How neighborhood spots cement community

I started working in restaurants when I was 16. But, they were important to my life before that—-back when I got a quarter pound of snow crabs legs from Red Lobster for every A on my report card. After school, I washed dishes, I worked the fry station at McDonalds, I waited tables at Red Lobster. Later I was a sommelier at The French Laundry, a wine director at Per Se, and a buyer for a group of restaurants.

I’ve worked almost every restaurant job you can think of, but when it came to opening my first restaurant, & Sons, in Brooklyn, I wanted it to be an extension of my home. What is a restaurant if not a home away from home? When I couldn’t fit a bureau, let alone a dinner guest in my 250-square-foot Brooklyn apartment, a diner down the street from me served as my dining room, and a living room where I hosted my friends. Some of my biggest life moments have taken place in restaurants: I gave my wife the key to that apartment in a restaurant. We were married in a diner booth.

The restaurateur and sommelier André Mack wearing a light blue shirt and a dark blue overshirt holding two bottles

Famed sommelier and restaurateur André Mack wants to see more neighborhood restaurants thrive. Photo credit: André Mack

It’s that close-knit sense of community and familiarity that I’ve tried to recreate at my 20-seat Brooklyn restaurant, & Sons. Though I’ve worked in restaurants that were in heavily trafficked, tourist areas, for my own place, I wanted something in my neighborhood knowing fully well the financial risks this might pose for a new business. As a 12-year resident of Prospect Lefferts Garden, I was worried about my contribution to the gentrification of the neighborhood, and I was concerned if diners outside of the area would come to my tiny, ham-focused restaurant.

In the end I decided I would rather contribute to the neighborhood than let some corporation take up our storefronts. My gamble paid off, and more than two years into the pandemic, it’s clear to me that a cozy restaurant that recreates that feeling of being at a dinner party is just what my community has been craving. 

Recently, a neighbor who I had never met walked up to me and said how grateful she was. She knew that I could have opened my establishment in any place in the world, but the fact that I chose our neighborhood meant the world to her. The most interesting part: she’s never been to the restaurant. To her, just being a presence on the street was enough. 

More places have joined us on the street since we opened & Sons in 2020. More people are out chatting these days. There are flowers being planted, a few new trees. There is community within our restaurants: celebrations, reunions, new friends being made. 

Like our own homes, a restaurant to me supports an entire ecosystem: We’ve hired as much as possible from the local community and have worked to support local vendors. They’ve become family. Fed by this energy inside, our community is now growing outside the doors of & Sons.

several plates of food set side by side on a slate table at Brooklyn's Kingfisher Oyster restaurant. There are two glasses of wine on the table as well.

André Mack’s soon-to-open seafood destination Kingfisher Oyster. Photo credit: Liz Clayman

The neighborhood support has helped me branch out into several new ventures in Prospect Lefferts Garden, including Chikadee Bread, a micro bakery spotlighting whole heirloom grains; Mockingbird Taco, a takeout joint; and the soon-to-open seafood destination Kingfisher Oyster. The hunger for home-away-from-home community spots, run by the community, is alive and thriving. 

These are the kinds of restaurants I want to see even more of. No one wants to live in a city of empty storefronts, corporate shells, or out-of-touch money grabs. We want life, conversation, light from windows, the sounds of plates and laughter. Let’s celebrate being together again.

André Hueston Mack is an award-winning sommelier, wine maker, restaurateur and the founder of & Sons.