Reservations not required: Co-owner of buzzy W’burg eatery Lilia builds kitchen for do-gooders feeding needy

Dinner is served: Volunteers from North Brooklyn Angels cut a ribbon on April 29 celebrating their new kitchen, built by restaurateur Josh Cohen, to help serve Brooklynites.
Photo by Jason Speakman

Everyone has a seat at this table.

The co-owner of a Williamsburg restaurant where foodies can wait weeks to snag a reservation teamed up with a do-good group to open a different kind of kitchen that cooks up hot meals for some of Brooklyn’s most vulnerable.

“They asked me to purchase the equipment and set up the food purveyors, like setting up a small restaurant and kitchen,” said restaurateur Josh Cohen, a proprietor of Lilia at 567 Union Ave. “I do most of the cooking, and we have a bunch of volunteers.”

Cohen — whose eatery’s Italian cuisine earned its chef back-to-back nominations for prestigious James Beard Awards this and last year — worked with members of the North Brooklyn Angels to build the kitchen inside N. Eighth Street’s Our Lady of Mount Carmel church.

The space is a new home base for the good Samaritans to prepare the food they dole out to those in need via their mobile food truck the “Angelmobile,” which started cruising local streets on weekdays back in 2017, according to Angels co-founder Neil Sheehan, who said the group sourced its meals from a Bedford-Stuyvesant soup kitchen before it built its own cooking space.

And the free cuisine the Angels serve is far from your run-of-the-mill bagged lunch — volunteers whip up flavorful plates such as chicken curry over rice and lentils that all come with a side of leafy greens, Cohen said.

But the community-oriented chefs also plan their menus based on customer feedback, according to the restaurateur, who also owns a stake in another North Brooklyn eatery, Greenpoint’s Anella and Chez Ma Tante on Calyer Street.

“We try different dishes each week to see what the guests are responding to,” he said.

Cohen joined Our Lady of Mount Carmel clergy and do-gooders from the Angels to debut the kitchen at an April 29 ribbon-cutting ceremony, where church leader Monsignor Jamie Gigantiello blessed the space with holy water before its volunteer cooks hit the stoves, according to Sheehan, who said the facility furthers his group’s mission to lend a hand to those in need.

“Our focus is on involving neighbors in volunteer work that helps those who are struggling in our own communities,” Sheehan said. “There needs to be a bridge between new folks moving into the community and folks who have been around a long time and are economically challenged.”

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.

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