(Caesar, left, and Sarita, right)
No longer just the go to breakfast/lunch/dinner/drunken 2AM snack for hapless college students, mac and cheese now has artisanal status thanks to S’MAC, the world’s first mac and cheese restaurant. Founded in 2006 by husband and wife team Caesar and Sarita Ekya, S’MAC (an acronym for Sarita’s Macaroni and Cheese) has taken childhood comfort food to another level with an eclectic menu showcasing fresh mozzarella, muenster cheese, sauteed spinach, shiitake mushrooms, masala spices, and more. It has grown to two locations (Murray Hill and the East Village) and features a ten item menu that can also be customized for those who are gluten-free, vegan, or vegetarian. Luckily for college students, their prices are still conducive to 2AM drunken food runs. We sat down with founder Sarita to find out what makes S’MAC one of the best comfort food restaurants in the city.
What separates game-changers from regular people is that they keep on going where most people stop. In 2006, Sarita and her husband had just moved to New York to soak up all that the “concrete jungle where dreams are made of” had to offer when Sarita came up with an idea for a restaurant that only sold mac ‘n cheese. Many people brush off or forget their great ideas, but Sarita, a then budding entrepreneur, jumped on the idea that would become S’MAC. Before she and her husband moved to New York they were engineers, a profession that is hardly a stepping stone to the culinary world, yet Sarita says owning a restaurant is “similar to being an engineer, but it’s more dynamic.”
“When we first got here, we would eat out every day and we were always so excited to try all the different types of foods this city had to offer. One day we ate at Peanut Butter & Co., which only served peanut butter and jelly, and then we wanted to find a place that sold just mac ‘n cheese,” Sarita told Fiestah. “After realizing that there was no place like that, we decided to make S’MAC. My husband and I always wanted to start a business, and this was the perfect opportunity.”
From there on they tapped into their existing resources to make their idea a reality.
“We just ran with it and everything seemed to sort of fall into place,” Sarita said. “At a local event I got the chance to meet a lady named Barbara that taught at a cooking school. She sat me down and helped to refine my recipes for large scale cooking. Then she would have all of her students taste my food, which helped to further perfect it. I had the restaurant completely open in just nine months — crazy fast if you ask any first time restaurateur.”
The stress of opening such a popular new restaurant would be daunting for any restaurateur, but Sarita and her husband stay focused by remembering what they love the most about their job: the customers.
“The first time we saw people get out of a cab and come to S’MAC just knowing they came with the intention of coming to eat at our place was one of our happiest moments, ” Sarita beamed.
It’s that love for the customers that allows Sarita to keep things simple instead of complicating her and her husband’s business model by “keep[ing] true to mac and cheese.” But that doesn’t mean that S’MAC won’t be accommodating or become a stale restaurant.
“I want to remain a place where people can go when they’re just looking for good mac and cheese,” Sarita confirmed. “I also want to assure that everybody who steps in has something to eat. I have tons of options for vegetable-lovers. I have a vegan option made with coconut milk. We can make any of our macs gluten-free, and people don’t even believe me when I say it’s gluten-free because it tastes exactly the same. And of course, we offer salad.
The notorious design principle: KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) even applies to S’MAC’s customer’s favorite dishes.
“As I was finalizing all of my flavor-filled recipes, my husband suggested that maybe we should put down a couple plain and simple mac and cheeses,” Sarita explained. “It turns out most of the children and some adults loved these flavor, like the four-cheese and All-American, and they are currently the most popular.”
Sarita and Caesar plan to open a restaurant somewhere outside of Manhattan to see if they can operate in the suburbs and grow their business. Until then, S’MAC will continue to serve Manhattan and use Fiestah to spread their love of mac n’ cheese.
“Fiestah has opened a whole new population of people who might not have heard of us,” Sarita said.
During these past few years, there have been a lot of S’MAC copycats, but no one comes even close to the original. We’re excited to see how S’MAC grows as Sarita and Caesar continue to set the standard for mac and cheese.
Mac and cheese lovers: What is your favorite S’MAC dish? Let us know in the comments.
“Like” Fiestah on Facebook.
Follow Fiestah (@Fiestah) on Twitter.
Check us out on Pinterest!
Sign up at www.fiestah.com.