When Yonadav Tsuna made a business plan with his friend Jonathan Price during spring break of his senior year, he said he did not expect the plan to ever come to fruition.
The two devised a plan to open a 24-hour Southern-style biscuit joint. Tsuna and Price envisioned a place where hot, fresh biscuits would be served grab-and-go throughout the day.
“We wrote it from Gramercy Green [residence hall],” Tsuna, an NYU alumnus, said. “We locked ourselves in one of the study rooms.”
“Even at that point, I was still like ‘I’m going into banking,’” he said. “I realized it was going to be real when we started pitching to investors.”
Empire Biscuit opened on Avenue A between 12th and 13th streets two weeks ago. The opening received more customers and hype than Tsuna and Price expected, so they closed for a few days to regroup, restock and hire more staff.
Although Tsuna majored in finance at the Stern School of Business and minored in producing at the Tisch School of the Arts, he has always had an interest in food.
“I had no help for paying for college besides financial aid, so I’d always work in restaurants during summers to make money,” he said. “My dad does catering back home in Memphis, so food has always been a part of my life, and I’ve always worked in the food industry.”
Tsuna’s Memphis upbringing and Price’s experience as head-server of Magnolia Grill in Durham, N.C. is apparent from Empire Biscuit’s menu.
So far, the spiced fried chicken biscuit sandwich with pickled carrots and sauce a l’orange ($8.50) is Empire Biscuit’s bestseller.
In addition to biscuit sandwiches and biscuits with gravy, the menu features custom biscuit options ($4.50). Diners can mix and match from an extensive list of butters, spreads, jams, jellies and marmalades.
Recommended custom biscuits include the Fancy Pants (foie gras butter with preserved lemon and cabbage jam), the Kiki (chocolate and caraway butter with coffee and walnut jam) and, named for Price’s wife, the Snuggah Boo (plum, prune and port with goat cheese and black pepper butter).
“Everything is done in-house,” Tsuna said. “We make it all here from scratch.”
The list of homemade items includes the Empire Cola and the ham, which they cure and smoke.
LS sophomore Maggie Yang said she was surprised by the flavor combinations offered by Empire Biscuit.
“The Fancy Pants sounds really interesting,” Yang said. “It’d be a nice change from my favorite Southern-style biscuit-and-gravy.”
As the seasons change, customers can look forward to special menu items.
“In the winter, fairly soon, we’ll be doing pomegranate jelly. We will also do a blood orange and Campari marmalade,” Price said. “We’ve had five or six seasons to work on the menu, so we have a repertoire of 60 or 70 jams, jellies and marmalades that we can pull from as the seasons change.”
Tsuna said everything on the menu is tasty — he would not sell an item he did not love.
“I genuinely love everything that we sell here,” Tsuna said.
Chandler West is a staff writer. Email her at [email protected]