March 17 2016

The Art of the Record Shop with El Donut Shoppe's John “Brooklyn” Saviola

Miami-Standard Sounds

With streaming services becoming the default way for people to consume music, and iconic record stores disappearing left and right, it seems like a terrible time to get into the business of selling physical copies of music. But John “Brooklyn” Saviola’s lifelong obsession with vinyl–starting from when he got his first set of turntables at age 10–has never been about making money. From digging through flea market crates, to hunting down private collections, to helping run El Donut Shoppe, a mecca of rare grooves in Orlando that he opened last spring with partners Jonathan Santino and Hector Moreno, he’s done it all for the thrill of the hunt and his passion for getting the word out about good music. 

Before the Donut Shoppe crew opens their pop-up at The Standard Spa, Miami Beach for Winter Music Conference, we talked with Brooklyn about his love of crate-digging and his store’s snob-free philosophy.


Donut Shoppe Headquarters 

Donut Shoppe Headquarters 

THE STANDARD: What made you and your partners decide to open a record shop in this day and age?
BROOKLYN: It goes back to how me and my partner John met. When we met, he was starting to get into DJing and records and I had been doing this for 20 years. We just started hanging out and he started talking about it. I worked in a record store, he worked at Lockheed-Martin, and he really wasn't feeling that job anymore. I really wasn't feeling working for anybody. It was a dream to own my own record store. That was my favorite place to go as a kid. We talked and we were like, "Let's make the dream come true." He quit Lockheed-Martin and I quit my job and we just went for it.

What was your vision for Donut Shoppe?
We've been to a lot of record stores and we've seen that they're mostly overcrowded. They'll put any records out, Beatles everywhere, and they just have kind of a nasty feeling. You walk in and it smells like mold. There's no place to go where everything we look through is quality, and everything on the wall is "wow," and when you walk in, the feeling is, "I wanna be here." So we sat down and just created the vibe. We created a little plan to focus on nothing but rare, obscure, hard to find, and quality, as opposed to just putting everything out.

The best record stores tend to be very carefully curated.
Exactly. Handpicked. The objective was to have it be the place you might come to be introduced to something totally out of your realm. If you come in looking for The Beatles, you're gonna leave listening to the Peruvian psychedelic version of The Beatles. If you came in for something funky, I'm going to try and make you walk out with a Fela record as opposed to an O'Jays record.
 
The boys: John “Brooklyn” Saviola, Jonathan Santino, and Hector Moreno

The boys: John “Brooklyn” Saviola, Jonathan Santino, and Hector Moreno

Have you done anything in particular to encourage that?
We take an extra step here and try to engage the customer and introduce them to things, as opposed to just digging around. That's why our bins are categorized, not alphabetized. If you're coming in looking for Roy Ayers and you just go to "A," you're gonna miss out on Billy Cobham or Donald Byrd. We want people people dig, look at stuff, and get interested. 

In a day and age where you can find pretty much everything ever recorded online, what do you think the value is in physically digging through crates?
I learned so much from not just the records, but from the people involved. Some of my best friends are in their 70s and I know them because I've been buying records off them since I was a kid. I have so much knowledge in what I do because of these records. And just life in general. Hanging out with these guys, getting my hands dirty, getting this hands-on experience—it's a lot more than sitting at home in a quiet room, double-clicking on things. There's no experience there.
 
How often do you get people in who've never really owned music before?
Oh, on a daily basis. And they're honestly some of the coolest to deal with, as opposed to some of the high-end nerdy selectors, who we love, too. You get people who just got their turntable for Christmas and they're like, "Man, I really enjoy a Louis Armstrong record, or this and that," and you're like, "Alright, check this out," and they'll grab Louis Armstrong and the other record you put them on to. The newer people, they're coming in and they're excited. It's something new for them. 
Charlie Brown loves his donuts. 

Charlie Brown loves his donuts. 

What got you so into crate-digging in the first place?
I grew up in Brooklyn, so I was immersed in the hip-hop culture. Jazzy Jeff was my idol when I was a kid, which is why I wanted turntables. Come '94 and [I heard] A Tribe Called Quest. I'm hearing this music in the background and somebody told me that was sampling. They're playing jazz records. So I found a Bob James record and I was like, "Whoa." You'd pull this record and you'd be like, "Oh man, these are the horns that Pete Rock used for 'T.R.O.Y.'" I just wanted more of these rhythms, sound, and arrangements. I couldn't help but dive deeper into it. It saved me at a time when a lot of my friends were doing things they shouldn't have been doing. 
 
What are your proudest crate-digging moments?
The craziest and most ironic time was when I was at a record show and had just sold Tarika Blue, a rare record, to a very well-known producer and rapper for a large amount of money. Well, I turned around right after selling it to him, and I flipped my fingers through a box that was in somebody's two-dollar bin, and I pulled out the same record on sale for 250 bucks. He looked at me and his face just dropped. It was like the Stanley Cup of digging.
 
Another time was when I went to a lady's house and she had put her records up in the closet around '69 or '70. She said she had to put the acid down, it was a little too much for her. It was all unplayed mono copies of the 13th Floor Elevators, The Chocolate Watch Band, an unpeeled Velvet Underground banana, just some of the craziest psych pieces. I was blown away. She was like, "Yeah, a buck apiece." This lady must have been the coolest chick back in the day.
 
Now it's getting really hard because the same guys at flea markets who collected coins and stamps jumped into it because it's trendy and cool, and they're eating all this stuff up—buying it up and hiding it, or buying beat-up copies of stuff and selling it to people for a lot of money. We can get in a $300 record, but if it's beat up, it's going in the two-dollar bin.
 
What's your plan for the pop-up shop at The Standard Spa, Miami Beach?
We're very excited to be part of that. We'll have a nice setup. We're bringing nothing but quality—things that people don't usually get to see. Your wildest eBay searches are going to be there in person. 
 
Writer
Miles Raymer