With so many choices in the area, there are a few things that all locals appreciate: a good, well-stocked bar; affordable, deliciously prepared comfort food; and a relaxed decor that feels like a favorite place. Hill Cafe, on Clinton Hill’s Putnam Triangle, has all of these and more, wrapped up in a welcoming package that is a cozy bar and bistro with eclectic furnishings, serving French-American cuisine for brunch and dinner. We spoke to Samuel Beket, co-owner and chef, who brought his first iteration of the restaurant, Kush Cafe, to this area over a decade ago.
FAB: Where do you call home?
Samuel Beket: I am originally from the the capital city of Abidjan, of the Ivory Coast, in West Africa. I moved to New York in 1992, and Brooklyn became my home.
FAB: Are you doing now what you always wanted to do as a child?
Samuel: I lived some of my youth in Abidjan and some in Orleans, a suburb of Paris, where I studied culinary arts, and then worked as an apprentice in different restaurants throughout France. So, yes, I’ve wanted to cook for a long time! I am from the classic French cuisine school, inspired by guys like (James Beard Award-winning chef) Joel Robuchon, (internationally known chef and TV personality) Jacques Pepin, and Bernard Deyson, my personal mentor.
FAB: What are some of your passions outside of your business, and how do they influence you?
Samuel: Working in the restaurant industry is not an easy task, so after long hours, days and months, I need to get away. By visiting other countries, I learn different cultures, manners of living, eating and hospitality; this can influence the way I want to cook and my business decision-making.
FAB: Why did you choose Clinton Hill as the location to open your restaurant, and how is the area different from those first days?
Samuel: I just thought Clinton Hill / Bed Stuy was a place for me to try out a new cuisine I’d never done before. So in 2004, I found an old, abandoned Chinese restaurant. There was nothing else around. With a partner, I opened Kush Cafe, serving Pan African cuisine. The area has grown a lot, I’ve seen some changes, some very good. Putnam Triangle is a great place for people to gather. There are lots of families, and it is good for the neighborhood and good for business.
FAB: How has your business changed?
Samuel: In 2011, I did a lot of renovations, including expanding the back garden area, changed the name to Hill Cafe, and launched a new menu, French American. I believe a business should always revamp, reinvent itself. In late 2016, I’m looking forward to a cuisine relaunch. Development, gentrification or migration can sometimes change the course of any business; only hope (and good customers) keep us going!
FAB: What do you want people to know about you and your business?
Samuel: We’ve worked hard to become a neighborhood favorite, that place you go to all the time for brunch and dinner, and bring your friends and family when they’re in town. But we are also friendly and accommodating to those trying us for the first time, too! In addition, we welcome small groups to enjoy our space and hospitality, for their birthdays, baby showers, book signings, club meetings or other events. Whether at our bar, on our back porch, or in the garden, we just want our guests to enjoy good company, good food and feel like they’re home.
17 Putnam Ave. (Grand)
Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, NY 11238