Emily Elsen didn’t originally set out to be a baker. While growing up in the extremely small town of Hecla, South Dakota, she dreamt of someday being part of the art world. In 1999, she moved to Brooklyn to attend the Pratt Institute. It was there that her love affair with Brooklyn began. Several years later, her sister Melissa moved to New York, after many years in Australia.
Once the sisters found themselves together again, they began baking family pie recipes and other pastries for friends in the neighborhood. Deep down, Emily knew that her appreciation of fresh, homemade food and serving people was something that was instilled in them both as children by their father. They began to cater small private events and sometime in 2009, they realized they were on to something. “We had to do an event that needed volume, so we choose to do a large variety of pies,” said Elsen. “That’s when we knew we were good at this.”
In 2010, Four & Twenty Blackbirds — which we named among our 12 Best Pie Shops in America —was born in the hopes of showcasing their family talents and promoting local Brooklyn ingredients. “What drew me to Brooklyn at that time are the same things that keep me here: its great diversity of people and neighborhoods. It's real,” she explained.
As for the ingredients they use in their pies, they work with regional fruit from the Tristate area and only source from California when they need to. All of their apples are sourced from the Hudson Valley. After apple season, they will go into cold storage for the remainder of the year. They also work closely with local orchards that grow currants and sour cherries, as well as a forager who works in Pennsylvania and Maine who provides a variety of ingredients that they incorporate into their custards.
“Our goal is to create things that you haven’t seen before, with a level of familiarity that isn’t too wacky,” she added.
Being a local business owner and contributing to the community on multiple levels is paramount for Elsen. To bring in additional income to support her business, she began working with Airbnb. Elsen, who lives in a large, older home in Crown Heights, decided to rent out part of it to travelers looking to explore what Brooklyn has to offer.
On her Air bnb profile, she clearly explains that she owns a local business. She also helps her renters with restaurant recommendations or travel tips, as well as a piece of homemade pie of pastry at the end of the night as an added bonus. “The local neighborhood spots are what makes a tourist’s experience much more interesting,” she added.
While the business itself keeps Elsen and her sister quite busy, the owners are looking to roll out a wholesale program to add to their thriving bakery. Additionally, they are hoping to move into a new kitchen and open a café in the kitchen area with outdoor seating, which can be utilized as a space for pie-making classes and private events.