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An Entertaining Haven

In a renovated 19th-century house, a Manhattan entrepreneur is creating an all-in-one resource for the food-obsessed.
Alison Cayne Schneider’s Entertaining Haven
Inside Alison Cayne Schneider’s entertaining haven.
Photo © Fredrika Stjärne.

Ever since a little place called Haven’s Kitchen opened quietly last winter on a Manhattan side street, curious passersby have spotted the three-story brick carriage house with its black-and-white awning and stopped in to take a look. Once inside, it takes a moment to figure out just what kind of place this is. Up front, on the ground floor, a sunny café with marble-topped wooden tables serves fragrant La Colombe coffee, freshly baked pastries and snacks like braised lamb on focaccia. Along the wall, wooden shelves stock Whimsy & Spice marshmallows, Bellocq teas in bright yellow tins and assorted small-batch items. There’s also a stainless steel teaching kitchen and a list of upcoming cooking classes (Simple Seasonal Suppers, Knife Skills, Kimchi). Upstairs is a living room with antique furniture and another professional-quality kitchen. Even with the mild weekday hustle-bustle, the house seems like a setting for the most incredible dinner parties—and, as it happens, New Yorkers in search of a place just like this have been booking the upstairs for private events.

There’s nothing else quite like Haven’s Kitchen in Manhattan, or anywhere really, and in the months since it opened, word has been spreading about this café-meets-epicurean boutique-meets-party space-meets-cooking school. Forty-year-old owner Alison Cayne Schneider, a skilled home cook and party hostess, had been dreaming up the idea for Haven’s Kitchen since long before she started graduate work in Food Studies at New York University last year. “I’ve always had a connection in my brain between food, family and nurturing people,” says Schneider. “I’d been teaching one-off cooking classes in my house, and knew I wanted to do something food-related as a career instead of just as a hobby.” Becoming a chef was out—she has five young kids—but when she came across the carriage house for rent, just steps from the Union Square Greenmarket, her ideas about a business that would combine her food and entertaining interests started to gel, and she signed a lease.

Schneider furnished the house with farmhouse tables that she had specially designed, and with chairs she found at flea markets. “I like that kind of contrast: high and low, polished and rustic, cracking white paint on the wall and a gorgeous midcentury light fixture,” she says. “I wanted people to feel like they’re in a beautiful house, and to feel very comfortable.” She bought sets of black-and-white plates from a small family-owned artisan shop in France, after talking its owners into making a wholesale order. For the shop area on the ground floor, she sourced items like a tiny-batch maple syrup she discovered in upstate New York, made at artist Peter Nadin’s Old Field Farm. Then she created a revolving roster of cooking classes and set up a supper club, where a different chef would come in and cook a family-style meal for 45 guests. So far she’s had no trouble luring the likes of Gramercy Tavern’s Michael Anthony and Prune’s Gabrielle Hamilton. On other nights, the talented in-house chef, David Mawhinney, cooks for private events held in that upstairs dining room. Meanwhile, Schneider, increasingly busy running Haven’s Kitchen and finishing her graduate degree—with rarely any time these days to entertain at home—gets to live out her latest fantasy: organizing fabulous parties and leaving just before the guests arrive. 109 W. 17th St.; havenskitchen.com.

Style & Entertaining Tips

Modular Centerpieces
Photo © Fredrika Stjärne.

Modular Centerpieces

After an event, Schneider often pulls apart the formal flower arrangements and puts longer-lasting blooms (like ranunculus) in jars or black glasses around the coffee bar.

Alison Cayne Schneider's Entertaining Haven
Photo © Fredrika Stjärne.

Chamomile Everywhere

The staff of Dutch Flower Line shop in New York City knows to keep two types of fresh chamomile on hand for Schneider. “I love it because it’s simple and happy,” she says, “but it’s also cost-effective because it lasts.” dutchflowerline.com.

Farmhouse Tables
Photo © Fredrika Stjärne.

Farmhouse Tables

Schneider envisioned communal farmhouse tables that pull apart for smaller groups, so she designed them and had them built by Los Angeles furniture-maker Ken Petersen. petersenantiques.com.

Bold Contrasts
Photo © Fredrika Stjärne.

Bold Contrasts

Schneider loves pairing formal with rustic or contemporary with traditional (like a reupholstered, midcentury yellow chair set in front of an ornate fireplace). But she’s also obsessed with black-and-white for tabletops, to get the high-contrast effect she likes. “I don’t even know what other color plates I’d use,” she says. Most of the walls at Haven’s Kitchen are decorated with black- and-white art, like the Haven’s Kitchen logo and the World War I-era “Food Don’t Waste It” poster, both of which she asked illustrator Happy Menocal to draw in her style. happymenocal.com.

Place Cards
Photo © Fredrika Stjärne.

Place Cards

Schneider uses a stamp kit from Yellow Owl Workshop to create name cards ($20 kit includes rubber stamp, ink and a pencil; yellowowlworkshop.com). To spark dinner conversation, she writes questions like “Where do you want to travel more than anywhere else?” on cards by Mr. Boddington’s Studio ($35 for 24; mrboddington.com).

Lamb Sandwiches
Photo © Fredrika Stjärne.

Lamb Redux

In-house chef David Mawhinney hates the word leftovers, but he hates waste even more. For example, he’ll serve braised leg of lamb for a dinner party, then lamb sandwiches on focaccia at the café counter the next day. After a cooking class, he uses extra potatoes from his papas bravas tapas in a frittata.

Lamb Sandwich: Layer hot, reheated slices of the roast lamb between thickly sliced focaccia and brush with a little more of the cooking juices. Top the lamb with your favorite pickles, close the sandwich and serve.

In Haven’s Shop

Alison Cayne Schneider's Granola
Photo © Fredrika Stjärne.

Granola

Schneider gives away this house-made salty-sweet granola after events. “Chef Michael Anthony loved it so much,” she says, “that he jokes he didn’t share it with his staff.” $11 for 1 lb; havenskitchen.com.

Inside Alison Cayne Schneider's Haven Shop
Photo © Fredrika Stjärne.

Matchsticks

Designer Jen Pearson hand-etches apothecary jars to create a striking surface for the matchsticks inside. $23; jenpearsondesigns.com.

Candles

Izola candles are poured into recycled glass and come in not-too-strong botanical scents, like clary sage. $36; izola.com.

Planting Kit

The design studio Plant Brooklyn creates pretty, eco-minded gifts like a kit with seeds for 10 herbs. $20; plantbrooklyn.com.

Video Video: Entertaining and Party Tips

Published January 2013
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