"There is one guy I really like who comes in every weekend with his little son. Every Saturday, he is the first customer in they always get the chocolate chip cookie. One bag each. One cookie each. His boy must love those mornings with his dad."
- Benjamin Sormonte, Maman
There’s a common thread amongst these early Morning People stories - somewhere along the line, the men and women we’ve chatted to have been unfulfilled in where they were in life; either geographically, personally, or professionally, and they made a radical change. The two owners of Soho cafe Maman are no exception. French born Benjamin Sormonte and Canadian Elisa Marshall, made drastic career moves in order to follow their love of food and drink. The former was a corporate lawyer, and the latter was working in fashion PR and wedding planning when they decided to “drop everything” and move to Ibiza to help their friends from the Experimental Cocktail Group in expanding their brand of speakeasy lounges. At some point, the pair didn’t want to be in Spain in the off season for tourists, so they relocated to New York to be closer to Elisa’s home of Montreal.
While working for the Experimental team during their NYC expansion, Marshall and Sormonte noticed a need for great casual lunch restaurants in the neighborhood, and when they walked into Maman’s current space for the first time, they knew they had to change that. In late 2014, the couple opened their dream cafe and quickly became part of the fabric of the community, one which Ben describes as feeling “the most like Europe” compared to the rest of New York.
Maman’s interior is beautifully simple, feeling like a guest house on a farm in the South of France. The rustic floors, tin ceilings, and exposed brick walls bring a cozy, classic feel to the neighborhood. Most importantly though, the food is homey, with both classic French pastries and seasonal twists on favorite American dishes. Where did the inspiration for everything on the menu come from, you ask?
The name says it all - their mothers.
“For most people, they say their moms are either the best or worst chef they know,” said Sormonte over a coffee and one of their addictive chocolate chip cookies. “For me, she was the best. It’s not so much one dish she made, but the freshness of the ingredients she chose. I always thank my mom because she made sure there was always food for us, and always followed the season”.
The couple trusted their nostalgic tastebuds, and have created a menu that is a nod to the food they grew up on because it’s what they’ve missed most from home while living in New York. One thing that Sormonte, along with their third partner, Michelin-starred French chef Armand Arnal, have longed for since moving from France is the small rotisserie chicken shops that to them, were as abundant as butchers and bakers when they were kids. Naturally then the team’s next endeavor was Papa Poule - a recently opened take out chicken shop to honor the men, so their father’s didn’t feel left out (“Papa Poule” means ‘overbearing father’ in French).
Keep an eye on these guys - they don’t seem to have any plans of slowing down while they continue to bring their family flavors to New York.
- words by Seth Kallen