoned. People told me that a lot of things have not succeeded in that space because it's small and its unique and people don't know how to deal with that. When you work on a food truck, small and unique is what you do. This location has a lot of character. I am glad that I was able to get it because I think it really fits what I am trying to do. There would be no Bread & Spread without that location.
What brought you to DUMBO?
I love the character. I used to come to DUMBO as a kid. We would go to the pier, the dock and to the River Cafe, to just hang out and enjoy the view. It was always kind of seedy and shady. Where St. Ann's is now was just a vacant building, people didn’t go down there. Now there is such a resurgence; I came here to be a part of it. DUMBO had a need for food, and when you are in a food truck you have to go where the demand is. So I saw that there was demand for lunchtime food in DUMBO. Brooklyn deserves its own things and I made DUMBO my home for that reason. I figured why go to Manhattan and fight for spots and sit in traffic when I can just stay in Brooklyn and feed people here.
I really would like to expand in DUMBO. The people are great! The people are really really great. My customers are the nicest people, they will do anything to help you. You really feel the community when you’re in DUMBO. It is a little small town and everyone knows each other and I like that. You can walk around and say hi to people and they say hi back and that's great!
What is your favorite thing on the menu?
The Giardino, only because it's just vegetables and we try to make it a delicious, tasty vegetable sandwich by just being creative with it. We slice the vegetables so thin that they roast almost instantly, they become crispy and then we add avocado and tomato and watercress. The Porchetta is our signature. It's a homemade Porchetta; we season it and we roast it, but the vegetable sandwich is my favorite.
What’s in the future for Bread & Spread?
In the near future for Bread & Spread in DUMBO, we’re going to move some production out of DUMBO and to our our new location opening at the DeKalb Market. We can prep anything at the DeKalb location and bring it over here; this will allow us to have specials and more items. We want to keep innovating and not just keep the same menu that we’ve had. For the future, I want to find more spots like the one in DUMBO, that people don't want to be in or that they can't work in that are kinda odd shaped to expand and grow. I want to stay in Brooklyn as much as I can, I really want to stay in a working areas where people are looking for good food.
What is your favorite place in DUMBO?
I really love that secret garden outside of the River Cafe; it's a really quiet spot and you can disappear in there. I like to eat at Foragers and Los Papi’s and I think Little Muenster has great grilled cheese sandwiches, they are delicious!