Emily Hyland ’06 M.F.A., ’09 M.A., cofounder of Emmy Squared Pizza.
After graduating with an M.F.A. in poetry in 2006 and an M.A. in English education in 2009 and teaching high school English for five years, Emily Hyland went out of the classroom and into a kitchen, co-founding her first restaurant, Brooklyn-based Pizza Loves Emily, known for its unique pizzas as well as its nationally renowned and award-winning Emmy Burger. Hyland went on to open the first Emmy Squared, which is credited with popularizing Detroit-style pizza, in 2016. Today, Emmy Squared’s growing portfolio of restaurants includes 14 brick-and-mortar locations in seven markets from Brooklyn to Atlanta. When the pandemic shut down businesses nationwide, Hyland found a way to keep her business alive by diversifying her restaurants’ revenue streams. She credits much of her success to the background in education she acquired at Brooklyn College. Here she talks about her years as a teacher, how she became a restaurateur, and her other vocation as a published poet.
With all the pizza restaurants in the New York City metro area, starting one must have been a challenge. And now you have a portfolio of restaurants on the East Coast.
Our first restaurant, Pizza Loves Emily, opened in Williamsburg in 2014. We had a wood-burning stove and sold traditional round pizzas. We decided to try Detroit-style pizza—baked in a steel 8” x 10” pan that was originally used for auto parts by car manufacturers. The cheese is spread all the way to the edges; it’s crispy on the bottom but light and airy like focaccia in the middle. We opened Emmy Squared with Detroit-style pizza as its signature. When we saw it was a success, we expanded to Philadelphia; Alexandria, Virginia; Atlanta; Nashville, Tennessee; and Louisville, Kentucky. We moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, and just opened our latest restaurant there.
You taught high school English, then became a restaurateur. That seems like a big leap for you, considering you received your degree in English education.
I brought what I learned at Brooklyn College to my business and built a strong work culture for our employees; that’s another part of our success. I took the best practices I learned at Brooklyn for building a healthy classroom community and transferred them to building a healthy workplace. I lead orientations, establish core values, and hold group norming workshops. We build norms democratically, then I share core values to set the tone for how we build an organization that is rooted in the humans who are on the ground.
As we know, the restaurant industry has been hit hard during the pandemic. How did you fare?
We made an early decision to close one restaurant in Manhattan. My strategic partner and our CEO, Howard Greenstone, has a real long view. He kept calm and kept the momentum going. He reinforced taking care of our employees the best we could. We had to scale back our growth plan a little bit.
On the revenue side, I began hosting Emmy Squared’s virtual cooking classes, which are popular. We had an interested party who wanted classes, and that’s how it began. We started with pizza and expanded to burgers and kids’ classes. It was super enjoyable because pre-pandemic I spent much of my time at the restaurants in person. I couldn’t do that during the pandemic. It was great tuning into people’s homes and making a connection that way, engaging people from across the country. We are looking into turning that into in-person programming.
The pandemic also prompted us to secure partnerships with Goldbelly and Williams Sonoma for nationwide shipping.
You have a master’s degree in poetry and are a published poet—a second, very different vocation from restaurant entrepreneur. Why did you choose Brooklyn College?
I went to Roger Williams University in Rhode Island as an undergrad. I wanted to do a poetry M.F.A., and Brooklyn College was a really good fit for me. My experience was wonderful, intense, and enriching. I’m finally finding success in publishing my work, and I’ve taught as an adjunct at City Tech. I’ve been teaching composition for a year and an Introduction to Poetry course. There is no career goal I have had more than to teach this course, and I got the chance to do it last spring. That’s a special moment in my career as an educator. I miss the classroom.
Where can we read some of your poetry?
I’m in an array of print and online journals, which are all listed on my website.