We have to admit: We’re spoiled when it comes to dining out. Oh, not in the sense in which every night takes us to a different restaurant or bar; on the contrary, we might be the rare New Yorkers who actually cook at home (read: actually cook, and not just—though sometimes—order from Seamless) a fair share of the time. The reason we’re lucky, though, is that we do eat out at a wide enough variety of places that we have developed a pretty well-developed sense about what it is that makes a restaurant feel not just like a place you might want to visit only once or twice a year, but all the time, the kind of place that starts to feel not just like a destination, but like an extension of your own kitchen—with better food, sure, but with a similar level of comfort and warmth. These are the kinds of spots, after all, that really make New York’s dining scene special, the kind of places that are emblematic of a city where many apartments are too small for entertaining, so restaurants and bars that can serve as something of a second home have flourished. These are the places at which we want to be regulars, the places we tend to call “ours.”
And for us, no restaurant better exemplifies the idea of a neighborhood spot right now more than Williamsburg’s Concord Hill. We highlighted the less-than-year-old Graham Avenue gem in our Restaurant Awards feature in Brooklyn Magazine earlier this summer, but as we find ourselves in the full-on dog days of the season, we thought it would be worth talking about further—and not just because there’s no better way to pass the long evenings than sitting at a table with $1 Montauk Pearls in front of you, friends at your side, and $7 glass of country white in hand.
But, you know, lots of restaurants offer dollar-oyster specials (though few of those spots deliver Montauk Pearls as that special), what makes Concord Hill different? We think it comes directly from the top; co-owners Kate Sheldrick and Szoke Schaeffer—both native Upper West Siders, LaGuardia High School classmates, and former co-workers at farm-to-table stalwart Westville (a third co-owner, Jay Strauss, is also from Westville)—told us about what it was that they wanted to accomplish once they settled on opening a restaurant in the neighborhood they’d both settled in as adults.
Not long after Sheldrick stumbled upon the listing for the former Sel de Mer-space on Graham, she emailed Schaeffer, who had recently left the food industry for a job at NBC, if she’d want to go into business together. Schaeffer remembers how quickly it all happened—the email was sent June 18th, the lease signed September 23rd, and the restaurant opened just six weeks later… just a couple weeks after Shledrick got married—and says that what they tried to do was “figure out what was missing, what this block wants, what this block needs, and what we can provide. We wanted to have an affordable menu. That was something that was very important to us. We wanted to be able to feed people three days a week.”
Sheldrick adds: “There just weren’t enough places to go and get a salad and an affordable glass of wine and just sit and be content and hang out for awhile. And we were committed to doing the lunch thing from day one, which has been a challenge.”
But their combined commitment to providing a warm, friendly, and, yes, affordable (in the true sense—not the new New York—sense of the word) environment has paid off. Every time I’ve been to Concord Hill there’s a steady stream of people from both near and far enjoying the space and the food. And it’s not just Williamsburg’s newer residents; Schaeffer says, “The neighborhood pizzeria owner comes here on a date with his wife once a week.”
And while there are always new challenges with launching a restaurant, the duo’s friendship has served them well in the alternative marriage that is a business partnership. Schaeffer emphasizes the importance of communication and Sheldrick says, “It’s a gamble going into it… working 180 days straight with someone else. We had already loved each other so much, but this was just such a bonding experience between the two of us. And even though there’s already been hard moments, we really remember to laugh and remember to hug each other and remember to say I love you at the end of the day like a husband and wife.”
The genuine affection and camaraderie between the two women was easily apparent the whole time we spent talking with them, and it was just as apparent that this kind of natural warmth translated into the general atmosphere of the restaurant itself. Sheldrick told us that, despite the at-times exhausting pace and long hours of the job, “There’s not anything I’d rather be doing right now. There’s nowhere I’d rather be still.” This sentiment is infectious, really, and what makes Concord Hill stand out from other restaurants serving up great food (which, by the way, it really does… the charred leeks and sasso chicken are must-orders, plus, those toast boards!) is the idea that even though there are tons of other places to eat and drink in the city, the borough, even the neighborhood at large, it’s essential to find the one place nearby that feels less like a place to go out to, but rather a place where you’ll feel comfortable settling in. Concord Hill is that kind of spot. Now, shhh. Let’s keep this a secret just between us.