T he aroma of fresh-baked cookies, brownies and other goodies envelops you as soon as you cross the threshold of Robin Schaffer’s Woodbridge home. Sweet scents of brown sugar and chocolate mingle, giving the home an instant coziness and making it clear that serious baking happens here.
Schaffer, pictured above, doesn’t just love to bake, she’s also made a growing business of it: Four Flours, based out of a commercial kitchen she installed in the basement of her house.
The company makes artisan cookies, brownies, biscotti, tea breads, granola and its popular Chillwich, featuring ice cream sandwiched between two of the company’s generously sized cookies. The latter come in flavors like Oatmeal Chocolate Coconut, Toffee Coffee Crunch, Whole Wheat Ginger Spice, Peppermint Crunch, Peanut Butter Madness, Oatmeal Cranberry with White Chocolate, Chocolate Chunk and a colorful take on the classic Sugar. The Toffee Coffee Crunch cookie is laden with rich, chewy, homemade toffee in its center, and the Chocolate Chunk cookies live up to their name with slabs of milk chocolate dispersed throughout.
All of the baked goods are made from scratch by Schaffer without any artificial ingredients. Multi-colored dusting sugars are dyed from natural sources; a deep blue one, for instance, gets its shade from blueberries. The Peanut Butter Madness cookies contain organic peanut butter.
The business is a true labor of love for Schaffer, and a family affair. She named the company Four Flours in honor of her four children, who range from 18 to 24. The four colors featured in her logo (yellow, blue, green and red) also pay homage to her kids; when they were little she color-coded their belongings with those colors so she’d know whose things were whose.
The idea of Four Flours came to Schaffer when she was pregnant with her fourth child. She had just closed a clothing store she owned in downtown New Haven, called Onward Bound, and was pondering her next move.
“I just always liked to bake,” she says. Like many moms, she often made cookies for her children and shared them with friends and neighbors. When people started requesting them, it gave her the idea to start her own business.
She formally launched the company around 2001, selling her products at a couple area markets. Today, after a baker’s dozen years, Four Flours products are sold in a baker’s dozen stores, among them Elm City Market and Nica’s Market in New Haven, as well as shops further up the shoreline and down to Fairfield County. Products can also be ordered online at the Four Flours website, and the company offers catering and delivery services.
About five years ago, the business’s bright yellow “Chillwich Truck” hit the streets, frequenting area farmers’ markets, summer concerts on the Woodbridge Green and other events. Schaffer has high hopes that the Chillwich ice cream sandwiches will propel Four Flours to more widespread popularity.
Her children have helped with Four Flours along the way. “They all were involved with it, especially when we got the truck,” she says. “Each one of them has been the truck operator when they came of age.” She hopes they’ll follow in her powdery footsteps someday. “My dream would be for one or two or all of them to come and work for the business,” she says.
For now, with her youngest son newly off at college, the timing is right for a major expansion. This winter, Four Flours will move into its first storefront, at 1203 Chapel Street in New Haven. The space is on the same block of Chapel that her previous business, the clothing store, was. “We’re going to become visible to everyone when we open our space,” she says excitedly. She’s always dreamt of selling her goods directly to consumers and sees the storefront as a major milestone in Four Flours’s journey.
At the moment, Schaffer is essentially the company’s sole full-time employee. She calls herself the CBO, chief baking officer. Her husband, Tony, is chief financial officer and the couple operate the business largely on their own. She plans to hire several employees when the storefront opens.
When she first started the company, she remembers, she had big dreams of quickly making it a huge brand. But over the years a slower and steadier pace prevailed. “I liken it to a marathon,” she says. “You just have to put your head down and do it. It’s not always easy. It’s really evolving; we’re just at the beginning of it.”
One thing’s for sure: the journey’s bound to be sweet.
1 Overhill Rd, Woodbridge (map)
(203) 397-FOUR (3687)
Written and photographed by Cara Rosner.