The name of your venture Aunts et Uncles refers to "the family's confidants; the ones you talk to about the hard stuff." Did you have an aunt or uncle like that growing up? If so, what did that person teach you about filling that role as Uncle Mike now?
Luckily for me, I come from a large family. A total of 10 uncles and 7 aunts. Many of whom played important roles in my upbringing. So, it would be unfair to give credit to just one. I would say as a collective I learned about showing up for your people, keeping your doors open for your loved ones and reminding them how much they mean to you. So, those and a list of other values I picked up in my household have put me in position for the Uncle Mike role. Think I’m doing ok so far...
Did you have a defining moment when you realized, "Okay, I'm an uncle now"?
Well my wife Nicole has 11 nieces and nephews, so I married into the role automatically. When my nephew Ryan was born he spent most of the days during his first 3 months with us. Then when my other nephew Kai was in the hospital for sometime it really hit me like “This your little nephew here man, fighting the good fight.” And he’s thriving now.
As I read about Aunts et Uncles online, I'm struck by how the concept is as rooted in people, in community as it is in the food and retail components. Could you talk about why that is?
Well, our heritage is based on community. That’s part of our culture. Our culture is the food we eat, garb we wear, language we speak, the music and art we create. So, Aunts et Uncles is a safe space created to express and experience those components. It’s a learning and new user experience for us and the humans we interact with.
In your Indiegogo video, there is a lot of talk about "home" - it feels fluid. Flatbush is home. Your apartment is home but could not accommodate everyone you sought to welcome. Now, Aunts et Uncles serves as an extension of your home. Could you talk about where that graciousness, hospitality comes from?
My wife and I were both brought up in large families. With that comes extended family and friends. So, we were exposed to hospitality at a young age. Making sure everyone was good, comfortable and felt the love. Navigating through these days and times is a challenge. We know how important it is to be heard, loved, fed and cared for.
You are not on this venture alone, of course. You are working with your wife Nicole. Could you speak to the qualities that you both have that enable you to work so well together as business owners?
Well, this year marks our 10 year wedding anniversary. To be able to say that in this day and time speaks volumes. Luckily enough for us, we are great friends before anything. I feel our marriage is like the icing on the cake, feel me? So whether my wife or her husband is tripping we still got our friend!
The food at Aunts et Uncles is plant-based. Could you speak to your experience of veganism?
Well I can’t speak on veganism as I’m not a true vegan to the term. I still rock leather kicks and what not. But restricting my diet from animals has been quite an experience. I would have never thought I would not eat another chicken wing ever. Last thought in my mind, but it’s been 3 years. It’s been real and refreshing. We feel less lethargic after meals and almost have too much energy.
What do you think is the biggest or most common misunderstanding about a vegan diet?
That vegan food is trash!
It seems you and your wife have a strong love of food. Where does that come from?
I was born and raised in the house of my grandmother. So, her cooking for my grandfather every night as well as my mom, uncles and siblings rubbed off on me. Nicole comes from a cooking household also. It’s really in our blood.
In tight-knit communities, there are often those who feel a need to get out and those who never leave. Could you talk about what it feels like to open a shop among the community that raised you?
Well, I’m gonna be honest. I was born and raised in this neighborhood. I remember when crack was prevalent and gun violence was the daily ritual. I wanted nothing more than to get outta this place. So, first chance I had I took it. Went away to college in Florida. While away I was able to appreciate all of what NYC had to offer from the outside looking in. Hard to appreciate the full spectrum when your world revolves around one zip code. Now that I’m back, I’m encouraging everyone to stay. Build and grow at home.
What are three books, movies, podcasts, etc. that have shaped you recently?
Books: Aesthetic Intelligence by Pauline Brown, Blue Ocean Strategy by Renée Mauborgne and W. Chan Kim, Vivid Vision by Cameron Herold
Movies: What the Health
Podcasts: BiggerPockets Podcast