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150ish is a free weekly newsletter that brings you all the dish on local food artisans working within 150 miles–more or less–of New York City.

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It’s National Pig in a Blanket Day

And we’re celebrating with Brooklyn Piggies

April 24, 2014 | Photo courtesy Brooklyn Piggies

Is there anything better than a pig in a blanket? Some call this ultimate hors d’oeuvre retro, but in 150ish’s mind it’s never gone out of style. Two good friends (Francesca and Marisa can relate) thought it was high time to elevate this treat from its Vienna sausage and canned dough origins and Brooklyn Piggies was born. With a great product, a little luck, a booth at Smorgasburg—and a blessing from Oprah, they’ve rocketed to success. Head to the East Village and help them celebrate National Pig in a Blanket Day—every visitor to their shop on Avenue A at 12th Street gets a free piggie today!
 
Here’s the dish. It’s the only successful setup their mothers have ever made. Missy Koo and Stacy Cole lived in the same neighborhood. They didn’t know each other, but their mothers were friends—and they thought their daughters would be great friends, too. “As soon as my mother brought it up, I was completely uninterested—my mother and I have completely different taste,” Missy says. “And it was exactly the same thing with Stacy. Then one day about seven years ago we literally ran into each other on the street and immediately hit it off. In fact, we became fast friends.”
 
On the surface, it wouldn’t seem they had a lot in common: Missy was a handbag designer and Stacy was CFO at an aerospace company who sang opera in her spare time. And yet, it’s their differences that make the partnership work. As Missy rightly explains: “It’s not just working with a friend. It’s working with a friend who has all the skills that you don’t have. Stacy is everything that I’m not. If there were two of me in this partnership, it would not have gotten this far.”
 
The idea for a gourmet pig in a blanket began as a bit of a joke between the friends, but it was Stacy who encouraged Missy to follow through on her idea. A few years later, when Missy found herself “well into a mid-life crisis, my father said something to me that really resonated: ‘Talent is common, execution is rare.’ If you think you have a great idea but you’re not doing anything with it, who cares?” She called Stacy, who immediately said, “yeah, let’s do this.” They formed the company on Valentine’s Day 2012.
 
To Missy, the idea for gourmet pigs in a blanket seemed obvious. She’d make them for parties and couldn’t even get them from the oven to a serving platter—and those were made from store-bought sausage. “Pigs in a blanket is already fun. You can’t say it without smiling. And I thought it would be fun to elevate it,” she says.
 
The pair started with a hunt for the best sausage maker they could find. They found an artisanal maker whose family has been in the business for generations and worked with him to develop three delicious versions—original, a mildly seasoned combination of beef and pork; spicy, which is flavored with garlic and paprika; and chicken; flavored with oregano, basil, fennel, and Parmesan. In addition to quality cuts of meat and all-natural ingredients, they use natural casings for their sausages, which gives the piggies that nice “snap” that’s rarely found in the store-bought variety. There was a similar search for their pastry maker. They wanted something light—why make such an excellent sausage and then cover it up with heavy dough? Each Brooklyn Piggie is encased in a hand-rolled pastry wrap that’s light and very flaky; it doesn’t overwhelm the flavor of the sausage and there’s more meat than pastry. The final touch is their condiment line—ketchup, mustard, and barbecue sauce—which pairs perfectly with each type of piggie. “Everyone knows what a pig in a blanket is,” Missy says, “but when they taste our piggies, they know that it’s like nothing they’ve really tasted before.”
 
With their product ready for market, they knew that Smorgasburg, Williamsburg’s weekend foodie fest, would be the perfect stage and they planned carefully for their audition. “It’s like Flashdance with food,” Missy laughs as she describes the process. “The email they send you is absolutely intimidating: ‘Come with your food prepared and you will be judged on every aspect of your presentation.’ We didn’t want to show up with cold piggies, so we did the only thing we thought we could do—we rented a generator and brought our friend to stand guard so we could run the toaster ovens on the street in Dumbo.” As any fan of I Love Lucy knows, chaos was bound to ensue. “Of course, the day of the audition, the generator decided not to work and we were running out of time. We each grabbed an oven and ran in different directions looking for places to plug in. People were so generous and we ended up backstage at the St. Ann’s Warehouse theater. We’re standing in the pitch black huddled around this toaster oven and we can’t even see if they’re burning, so we all pull out our iPhones and download flashlight apps. With moments to spare, we’re racing through the streets of Dumbo carrying the toaster oven to keep the piggies warm. During the audition, they give you no indication whatsoever of whether they like you or not, so you have to sweat out the process for about a week and half. When the phone call came we were delighted.”
 
With no idea what the response to the piggies would be, the pair made 600 piggies for their first weekend. They sold out immediately. The next weekend they bought a second oven and doubled the amount of piggies. They now sell 1500 piggies each day they’re at Smorgasburg.
 
While many of the venders at Smorgasburg benefit from the fair’s high public profile, it changed the entire course of Missy and Stacy’s business after only two weeks. “The organizers sent everyone a ‘heads-up’ email that someone from Oprah would be coming through. Then a stream of emails kept coming—if you have a holiday presentation, bring it and be ready to show it, please sign this release, and the like. Little did we know that we’d been already been pre-scouted—during our second week at Smorg!” The scouts were looking for candidates for the famous holiday list of Oprah’s Favorite Things, which has brought hundreds of products to national attention. Drawing on her design talents, Missy fashioned their holiday presentation: a beautiful box that they filled with books, slapped a sticker on top and tied it up in a bow. “In the middle of a heat wave this is what we presented to Gayle King, who said to us, ‘Okay ladies, can you handle it if you make it on the list?’ and all I could think was ‘don’t open the box!’ When Gayle looks you in the eye and asks this, you say ‘of course, Gail.’ She asked us three times and finally I said, ‘Gayle, we can handle this.’”
 
The pair went through the summer providing more and more samples, but received no confirmation of whether or not they made the list, but finally took a leap of faith and ramped up production. “It changed our entire business,” Missy remembers. “We had all these plans, but on a much longer time frame. We were literally about to sign a lease in the East Village, but we took that money and put it toward building up our infrastructure so that we can drop ship across the country.” When the issue of O hit the stands in November 2012, they were ready.
 
“When we started, we were hand-rolling 4,000 piggies at the Entrepreneur Space in Long Island City. When you start shipping a meat product across state lines, everything has to be manufactured in a USDA-approved facility,” Missy explains. “We had to learn a lot really fast. We had to contract the fulfillment center; we had to build a web site that could handle the orders. But it goes back to that moment when Gayle asked ‘Can you handle this?’ Who would say no? There probably are some people who might have said, no that’s not possible, but an entrepreneur will find a way to make that happen.” She laughs and adds, “Here we were, a nothing little start-up, but when you tell venders you’re going to be on Oprah’s List, it’s amazing how fast they can make things happen!”
 
Although their ingredients are still made locally, the piggies are now hand-rolled by a co-packer in Chicago so that they can drop-ship easily to both coasts. They still make a small quantity at the shop, but are proud that the Chicago staff goes to great lengths to maintain the integrity of the piggies, which are still all hand-rolled.
 
Missy and Stacy finally launched their East Village shop in January of this year. It’s a cozy, 300-square foot space on a block that’s rapidly becoming the comfort food capital of the city (Empire Biscuit is right across the street). Also indicative of the neighborhood, they’re open until 4:00 in the morning on weekends. “We’re bringing the cocktail party to the curb,” Missy laughs.
 
In addition to the shop, the piggies are sold online and at select local shops like Dean and Deluca (both online and in the Upper East Side store), Union Market, Grace’s Marketplace, and Agata and Valentina. They’re also on the menu in the skyboxes in Madison Square Garden. (Don’t look for the Brooklyn Piggies at Barclay Center, though. MSG has the exclusive.)
 
Look for a veggie piggie, which will be made and sold at the shop in the next month or so. It’s a product that’s been under development since the beginning, but it took a lot of R&D to satisfy Missy and Stacy. “We despise those meat substitute products,” Missy says. “We wanted to create a piggie that doesn't pretend to be meat, and I’m proud to say that we’ve nailed it. It’s made from potato, apple and sage and we’re really, really happy with it.” Also in development is their version of a Tater Tot, and they’ll also be bringing in a dessert and a rotating seasonal menu of piggies.
 
Visit Brooklyn Piggies at 195 Avenue A (at 12th Street), Tuesday and Wednesday 11:00AM to 11:00PM;
Thursday through Saturday: 11:00AM to 4:00AM; and
 Sunday: 11:00AM to 9:00PM. At Smorgasburg Williamsburg every Saturday April through November and Smorgasburg Brooklyn Bridge Park every Sunday May through November. To order online, visit www.brooklynpiggies.com.
Copyright © 2014 150ish. All Rights reserved.
425 East 63rd Street, Suite E7C, New York, NY 10065

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