People always ask Lisa Brooks if she’s going to open a restaurant. Ever since she ditched her 16-year career at a healthcare technology company to launch her private chef business in 2010, she’s had the same response.
“My answer has always been no,” Brooks says. It’s too much headache and upkeep. But if the popular Charlotte chef 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 her 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 her pop-up dinners, offering an intimate and homely setting for guests. Now with a space of her own, she can present Mattie’s Front Porch without the commitment and hassle of a traditional brick-and-mortar.
“It’s basically going to be a pop-up restaurant that you can get reservations to once a month,” she says. “It’s always been my vision to host this in my own space, so this is perfect.”
Beginning June 25 and running indefinitely, Brooks will host the exclusive, 24-person dinner series each month at SkyLounge. The June dinner will be the first official event inside Brooks’ new venue, which offers floor-to-ceiling views of the Queen City’s skyline.
Mattie’s Front Porch is designed to pay homage to Brooks’ grandmother, her family matriarch known to them as mother. As one of many Black women in her generation who toiled as domestic workers for some of Charlotte’s wealthiest white families, cooking, cleaning, and taking care of children “for hardly any money,” Brooks says.
“I always say it was for pennies, figuratively,” she says. “It’s not lost on me when I go into these same neighborhoods like Ballantyne, and I’m going in as a chef and preparing an amazing meal that’s still based on the things I learned from her. She sowed the food, and now I’m reaping the harvest. It makes me tear up a little thinking about that. I just know she’s shocked, overwhelmed, amazed, and proud.”
Brooks carries her grandmother’s influence in everything she does — her grandmother’s house is where she learned to cook, and Sunday dinners there were a cornerstone for the family. Yet with the Mattie’s Front Porch dinner series, Brooks makes her roots and intention more explicit.
“The menu is inspired by her and what she taught me, but elevated,” says Brooks, who adds her own approach to dishes informed by her culinary school training and more than a decade in the industry. At the upcoming June dinner titled Old Things New, that approach is visible from the jump, when Brooks will serve warm yeast rolls with a roasted chicken skin honey butter.
“That Sunday dinner baked chicken with that crispy skin, honey? It’s the best thing in the world,” Brooks says, remembering how Mother would make it for family gatherings. But rather than present the dish in its classic form, Brooks will pull elements to offer something familiar yet distinct. She’ll offer a more traditional, country interpretation at the August event though, appropriately titled Sunday Dinner. (In July, Brooks will focus on Southern seafood, and each future event will also offer a varied theme.)
“The spirit will always be there,” she says. “I hope people rediscover the joy of feasting together.”
While the venue can hold 50 people, Brooks wants to cultivate an extended family gathering vibe by limiting the series to 24 people and seating them at a long, communal table. Thanks to her 10-person cooking team — currently made up of exclusively women of color — Brooks will be able to step away from the kitchen and share stories with guests about the food, as well as its origins and inspirations. The opportunity to interact directly and share her story with “ancestral, matriarchal roots running through it” will only enhance the meal, Brooks says, adding to the feelings of intimacy and connection she aims to foster between patrons.
“When you know my connection to the food or a dish, I feel like that contributes to the taste,” she says. “I believe having that story affects the flavor.”