A Dream Turns Into a Delicious Vision
The fabric of the Mott Haven neighborhood is a tapestry of interwoven layers of history, each vitally important. Industrial epicenter, hip-hop haven, working class enclave, art scene haven — individual identities that combine to create its full character. Even without diving deep into its past, the stories that emerge about Mott Haven exhibit a singularity that speak to its uniqueness within the broader landscape of New York neighborhoods.
One of those more recent stories is that of Kat Creech and her team at Mottley Kitchen. What began as a search for commercial kitchen space to support a catering business has blossomed into a vibrant meeting place for the community. The commercial kitchen and catering business is there, but for locals, Mottley Kitchen is a neighborhood watering hole to gather and stay connected to what’s happening in Mott Haven while grabbing a delicious bite to eat off a menu that has garnered national media attention, including from the New York Times.
“It was absolutely the dream and the vision to create a space like this, but I definitely didn’t know the cafe would become what it has,” said Creech about the early days. “What was really amazing and a surprise was how many great partnerships came about organically by virtue of us opening; people coming in as we were getting started and were interested in curating books for us, hosting events here… we built this space and offered it to the community and they really made it their own, which is what we wanted all along.”
Located just off of Willis Avenue, one of the neighborhood’s busiest thoroughfares, Mottley Kitchen feels much more serene. Entering into the airy space with its high ceilings, the kitchen in the back is open and visible and you’ll often see staff working on catering projects. Before you reach the counter you might find yourself stopping to admire the books, puzzles, small design objects, and more that grace the table in the center of the space. That is, unless, the display case of signature pastries, cakes, cookies, and muffins doesn’t draw you in first. An airy lightness fills the room and there’s an ample amount of seating; enough to invite you to bring a book and linger for a while without feeling rude. And, during warmer months, the rooftop is perfect for enjoying their range of sandwiches, salads, and bowls while you take in the urban garden vibes.
There’s no better way to understand the ethos that drives the business than taking into account how Creech and her team handled the difficulties of operating a restaurant and cafe in 2020. Immediately after the governor’s office put mandatory restrictions in place for gathering indoors, Mottley Kitchen’s team came up with the idea to sell curated boxes to serve the dual purpose of keeping the business running while trying to meet the needs of their loyal customers.
“It came originally from gathering the staff together and asking them to take things home so that they wouldn’t just go to waste, but then the idea came together quickly. Initially, we put together these massive boxes that had a little bit of everything in them, from pastries to grocery staples. People bought them, but we also got feedback that the price was a bit high for many folks to be able to access, so we started doing smaller boxes and doing other things to make the more expensive one worthwhile, like full meal kits and recipes for folks to try at home,” said Creech.
What came next was surprising even for Kat – despite the challenges that the year posed for so many in the hospitality industry, Creech opened a second location in Mott Haven on 134th Street and Third Avenue. “The opportunity came up and given the timing I initially thought it was absolutely crazy. But I did more digging to try and understand what would be possible,” Creech elaborated.
Much like the original location, Mottley Kitchenette quickly took on a life of its own. “The most important thing to me, always, is the right people and staff. What ended up happening, believe it or not, is that I was chatting with two women who I’d met in the neighborhood, who were furloughed flight attendants, and were excited about the idea of helping bring Mottley Kitchenette to life. They’ve done an incredible job, really, of re-energizing me, too, during a really difficult time to be running a business like this,” Creech highlighted.
“I’ve only been here for such a short time in comparison to the families that I’ve gotten to know who go back several generations, so I can’t speak to that precisely,” Creech said when asked about how the neighborhood has changed over time. “But what I can say is that when I and my husband first moved to Mott Haven and started looking for a space for the commercial kitchen, we were looking for a place to put down roots. And one thing we noticed right away that set Mott Haven apart is that people look you in the eye, they greet you; when we were first working on the Mottley Kitchen space, which took a year and a half, it didn’t take long before we had come to know all of our neighbors before even opening. And that energy is something that hasn’t changed over the years we’ve been here.”
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