Savoring the Experience of Life and Community
Restaurateur/Entrepreneur Catherine May on planting seeds of care to create a thriving enterprise and a thriving community.
Issue 16 Summer 2018
| Yeon Jee and Xinyi Tang
Clinton Hill— We visited local restaurateur, Catherine May, to hear her story. Catherine is a Brooklyn neighbor leading a creative enterprise that is values-driven. Catherine leads as if life matters. She reminds us that bite by bite we need to savor our lives and celebrate our relationship with each other and our shared world. Her world, Maison May, is designed to represent and enable a way of living. It offers simple, beautiful and seasonal local ingredients and much food for thought!
Maison May was born in 2004 near the Pratt campus in a changing Brooklyn. Catherine had a clear entrepreneurial and personal vision. She wanted to design an experience that would build community and enable the community to access locally sourced, sustainably produced food. Voila, Maison May became one of the first farm-to-table restaurants in Brooklyn.
May’s values are the fundamental driving force of her business. For May, thriving means remembering what’s important—it’s about living everyday- thriving every day. May articulates that philosophy through her relationship with the “family”, the restaurant’s employees, suppliers, and customers. She believes that taking good care of the lives she touches is key to cultivating a thriving business and designing a gathering place for community.
As we enter Maison May, we are transported into a cozy welcoming friend’s home. Time becomes irrelevant. For May, “Maison May is a home to feel rooted and at ease, a place where people can connect and celebrate life together.” When asked about the most rewarding moment in her journey, May remembers late night upon walking into the restaurant seeing the place alive with deep conversations. “The energy was incredible, everybody was talking to everybody.” She adds, “Fostering a community, sharing food, sharing laughs, sharing dreams—those are things that cannot be bought but have great value.”
The life of an entrepreneur is not easy. But May thrives on challenge and enjoys the learning that comes with leading values-driven work. She uses her running experience as a metaphor. “I run a lot. Sometimes I run against the traffic. I often feel this is the story of my life. To me, it would make more sense if the traffic were running the other way around.” We laugh and share the laughter and, for a moment, the running and the traffic stop. This is the feeling of Maison May.
In the 1990s, Catherine ran against the traffic. She was a being a trailblazer. Shaping a farm-to-table restaurant meant discovering what that meant for Brooklyn, defining how to do it, designing space, place and processes and delivering superb quality. It meant managing uncertainty and challenge. It was not an easy task to find like-minded business partners and suppliers. Along the way, she realized that nurturing a meaningful relationship with all her business stakeholders was, not only necessary, but also highly rewarding. May describes it as “planting the seeds.”
All of our homes (“maisons”) are built so you can feel rooted and at ease. A touchstone you can always return to.
She was reminded of the importance of planting those seeds when on a recent trip to Paris she was met with dismissive, irritated vendors who were disturbed when she asked about the origins of their wares. It reminded her of her own early struggles and the challenge of asking farmers about the source of their crops and how they were grown.
Vision and patience are necessary and values sustain when challenges occur. May continues to follow her instinctive guidance. She fully believes that knowing the source of what we consume empowers and leads us to a more fulfilling life. In addition to locally sourced food, Maison May started featuring artisanal and fair-trade objects and in 2016 opened a second location right around the corner. There will be more local handcrafted merchandise including a Maison May cookbook with thought-provoking recipes.
May is a mother as well as an entrepreneur. She grounds herself in the experience of being a female entrepreneur raising two sons. “For me, business has the “flesh” in it because it is about being human. It is made by people for people…my business grows and ages. It has its good days and bad days. It matures. So, if I’m thriving, my business is thriving, and my customers are thriving.”
“Men have a disproportionate share of power in the restaurant world for a whole host of reasons — male-dominated networks, male-centric kitchens, men’s preference for investing in other men…In a 2015 book about the multifarious obstacles facing female chefs, Taking the Heat, Harris and co-author Patti Giuffre dedicate an entire chapter to media bias”
–Meghan McCarren, Eater, Op-Ed, May 2018
Nurturing a meaningful relationship with stakeholders – suppliers, customers, employees – is, not only necessary, but also highly rewarding. A thriving business is about taking good care of the lives you touch.
STRATEGIES IN ACTION:
>>LEAD to breathe life in your community.
>>THINK global >>ACT local. Make change wherever life locates you.
>>SUPPORT your local community and its creative enterprises.
>>CHAMPION the risk takers and change makers and you thrive.
May was born in Provence, France. She moved to NYC in the 90’s and opened a restaurant that was the 1st Farm to Table in Brooklyn. In 2016, she opened a second location and began was to express her vision more fully.