NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Nicole and Michael Nicholas have always looked up to their aunts and uncles.
“They truly did play really big roles in our lives, whether it be introducing us to new music or new fashion or just being able to go over to their homes and vibe out with cousins,” Nicole said.READ MORE: Source of Knowledge: A Newark Bookstore Honors African Ancestry
These family bonds were the inspiration for Aunts et Uncles, the hybrid cafe-bar-retail space the married couple opened in Brooklyn’s Little Caribbean neighborhood. The French word for “and” references their own Caribbean heritage.
“Your aunts and uncles are like your cool parents,” Michael said. “You can let them know and be your true self to them without much judgment. And we just want to make sure that we’re providing that same experience to our neighborhood and our community.”
Nicole and Michael call themselves the auntie and the uncle of the place, which they’ve filled with books, art, music, and clothing for sale that celebrate Black culture.
“It’s an extension of our home, basically,” Nicole said.
Nicole’s hospitality expertise and Michael’s design background have united at their striking, plant-filled oasis, which they call a tribute to their ancestors.
Having focused so much attention on curating a distinctive space for gathering, they were surprised when the vegan menu became the runaway hit.
“It’s taken over,” Nicole said.
For both Nicole and Michael, a love of food was instilled in childhood.
“Caribbean families, for us, that’s how we grew up. Food is a big, big thing,” Nicole said.READ MORE: Ben 'Moody' Harney Helms NYC's Only Oyster Cart
In a neighborhood known for bold, meat-centered dishes like oxtail and stew chicken, Nicole and Michael knew to prioritize flavor.
“When we get someone to come in here that’s not vegan, and they’ve got to taste something on the menu, we’ve got to make sure that we’re showing up for their tastebuds,” Nicole said.
In the lobster roll, hearts of palm stand in for shellfish, tucked into a pretzel roll toasted with rosemary butter and garnished with fresh dill.
The Au Burger is a plant-based patty with toppings including caramelized onions, arugula, and a homemade pepper sauce made from Michael’s aunt’s recipe.
For Nicole and Michael, the menu and environment work in harmony.
Even the clothes on hangers have meaning—t-shirts of their own design bear slogans like Black People Unite.
“There’s a greatness in our community, in our culture,” Nicole said. “People, when they put those pieces on, they’re not only just buying a t-shirt, they’re walking in pride.”
Each element coheres to form a business that’s uniquely their own.
“We want to give people good food, good vibrations, good reads, good music, good drinks. It’s just a cool space to converse and build, learn, educate,” Michael said.
Aunts et Uncles
1407 Nostrand Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11226
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