Restaurant Profile: Erin Carlman Weber, Owner of Brothers and Sisters - Chicago
Hey Erin! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Mom, wife, daughter and sister, terrible spatial awareness, candy corn lover.
What is your background (i.e. education, previous jobs, experiences that led you to create)?
My career can pretty much be summed up by gathering people around food and drink. Prior to opening Brothers and Sisters, I worked with the incredible chef Stephanie Izard as Private Events Director for her restaurants (Girl & the Goat, Little Goat, and Duck Duck Goat). There, I oversaw staff, sales and operations for three private dining rooms as well as offsite events catering. During my time as Sales Director for Brooklyn-based Mast Brothers Chocolate, I managed and led sales strategy, organized pop-up events and collaborations, opened Mast’s London location and oversaw staffs across wholesale and retail departments. It was at venerable Boston specialty food shop Formaggio Kitchen that my love of cheese developed. There, I served as events and education manager, worked as a cheesemonger and was part of the charcuterie production team.
Were you always interested in being in the food industry? What was your start in this realm?
Food has always been my love language. Growing up, my mom always made us sit and eat dinner together as a family (even when we didn't want to) and family gatherings always centered around food. Working in the food industry began as a means of getting from one stage in life to another, but I quickly realized that within those spaces is where people seem to have the most fun.
In your positions with Stephanie Izard, Mast Brothers, and Formaggio Kitchen, you created community around food by running events. What do you love about gathering people around food?
Coming together around food and drink is a language unto itself. Translating intentions into an experience is what I love. There’s also ease and simplicity in breaking bread together that doesn’t get replicated in any other human act. Eating and drinking are elemental acts, but they also should be pleasurable. Keeping that notion front and center is such a liberating and fun way to go about life.
When did you know it was time to shift and create your own restaurant?
In my professional life, I had incredible opportunities to do, see, learn, eat, drink, and have a good time while working for people who’d made their dream real. It was immensely inspiring and kept me thinking about what I’d do if I could build my own place, my own concept. I grew up not far from Chicago, and throughout my fifteen-ish years living out of state the city never stopped feeling like home. When I moved back, turning all my entrepreneurial dreaming into reality felt like the only thing to do. This city is welcoming, loves to have a good time, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. It was the environment I’d been waiting for.
How did Brothers and Sisters come to be?
Honestly? Through a truly absurd amount of paperwork.
But the seeds that sprouted Brothers and Sisters grew alongside years of casual gatherings and cooking with friends. No matter whether we were eating takeout, trying to get gnocchi dough to hold together, or snacking on a blanket in the park, the important thing was the company. The turning point toward this place was probably the night my then friend, now business partner Herbster almost set my Brooklyn apartment on fire. (His pizza game has improved significantly in the intervening years.) I began to see that the food and drink didn't have to be fancy as long as the setting was right. Tastiness does indeed help the experience, though, so we envisioned Brothers and Sisters as an easy, approachable place to be, with awesome things to eat and drink within arm's reach.
What went into conceptualizing the space and menu?
My partners and I joke that we just created a room we want to hang out in and filled it with all our favorite things to eat and drink. That’s actually pretty close to reality. Brothers and Sisters was always going to have a retail element, but we also decided early on that a social, communal atmosphere was crucial. This dual focus on being both a purveyor of goods and a setting for a good time informed how we thought about everything from the layout to how the kitchen’s menus interact with and play off the contents of our wine shelves, cheese case, and grocery goods. Our friend and designer Nathan Warkentin did yeoman’s work to translate our scheming to the look and feel of the place itself.
You just recently opened, congratulations! How have the first few weeks been?
Our start has been humbling, exhausting, joyful, and remarkable. For so long, Brothers and Sisters was intensely personal. It lived in my head and in conversations with my partners and in updates to my friends and family. Now we’ve put it out in the world and people are deciding how to make it part of their lives. This sense we’ve created something bigger than ourselves, something that could truly become part of the community is the most surreal and wonderful thing.
Do you have any resources that have been helpful to you in opening a restaurant?
Over the last three years I’ve called, texted, and grilled former colleagues, perfect strangers, friends of friends of friends, and anyone else whose experience and perspective I respect. People have been incredibly generous with their time and expertise. All I had to do was ask.
What makes you passionate about the work that you do?
My daughters keep me going. Luella is a year and a half, and her sister will be born in the spring. I never thought of parenthood and entrepreneurship as an either-or proposition. I always imagined setting an example for my kids by holding fast to my dreams and doing the work to get there. Now that my kids are (mostly) here and they’re girls, it’s become even more important to show them what’s possible.
What are some of the setbacks or challenges you face?
There are never enough hours in the day. It’s tough to prioritize when everything seems crucial. I’m also learning to delegate, trust, and be okay with other people’s ways of doing things. These things can be inordinately hard for a control freak like me, but I know how important they are for my sanity and for those around me.
At The Glossary, we believe in women working together and helping one another. Why do you think it is important for women to support each other? How have women supported you?
No one else is gonna fight harder for women than other women. No one else understands the nuances and challenges and glory of being female in the entrepreneurial world. But for me, it’s more than going to bat just for the ladies. I’ve tried to set Brothers and Sisters on a path that quietly but decisively ignores gender norms. It’s good for business and good for humans. Parents should be able to be parents, whether they’re moms, dads, partners, or whatever, so all our employees get paid parental leave. Where a person sits on the spectrum of gender identity should have no bearing on their experience with us, so our restrooms are labeled “everyone.” Half the bottles on our wine shelves are made by female producers. This doesn’t seem like a huge gesture to me. It seems logical, since half the people in the world are women. I hope we can help normalize this thinking. We’ve started with small actions, but I feel proud of our beginnings and I’m inspired to take them further.
What women bring you inspiration?
My mom and sisters inspire me endlessly. Between the three of them I’m never short on reminders to be goofy, adventurous, empathetic, generous, strong, and to ask questions and keep my priorities in the right place. I think often of my mother-in-law, too. She lived her life with astounding amounts of kindness, grace, and curiosity.
Is there someone who helped shape your career path?
There are many someones who helped shape my career path. It’s the product of family meals, childhood dance parties with silly aunts and uncles and cousins, hard-working and loving parents who made sure I had to the tools to figure things out on my own, an incredibly supportive and attractive husband, my best friends, and the many people I’ve been lucky enough to encounter in the professional wild over the years. All these people and experiences showed me a thing or two about my values and the kind of place I wanted to bring to life.
What are you trying to learn right now or what is something that you are wanting to learn?
I’d really like to learn how to French braid my own hair.
What are some of your favorite places in Chicago?
My house is my favorite place in Chicago. I’m such a homebody. If I can’t have everyone over, though, I’d be glad to meet at Tank Noodle, a nice grassy corner of Humboldt Park, Spacca Napoli, Fatso’s, Lula Cafe, Estereo, Cellar Door Provisions, Bad Hunter, Carnitas Urupuan, Red & White, or the swings at Smith Park.