What is it about the Brown Butter biscuit?
Since developing the recipe for Brown Butter's signature biscuit, Myriam Nicolas — a former engineer — now sells about 1,000 of them per week from the cafe's 413 Tompkins Ave. location.
"It's taken on a life of its own," the Bed-Stuy cafe's owner admits. "It's now a non-stop production, to the point we're busting at the seams."
Nicolas opened her first business, bakery Brooklyn Baby Cakes, in 2012. In 2017, she expanded, opening Brown Butter.
When she opened the cafe, she wanted to have a point of difference, she says. She describes Brown Butter as being "not quite a restaurant," but more than a typical cafe. The vibe is homely, and the menu contains items that are both comforting, and exciting.
For example, in the weekends, customers can order the house-made brown butter biscuit with fried chicken and white gravy, or keep it light with a quinoa and oat bowl.
Brown Butter is licensed, if customers are looking for a bottomless mimosa experience. But it also serves a range of coffees and hot drinks, including a Haitian hot chocolate with raw cocoa.
Nicolas says the pandemic posed challenges for Brown Butter. While previously the cafe had no capacity for online orders, it had to rapidly work out how to offer delivery.
"We had to pivot real quick, and then find new ways of dong business and earning revenue, and we did all that all at once.
"We have a very tiny kitchen, and we had to be able to move faster than usual, crank out all this stuff at the same time to service our customers, and continue to try to give good service," she says.
Like many small businesses, Brown Butter also struggled with staffing during the pandemic. Luckily, Nicolas' three teenage sons, age 19, 17 and 13, were able to get in the kitchen and help out, as well as a few members of staff who stuck it out.
"Between them, myself, my kids, my sister and my 7-year-old niece, everyone was here pitching in," Nicolas laughs.
Nicolas is also grateful to Bed-Stuy, and hopes to continue to grow to be a pillar in the community.
"Brown Butter belongs to Bed-Stuy and the people of Bed-Stuy," she says. "I created it, I put it there, but ultimately anything we put there belongs to the community and isn't gonna thrive without the community."
And the community has spoken: it loves the Brown Butter biscuits. And enquiring minds want to know what makes them so good.
"You know what it is? It's familiar," Nicolas muses.
"It's typical, down home, familiar food. You can find a biscuit anywhere, but to make one that's particular to us, our familiar flavor profile: flaky, warm, coming out the oven piping hot. We had to make sure our flavor, what goes into our biscuit, had a slight edge."
Right now, Nicolas is thinking about opportunities for making the Brown Butter brand a household name, whether through expanding into other areas or through wholesale.
"The future looks good. Hopefully, prayerfully. We'll see what happens."
Recently, Brown Butter was the recipient of a $10,000 grant from LISC NYC. The non-profit raises capital and works with funders to invest in historically underinvested neighborhoods and communities of color.
LISC NYC executive director Valerie White said when the pandemic hit the organization raised about $3 million to give grants to 284 businesses in NYC in communities like Bed-Stuy, where systemic inequalities were exacerbated due to COVID-19.
"We're looking for business that can work with the economic development program and are amenable to thinking about, how do you change and how you do business for longer term sustainability," she said.
The organization is currently raising money for a second cohort of grantees.