Brownies. AKA little slabs of chocolate heaven. Those irresistible blocks of glory, often gooey, always oozing away our troubles. Providing slices of happiness, one bite at a time is exactly the experience you get with father and son business Brooklyn Brownie Co. In this article that featured in the December issue of our Catering Quarterly magazine, we spoke with them to find out about their recipe for success.
When you first hear the name Brooklyn Brownie Co, you may be forgiven for believing this is an American style brownie brand – because in effect that is exactly what it is. Owner John candidly describes Brooklyn Brownie Co as “an over the top American brand that is family focused and treats every customer like an extended member of family.” This is an ethos that has rewarded the business and seen their popularity rise like their speciality in the oven.
To the point they now boast having five people with their logo tattooed on them! What began as a humble hobby, making damn good brownies, has evolved organically into a sweet-treat success vehicle. While always humble about the endeavour, John knows his product is the real deal.
And he really doesn’t need to shout about this – anyone paying a quick visit to their website or social media channels is inundated with insanely attractive propositions of the brownie variety, and must find it as hard as we did to navigate away without placing an order!
One often overlooked aspect in business that is particularly relevant in the hospitality world, is recognising your own strengths – this is something Brooklyn Brownie Co have realised right from the start – “I think people buy into us more than actually the product. So we have realised that over the years as our vehicle was partially crowdfunded.”
Having a great product is necessary to succeed, but how you conduct your business and the perception of the company that you build up and enact can be the difference between completing a sale, and creating a customer: “From the customer’s point of view you’re spending money with that individual. And we just don’t want us to feel like it’s a transaction. So you know, we just treat everybody like extended family.”
And this family aren’t hard to find – it’s no wonder that John and Leo are so revered when you look at the reviews they attract online, for example. “It’s just what we do. Every transaction, every single thing, we just talk to everyone else the way we’d like to be spoken to.”
Some might be surprised to learn that a business that has achieved the success that Brooklyn Brownie Co has – not to mention the awards amassed (a couple of Great British Entrepreneur Awards and a Northampton Business Excellence Award 2020 to mention a few) – comes from a point of no prior hospitality experience. John’s background consists of involvement with training programmes for big global brands like Jaguar Land Rover.
Often being drafted in to a lead a team or provide consultation, he’d have a lot of work for teams to get through and not always have the luxury of time to complete projects. He thought about how best to motivate his teams, and began incentivising colleagues with his homemade brownies. Little did he know it at the time, he was organically building towards Brooklyn Brownie Co, essentially carrying out lots of product testing. Needless to say, the brownies always did their job! Many more rounds of product testing among friends and colleagues later, Brooklyn Brownie Co was born.
It took on a whole new meaning when only a few days after opening the business in 2019, Leo’s mother sadly took her own life. John realised then that “I couldn’t be out of the house for days at a time. I had to always be around for Leo, for him to know where dad was after his mother passed. I needed to make sure to talk to him every day.” He refers to this as the moment the business “pivoted”, and became their full focus.
Brooklyn Brownie Co really acted as a vehicle for John and Leo to connect more, to build something together while working to support one another, all the while creating delicious brownies!
Adopting a “more collaborative, more open” approach allowed the business to anchor their relationship further, and enabled greater communication: “I guess with making this sort of easy product which most people loved, that is built on and brings people such positivity, it just made it easy for us to facilitate conversation, especially considering this is a typical male dynamic. Guys don’t really talk too much.”
There still prevails, despite increasing awareness of the topic, a stigma regarding opening up to talk about their mental health. Everyone can struggle with their mental health, but by increasing awareness and reducing stigmas, Brooklyn Brownie Co hope to encourage the conversation and help people find it easier to talk: “Me and Leo believe in speaking to people. We believe in taking that moment to talk a little bit more to people in lines, hopefully to change people’s day ever so slightly. And make people smile just for a second. Because that instance of momentary happiness, really can go a long way and might just be enough to prevent something happening that can have a detrimental ripple effect to a family.”
As mentioned earlier, it is this kind of approach, this ‘service with a smile’ attitude and genuine compassion that sets Brooklyn Brownie Co – and in particular the experience that customers receive – apart, above and beyond. What those customers who clearly enjoy their dealings with John and Leo perhaps don’t realise, is the positive effect they have on the proprietors just the same, and how it is much more than just a brownie they are investing in.
This facet has been carefully considered in their branding, which comes across clearly and straight away works to give customers a strong perception of exactly who they’re dealing with. In terms of advising someone just starting out in their catering journey, John would recommend to “delete all ego and focus on the brand’s ethos.”
He touts being as transparent, honest and open as possible with customers about the business and pour this into the brand persona: “I think customers are a lot more receptive to, and more likely to purchase especially from small businesses when there’s a face to it. So definitely put yourself across and give the business a face that people can relate to.”
The face of the brand is clear straightaway with Brooklyn Brownie Co, they invite customers behind the curtain to see it’s just a father and son that they are interacting with and investing in. Speaking about the father and son dynamic of the business, John states how “it’s helped us bond significantly as it has allowed us to talk about everything.”
Furthermore, he recognises how the business has “just allowed Leo to grow.” And grow Leo has, now proudly boasting two Great British Entrepreneur Awards to his name at fifteen years old (!!) which is undeniably an incredible feat and speaks volumes to the working model and success of Brooklyn Brownie Co. In John’s eyes, getting to work so closely with Leo is “fantastic” – even on days where they’re catering some big events and have to get up and active as early as 3.30 – 4AM to get prepped and ready to trade on time, he doesn’t complain like you might expect a teenager to, but just gets on with it, always with a smile.
John has no qualms talking up his praises, and rightly so: “he’s taken to it like a duck to water and just runs with it. And I couldn’t be prouder. He’s done so well.” Those early starts and long days can be gruelling experiences, where the two pay for their success with long lines of customers seeking their own slices of chocolate heaven.
But hard work brings about pertinent rewards, and on days catering at large scale events like the MotoGP where the experience is becoming more immersive, comprising concerts and elements to entice all the family, John cites being able to “shut our hatch, run over and watch the concerts” as one of the biggest perks of the job. Not a bad way to finish a day at the office!
When asked what would be the antithesis of this; the worst thing about working events like this, he references customers who come over with a bad attitude that just won’t seem to budge: “If a dark cloud comes to your house and just wants to be a dark cloud and rain all over you, no matter what you do, you’re not going to be able to push sunlight into that cloud. It’s quite disappointing at times, but you just have to walk away because there’s a line full of people who want to smile.” Well, they say you can’t please everyone, and if a Brooklyn Brownie Co brownie can’t put a smile on someone’s face, we’re not sure anything will! Perhaps the luxury of choice the business boasts can be at fault for making the all-important decision so hard for customers to make.
Considering the range and mouth-watering temptation every product seems to instil, it seemed only right to ask John himself which of their items he’d recommend for a first-time customer to get the quintessential Brooklyn Brownie Co experience: “I would recommend someone try the Biggie brownie. It’s a speculoos brownie with a caramalised biscuit on top, drizzled with milk chocolate and white chocolate and then there’s
white chocolate balls smuggled in, complete with a nice textural crunch. And with each mouthful, it’s just filthy (in the best way) with complete pleasure. The textures just keep playing off each other. The tastes, they keep changing. I mean this is not one flavour notes!”
Sounds good to us! Much like the vision and aspiration for the business moving forward – as we consider plans for the upcoming year, Brooklyn Brownie Co clearly have exciting times ahead. Building on the latest expansion that was the launch hatch allowing them to bake up up to 15,000 brownies a week (!) as well as adding a whopping 25 new products to the delivery menu. John’s fiancé Becky has joined the business and got well involved with constructing the dark kitchen – all the while pregnant with their daughter Liberty who has “become the glue that has truly bonded our family together” and completed the duo’s expansion to quartet!
While looking to solidify their presence on some more delivery platforms and expand the reach and operation that way, another avenue to be explored is expanding the team itself. Getting some extra hands in the dark
kitchen would allow John and Leo to focus on the point of delivery and provide that customer service they are renowned for, mindful of how “with any small business, you’re invested in, you know, the other person is just an employee. So we just need to make sure that we get that balance, right.”
Another exciting thing to look out for that could be on the horizon this year, is a second trailer allowing focus to turn towards providing savoury goods aka traditional New York style, fully loaded hot dogs – now that’s the full package.
You can picture it now, hungry punters gorging on authentic hot dogs in all their gluttonous glory, then with what room they have left diving into a brownie! Many exciting times ahead for a business that has earned and deserves every bit of success that comes their way. Keep an eye out for Brooklyn Brownie Co catering at an event near you and you can look forward to receiving your own little slice of heaven from the inspirational father-son duo John and Leo, complete with a big smile of course!