Monday, August 17, 2009

Brooklynite Turns Job Loss Into Green Opportunity

With all the recent talk about job loss and unemployment, it’s easy to get discouraged. But for one Boerum Hill resident, losing her job was an opportunity to follow her passion.

Jessica Pichardo grew up in the Bronx and moved to Brooklyn four years ago. She worked as an investment banker for 10 years after she graduated college, but was laid off last year. She decided not to look for another job in a field she wasn’t passionate about.

“I always saw myself opening up a restaurant... you know, after I have children, once life is a little calmer, kind of as a side project,” she said. But after losing her job, she said she realized, “I had nothing but an open opportunity to chase my dream. I still have youth on my side, and I said, ‘Now’s the time to do it.’”

So she set to work on a concept, found a location, and after about a year of planning, Pichardo opened the Linger Café and Lounge last month.

Linger is “first and foremost a really cozy neighborhood spot for people to feel that they can come here throughout the course of the day,” Pichardo explained. During the week (except for Monday), she opens at 9 a.m. for morning coffee and pastries, offers lunch and then small plates for dinner, closing at 10 p.m. On the weekends it is open until 1 a.m. and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays.

She saw a need in her own neighborhood (she lives four blocks from Linger, which is on Atlantic Avenue between Third and Fourth avenues) for a place to go that was relaxed and familiar, to hang out or have a drink. “I’m offering a really chill, sort of comfortable environment for you to just unwind and relax.”

Pichardo didn’t just want her new endeavor to be welcoming, she also wanted it to be as low-waste as possible.

“I’m doing my best to run a green operation here. We have energy-saver equipment, low water usage in the bathroom, all of our packaging is biodegradable and fully compostable,” she explained. She also arranged with a trash company that picks up food scraps to compost them off-site.
“We have a minimal waste kitchen. The only things we throw out are rubber bands and maybe some wood from crates. Everything else is either recycled or composted.”

Everyone who works at Linger lives in Brooklyn, all the artists to be featured on the walls are local, and live music on Saturdays is provided by local bands. Pichardo purchases produce from farms upstate, tea and coffee that is fair trade and organic, and only offers local wine and beer.

“If there are little things I can do, why not? You want to make a positive impact on the world, it’s important to pass down some good information, because otherwise what’s the point?” she said. “At the end of the day, it’s really important to me to leave this world a better place than when I entered it.”

Because the food is local, the menu changes often, and Pichardo (who cooks all the food) wants to be flexible. “One of the most important things that I’m doing is remaining adaptable: getting customer feedback, interacting with people, hearing from them what they like, what works and what doesn’t work,” she said. “If people want more of something, I’m going to do it and I’m not going to stick with something if its not working.”

Pichardo is confident that this adaptability and the absence of anything like Linger in the neighborhood will ensure its success. Her concept is symbolic of a larger trend: The fast-paced attitude in the country has become slower now that so many people are forced to re-evaluate their lives.

“In the last few years you have all this corporate greed, the whole economy basically coming to shatters because of the financial industry — it forces people to really stop and realize, ‘Hey, why am I chasing the dollar? What is that getting me at the end of the day?’” Pichardo said. “It’s definitely time to stop and smell the roses.”

Pictured above, left to right: Jessica Pichardo with Jessica Waterman, Melissa Detroy and Janessa Williams, three of her staff members.

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