Restaurantes

A Plant-Based Restaurant Grows in Brooklyn

Located on a bustling corner of Flatbush known as Little Caribbean, at Aunts et Uncles, family and community are on the menu.

20/2/2024
6 minutos de lectura
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When Mike Nicholas was growing up in Brooklyn’s Flatbush neighborhood — around the corner from what is now Aunts et Uncles, the celebrated, plant-based cafe he opened with his wife Nicole Nicholas in 2020 — the goal for many young people in the neighborhood was to “go to college, get out — go as far as possible,” Mike says. He did just that. 

He moved to Boca Raton, an affluent city north of Miami, for college. But, even in an area with gated communities, he felt uneasy. The people who surrounded him were “operating at a different frequency than we did here in our neighborhood. There was not a lot of love and not a lot of soul there,” Mike explains. He also realized that when people like himself left Flatbush, they were exporting their talents, and without them, the neighborhood would spiral. 

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Mike decided instead of “making it out” of the neighborhood, he would “make it in.” That philosophy and motto is at the core of Aunts et Uncles, an airy and cozy space on a bustling corner of Flatbush known as Little Caribbean. On Instagram, the team describes it as a “lifestyle concept shoppe” and “plant-based cafe/bar.” It is all of those things, but perhaps more than any of them, it is a place to gather — a place for Mike and Nicole to share their vision of community and family with the neighborhood and diners from afar. 

Community is first nature for both of them. Mike sees other restaurateurs using the term “community-driven” well before having a plan for how they’ll show up. “We’ve been talking about neighborhood and community from day zero,” he explains. Their team cooks for local events and sponsors a kickball league. Mike and Nicole even have keys to other shops nearby, so if anything happens, everyone knows they are in good hands. 

This is how neighborhoods become safe spaces and people once again know their neighbors, Nicole says. She sees it as a reconnection of community and has even witnessed people who met in their space go on to collaborate with one another. “I think that's what we do at Aunts et Uncles. We open the doors, and we almost force people to exist in our space.”

Family is also at the core of their work. Both Mike and Nicole come from an expansive cohort of Caribbean relatives — Mike’s side is from St. Lucia and Nicole’s is from Trinidad and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Between them, their parents have over 40 siblings. Aunts and uncles are “the cool parents,” says Nicole, and the name pays homage to them, with a French “et” nodding to their heritage.  

Fittingly, family works in the kitchen, too. Lesley Ann Regisford, Nicole’s cousin from Trinidad, oversees the cooking, and Mike’s aunt Elo makes his grandmother’s recipe for peppa sauce, a Caribbean hot sauce made with various types of chili peppers. “She’s about to be 77, and it’s a side hustle for her,” Mike says. For now, guests at the cafe can take home bottles of the homemade sauce, but starting in March, they will sell it via their website, too. 

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Family shows up on other places on the menu as well — like The Cryin Ryan, a large hunk of cauliflower smothered in a rich and spicy peanut sauce that’s named for their nephew, and the Bake & Saltfish that’s inspired by a dish that Nicole’s mother made.Their version uses hearts of palm to stand in for fish. Other plant-based staples on the menu include the Au Burger with Beyond Meat, peppa sauce, and mayo, as well as mac and cheese enriched with almond and coconut milks.

Mike and Nicole are quick to clarify that while the cafe may be labeled as vegan online, they never use that term. “It's not us, you know; we want to be authentic to who we are,” Mike says. They prefer the less rigid and broader term “plant-based,” displaying it out front. 

The decision to make Aunts et Uncles plant-based came from their own lives. When they met, Nicole’s pescetarianism clashed with Mike’s shellfish allergy, so “we found that the plant-based food was a common space for us to share one meal,” Mike adds. “If we can share one meal, that means other people can share that one meal.” Like everything else here, it's another way to set a table where everyone feels welcome.