People always ask Lisa Brooks if she’s going to open a restaurant. Since giving up her 16-year career at a health tech company to start her private chef business in 2010, she’s had the same response.
“My answer has always been no,” says Brooks. That’s too much headache and maintenance. But if the celebrity chef from Charlotte ever did, she would call it Mattie’s Front Porch, a name and culinary direction inspired by her grandmother.
Brooks still doesn’t want to own or operate a restaurant, but last month his company Heart & Soul Personal Chef Services signed a lease for a 2,200 square foot venue on the tenth floor of Skye Condominiums. Dubbed SkyLounge on Third, the event space at 222 South Caldwell Street in downtown Charlotte will also be available for rent.
Until now, Brooks had often booked Airbnbs for its pop-up dinners, providing an intimate and warm setting for guests. Now with a space of her own, she can showcase Mattie’s Front Porch without the commitment and hassle of a traditional brick-and-mortar.
“It will basically be a pop-up restaurant where you can get reservations once a month,” she says. “It’s always been my vision to host this in my own space, so that’s perfect.”
Starting June 25 and indefinitely, Brooks will host the SkyLounge exclusive 24-person dinner series each month. The June dinner will be the first official event inside Brooks’ new venue, which offers floor-to-ceiling views of the Queen City skyline.
Mattie’s front porch is designed to pay homage to Brooks’ grandmother, her family matriarch known as Mother. As one of many black women of her generation who worked as domestic servants for some of Charlotte’s wealthiest white families, cooking, cleaning and caring for children “for next to no money,” Brooks says.
“I always say it was for pennies, figuratively speaking,” she says. “It’s not lost on me when I go to those same neighborhoods like Ballantyne, and I go there as a chef and cook an amazing meal that’s still based on the things that I learned from her. She sowed the food, and now I’m reaping the harvest. It makes me cry a little to think about it. I just know she’s shocked, upset, amazed, and proud.
Brooks carries her grandmother’s influence into everything she does – her grandmother’s house is where she learned to cook, and Sunday dinners were the lifeblood of the family. Yet with the Mattie’s Front Porch dinner series, Brooks makes her roots and her intention more explicit.
“The menu is inspired by her and what she taught me, but elevated,” says Brooks, who adds her own take on dishes informed by her culinary school training and more than a decade in the industry. . At June’s upcoming Old Things New dinner, that approach is on display from the jump, when Brooks serves up warm yeast rolls with roasted chicken skin honey butter.
“That Sunday night baked chicken with that crispy skin, honey? It’s the best thing in the world,” Brooks says, remembering how mom used to do it for family gatherings. But rather than presenting the dish under her classic form, Brooks will pull elements to offer something familiar yet distinct, however it will offer a more traditional country interpretation at the August event, aptly titled Sunday Dinner.(In July, Brooks will focus on fruit of the South Sea, and each future event will also feature a varied theme.)
“The spirit will always be there,” she says. “I hope people rediscover the joy of celebrating together.”
While the venue seats 50 people, Brooks wants to cultivate an extended family reunion vibe by limiting the series to 24 people and seating them at a long communal table. Thanks to her 10-person kitchen team — currently made up exclusively of women of color — Brooks will be able to step away from the kitchen and share with her guests stories about food, as well as its origins and inspirations. The opportunity to directly interact and share her story with “ancestral and matriarchal roots running through her” will only enhance the meal, Brooks says, adding to the feelings of intimacy and connection she aims to foster between customers.
“When you know my connection to food or a dish, I feel like it contributes to the taste,” she says. “I believe having that history affects the flavor.”