Staff Lunches with the Mast Brothers
Words by Julie Pointer Photographs by Gentl & Hyers
How do you encourage camaraderie and raise morale in a workplace? For Brooklyn’s Mast Brothers Chocolate company, it means sharing meals over a communal table.
Given the amount of time that we all spend at our workplaces, it seems natural that this space in our lives might also produce a deep sense of connectivity and community with those working around us. While we may not have much in common with our workmates in all areas of life, we may, at the very least, feel a sense of shared purpose in working toward a unified goal, which can often supersede more trivial lifestyle differences.
One of the ways to build this familial, close-knit feeling is to set aside time in the workday to gather around a meal—and better yet, to prepare it together. There is hardly a more satisfying way to alleviate the stresses of the day than to focus on creating a dish to be communally enjoyed; your own worries may quiet merely by paying attention to the person chopping vegetables at your side. Having a mid-day meal together around a common table seems a simple thing, but it can be the key to cultivating a vibrant, healthy community of workers that are connected not only through a shared workplace, but also through shared experiences.
One such business that has encouraged eating together since its inception is Mast Brothers Chocolate, which is located in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. We chatted with Derek Herbster, one of Rick and Michael Mast’s loyal compatriots.
Is there a shared ethos among the Mast workers that unifies the team?
The ethos, from the beginning, has always been to keep making the best chocolate that we possibly can, constantly tasting everything every step of the way together through the process. We have also grown to be a big family under one roof.
What’s the general vibe like between the Mast crew in the day-to-day occurrences?
The vibe day-to-day is to always get the job done, of course, but while that’s happening, lots of jokes and laughs, some good-natured ribbing, I guess is what some may call it.
How and when did the tradition of eating lunch together start at the office/factory? Do you all share the cooking?
Really since the beginning days—Rick Mast (being a trained chef) always kind of led the charge in the kitchen, and would always prepare lunch for whomever was working with him and his brother that day. It really just grew and grew from there. We all cook, though some are better than others, of course, and tend to get voted to cook (just because we know it will be good). It’s basically whomever feels like making something great that day; it always changes. Along with that, though, we also have an hourlong break after lunch to do what we please with, which is really something that I feel other businesses should get into.
What has been the most surprising element of getting to work at Mast Brothers?
For me, it’s surprising how quickly the brothers are coming up with ways to make the company even more complete than it already is. Take something as simple as sailing our cocoa beans—that was just one of the things that we made a reality.
What is the Mast Brothers factory’s role in the context of the bigger neighborhood/community?
Since we were the first bean-to-bar chocolate makers in Brooklyn, I’d say we have a pretty strong role in the community here in Williamsburg. It’s a very tight-knit community/scene here in Brooklyn, which is great, because there’s a lot of support for each other going on. Really something special.
How do you see the community-feel of your space affecting the larger purpose of what Mast is doing?
When you walk into the Mast Brothers factory, we want you to feel that you are part of the process and what is being created right in front of you. Which is why we have always had our retail shop connected to our factory, so when you walk in you get a sense of what’s going on.