While some businesses are back in production after the Pilotworks shutdown, others haven’t found the right ingredients to stay afloat.
The year of 2019 was looking hopeful for Liz Santiso, co-founder of Brooklyn Biscuit Company. The business was on track to make $500,000 in revenue for the upcoming year and planned to use Pilotworks for one more year before moving into its own space.
Santiso’s traditional southern-style biscuits were made fresh daily at Pilotworks for about 30 wholesale accounts, including one with Dean & Deluca that began in 2016. Her biscuit operations ceased as of December 16, 2018. Santiso estimates needing about $75,000 to restart the business in a new space.
Pilotworks never returned her security deposit of $2,585, plus another $1,000 in rent payments. She’s also owed about $6,000 from clients, some of whom didn’t get all of the product they wanted.
“I haven’t done a fundraising page since I feel those are best served for those in need of coverage of medical bills or disaster relief. That’s important,” she said.
Santiso’s product is very specific—and one with little competition in Brooklyn. It started with some biscuits in Oklahoma with her husband and business partner, Chad Murray. Before that, she was a trained baker of traditional treats like pies, pastries, cakes and quiches and worked in bakeries and restaurants.
“I’m from Connecticut. Nobody eats biscuits in the Northeast—no one,” Santiso said. “We went down there and I was like ‘Oh, my god! This is the best thing I’ve ever had.’ My husband said ‘I don’t think you can make these.’ I said ‘Yeah, I can!’ I couldn’t. It took me two years to perfect my own recipe.”
A key ingredient in traditional biscuits is White Lily flour. Once she found a reasonable price for that, she started selling the biscuits at 6/15 Green Community Garden.
The biscuits have to be made fresh daily. They can’t survive cold temperatures because their butter content turns them rock hard. That means winter farmer’s markets aren’t feasible, she said.
While she searched tirelessly for a new space, many kitchens hiked up their prices, knowing the demand was there. She had been working overnight shifts at Pilotworks for $16 per shift. She briefly worked in another kitchen in the Pfizer Building after the shutdown.
She still sells for retail and has an Amazon store, but can’t accommodate the larger orders that really drove the business, “I’m looking for a way to make this business happen because I left a very lucrative job in order to open up my business.”
When she heard Pilotworks was closing she drove there immediately. There was half-cooked chicken sitting on trays, food in mixers, and business owners being escorted from the building by security.
“Everything was left as if there was an apocalypse. It was the most bizarre thing,” she said. “They wouldn’t even let us get our stuff so we could finish. Those people who had food on trays had catering jobs and weddings the next day. It was such a sharp cutoff that it just took everyone by surprise. It was just devastating for a lot of us, especially since we were owed money.”
The former Pilotworks businesses may never have full answers. Why the space didn’t at least stay open until the end of October is just one thing Santiso wonders.
“Not only were people’s lives, sweat and blood put into opening their own company, but think about all the employees suddenly out of work in Brooklyn,” she said. “There were 185 companies, and each of us had at least had one to three employees, so think about what that did to economy and all those people. None of that was taken into consideration.”
All images courtesy of Brooklyn Biscuit Company.