Plenty of new restaurants and bars have been popping up on the Lower East Side over the last few years, but one of the more recent standout eateries to appear is Black Tree. This Brooklyn transplant has only been around for a little more than a year, but their incredible menu has drawn in everyone from food critics at the Wall Street Journal and Zagat to Guy Fieri—who by the way can be seen dusting Black Tree sandwich crumbs from his goatee in an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.
We recently caught up with Mac Sillick and Sandy Hall, the owners and culinary creatives behind the delicious Downtown venture, to chat about their business. Find out about their “farm to sandwich” approach, why they only use locally sourced food, and why they moved their business from Crown Heights to the Lower East Side.
**GIVEAWAY**: The fellas are also offering up one lucky reader ‘drinks for two’ at the Black Tree bar. Keep reading to find out how you can enjoy some organic cocktails on the house!
So first of all, how did the two of you meet?
Macnair: Sandy lived in the apartment downstairs from me years ago. He saw my roommates and me coming home from playing some basketball and he mentioned that he was on the Villanova basketball team and he wanted to play. We played some ball, then we started hanging out and having drinks, and the rest is history.
What’s your background? What were you doing before you started Black Tree?
Macnair: I’ve been working in the food industry since I was in college. My first job was at the SoHo House in the Meat Packing District while I was still going to NYU where I studied broadcast journalism and politics. After college I worked various journalism jobs, the longest being a photojournalist and associate producer for the political show Inside City Hall on NY1 News.
Sandy: I worked at a handful of fine dining establishments, such as the Breslin, and gained a lot of my experience at these places.
Sandy making a sandwich for Guy Fieri on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives
What made you decide to go into the restaurant business?
Sandy: Mac and I of course loved the food at places like the Breslin and other top tier eateries, but for most people, it’s a meal that’s expensive and only saved for special occasions. We felt that we could use the same high quality sources and prepare the ingredients in similar fashion but then just slap it in a sandwich and make it affordable.
Macnair: It all came from a long night out where Sandy and I were talking about the best sandwiches in the city. We thought we could do better all while keeping everything local.
Why did you choose to open a restaurant in the Lower East Side?
Sandy: We felt that the Lower East Side would be a great spot for our first location because it is a young, hip, destination neighborhood with a surprising lack of really good, accessible food. It’s also right over the bridge from Brooklyn, where the business was originally born—Crown Heights.
Macnair: I actually live two blocks from the bar we started as a pop up in in Crown Heights. We’ve actually have just taken up a residency in the same spot again recently. Now people can get Black Tree in Brooklyn again.
A sampling of what’s on the menu at Black Tree
Your menu is always changing. What inspires your dishes and drinks?
Sandy: We’re seasonally driven. We limit ourselves to 300 miles so we have to get creative with what’s available. Like I mentioned before, we are inspired by some of the contemporary chefs in the city and also try to push the envelope.
Macnair: We like to make things epic, so that’s always driving us as well.
“Farm to Sandwich” is basically your motto. Why are you committed to local food and sustainability?
Macnair: The quality is better, you support small farmers, and you just feel better about where the food came from. People lost the connection to where their food came from for awhile. The locavore movement is certainly gaining momentum, but I still wouldn’t take it for granted.
When you’re not at Black Tree, what other restaurants and bars do you hit up around the city?
Sandy: To drink, we like to mix it up but always prefer a place that can make a nice Manhattan.
Macnair: And you can never go wrong with a good dive bar.
Orchard and Rivington Streets
The neighborhood has transformed quickly over the last few years. What do you think we’re going to see more of here and what do you predict for the LES?
Macnair: One of the first lessons I learned about New York City is that it is always changing. Nothing is sacred here. The Lower East Side will continue on the trajectory of being a destination neighborhood, but what we call “The Lower East Side” will become larger and start taking over parts of Chinatown. The heart of the neighborhood will shift here and there, but it’s hard to tell where it will be next. The tough part is trying to predict it.
With that said, is there anything you’d like to see more of in the neighborhood?
Sandy: Quality food that’s affordable. I think that’s why we’ve been doing alright so far and have been able to stay open. We help fill that void.
After reading this interview about Black Tree’s out-of-this-world sandwiches and drinks, we’re pretty sure you’re ready to try them out yourself. We’ve teamed up with Mac and Sandy to give one lucky reader two free drinks – choose from their seasonal cocktails or locally made beers and wines. Everything served in their shop is within a 300-mile radius.
To enter all you need to do is tweet this message: “Hey @6sqft I want drinks for two to @blacktreenyc! http://bit.ly/WUjjNR” or you can click the button below and a window will pop up for you to tweet your entry. Tweet @6sqft
We’re accepting entries until 6pm, Tuesday the 16th. We’ll announce the winner on Twitter the following day.
All images courtesy of Black Tree