Brooklyn’s ultimate artisanal makers, the bearded Mast brothers, are expanding their chocolate empire. The company plans to more than double its existing workforce to about 175 and move into a 65,000-square-foot space in the Brooklyn Navy Yard’s Green Manufacturing Center — where it will also build a “chocolate brewery.”
This is a big step for the company and, potentially, Brooklyn’s artisanal reputation. Mast Brothers has recently come under fire for its production methods, and the new factory will allow it to significantly increase its bean-to-bar production. The factory will also be open to the public through tours, Mast Brothers announced Thursday.
Mast Brothers has become an international brand since real-life brothers Rick and Michael Mast co-founded the operation in 2007. Since then, their flagship ‘Burg base and bean-to-bar craftsmanship have become symbolic of Brooklyn, specifically the borough’s maker resurgence and hipster culture.
The Brooklyn Navy Yard has itself similarly expanded in recent years, growing into not just a big-time employer and sanctuary for local businesses but also a symbol of Brooklyn’s renaissance and the return of small businesses to the area.
The move to the former shipbuilding facility marks the Mast Brothers’ third Brooklyn location. It also has a store in Williamsburg at 111 North 3rd Street and production headquarters just outside the Navy Yard at 46 Washington Avenue. The Washington Avenue location began operating in early 2014.
The Washington Avenue location will close, but the Williamsburg store will remain open after the move, a Mast Brothers spokesperson told Brownstoner.
At the forthcoming chocolate brewery, employees will brew, bottle and keg the company’s non-alcoholic chocolate beer. The company will also launch a program called M.A.S.T. (Math, Art, Science, Technology) to bring the public and students from Brooklyn public schools into the facility for tours and other events in partnership with the yard’s museum and exhibit center at Building 92.
The lease is part of a bigger effort to expand space for creative makers at the Navy Yard. When complete, the series of massive projects are expected to bring thousands of more jobs to the Navy Yard. Initiatives include range a in-the-works food hall to a free two-loop shuttle service. The now fully leased Green Manufacturing Center was created from the conversion of three World War II–era buildings into 220,000 square feet of LEED Silver-certified high-tech manufacturing space.
Other food and drink makers at the yard include Kings County Distillery and Brooklyn Roasting Company. Iconic Lower East Side appetizing shop Russ & Daughters also plans a production facility as well as a retail store.
While perhaps Brooklyn’s most widely known chocolatier, thanks to international distribution and a shop in London, Mast Brothers is far from Kings County’s only bean-to-bar chocolate purveyor, with others including Raaka Chocolate and Cacao Prieto, both located in Red Hook.
Despite the company’s universally lauded packaging and popular product, however, Mast Brothers recently underwent heavy criticism in a four-part exposé published on the website Dallasfood.org that brought the brand’s authenticity into question. In the investigative piece, writer Scott Craig accused the brothers of being more of a wallpaper business than chocolatiers. He critiqued the brothers’ early ingredient sourcing — claiming that the brothers used to remelt another brand’s chocolate — and pointed out that the 46 Washington Avenue factory is closed to the public, so bean-to-bar claims can’t be verified. (The facility is open by appointment, a spokesperson told Brownstoner.)
While the controversy appears to have hurt some of the company’s holiday sales, with at least five retailers reporting a brief drop in sales to Grub Street, it doesn’t seem to have affected the company’s overall growth.
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