For Thanksgiving, Emily and Melissa Elsen will make 4,500 pies within the span of one week — a feat that requires five straight nights of 24-hour production, and comprises a whopping 40 percent of their annual sales. But even after the holiday, the sisters and owners of Four & Twenty Blackbirds have no plans to slow down. In fact, they’re going to expand their Brooklyn-based business in 2017.
Since they opened their smash-hit pie shop in Gowanus six years ago, the Elsens have gone to launch two satellite shops — a café in the Brooklyn Public Library, and a seasonal spot in Orient Village — as well as write a cookbook, build a production kitchen, launch a wholesale business, and collaborate with Shake Shack. In February, they’ll open another location in Prospect Heights (on Dean, between Vanderbilt and Carlton), and unlike the others, this one will feel more like a diner, with counter seating. “It’s a ten-seat counter with a wall of pie, so you can sit down, pick your slice of pie, and also drink beer or wine,” Emily says. “I really see it as a place that parents can bring their kids and also have a beer, or if you just want to meet up with your friends without a bar atmosphere.”
Even if the shop concept is new, the team is doubling down on what made them a hit in the first place. Four & Twenty Blackbirds is closely associated with Brooklyn’s artisanal boom — something that the Elsens are embracing by choosing to expand hyperlocally. “Greenpoint, the Pfizer building … it’s all filled with food now,” Emily says. “Food production is what has stayed and taken over for manufacturing. If you want to dismiss the artisanal Brooklyn scene, the fact of the matter is we are there and creating jobs. And we’re running everything, so building this nest in Brooklyn feels good.” Plus, there’s a strong sense of community: Ample Hills hosts regular meet-ups, where business owners share ideas and contacts. (And yes, they’re bringing back the collaborative Thanksgiving ice-cream pie.)
What also impacts their growth is that the Elsens are the sole partners and owners in the company. “We’ve raised the money ourselves, through loans from banks and friends and family,” Emily explains. “It’s challenging. When the bank account’s low, we’re the ones who don’t get paid. But it’s been important to us just to have control over everything, to be able to focus on our long-term employees, and essentially stay a small business.”
Still, the Elsen sisters want to eventually open pie shops in Manhattan, Los Angeles, and even Japan (see: their matcha pie), and they’re thinking critically about how to set themselves up for long-term success. “We’re six years in now, and we’re six years older, so you start to think about what the business should look like for your life, and for the people that work for you,” Emily says. “We want to keep growing, growing, growing every year.”