‘Any night can be a big night,’ says Katherine Lewin, citing the personal mantra that inspired her to open a dinner-party supplies store, fittingly named Big Night, in Brooklyn last year. ‘The idea of cooking for a dinner party sometimes intimidates people. But a big night is more inclusive of any kind of night at home. It could be that one dish you've perfected and want to share with friends, or it could be takeout pizza with a great bottle of wine and some appetizers that you throw together.’
Prior to the pandemic, Katherine worked as an editorial director for restaurant website The Infatuation, seeking out and reviewing the most exciting New York City dining spots. While her job required her to eat out most nights, she came to cherish her nights off, which were spent cooking for her husband and friends at home. And, during the pandemic, what she longed for most were those moments. ‘It occurred to me: none of us will have been able to get together for a long time after this. Wouldn't it be great if I created a space that just celebrates the joy of coming together?’
To this end, Katherine has created a store dedicated purely to procuring the finest ‘dinner and party essentials’. Designed by Erica Padgett, who has previously worked for Soho House, a hotel and private members' club brand, and co‑working space The Wing, the ‘open pantry’ concept store is lined with bright, crimson-hued shelves that lure you inside with their perfectly stacked canisters of olive oil and jars of Italian tomato sauce. Meanwhile, in the center of the space, there's an ever-changing dinner-table spread of flatware, candles and conversation pieces, which makes it feel like you're stepping into someone's incredibly stylish home. As a seven-year resident of Brooklyn's Greenpoint neighborhood, Katherine said it was vital for her to open on her home turf: ‘I didn't want to try to open a store without having institutional knowledge of the community.’
Tapping into the retail experience she gained from one of her first jobs at clothing brand J Crew, Katherine sources homeware from half a dozen different international designers, including French cutlery brand Sabre Paris and Italian design studio Ichendorf Milano. ‘Sometimes I think I opened Big Night just to continue collecting the glassware and tableware that I couldn't fit in my house any more. It's New York City, so we have no storage at home. If I buy something, I have to get rid of something just to fit it in.’
The food products are equally as international: there's EXAU's olive oil, which hails from Italy's Calabria, Sichuan chilli crisp from Fly By Jing and canned, char-grilled octopus from Conservas Braseadas Güeyu Mar, a seafood brand based in the Asturias region of Spain. This intentional approach to curating and storytelling speaks to Katherine's expertise in both retail and editorial. She says she frequently uses her journalistic impulse to suss out and share compelling narratives. ‘I think the discovery aspect of writing carries over,’ Katherine says. ‘I want to find things that others haven't discovered.’
For all the precision that goes into selecting and arranging each product for the store, at home, Katherine has a more relaxed philosophy towards the hosting part of a night. For those new to entertaining at home, she suggests simply picking a few cornerstones or key markers around which to frame the entire event. This can be a single dish – Katherine suggests Korean bulgogi (thinly sliced marinated beef) as a natural centerpiece, since it's traditionally served with accompaniments like steamed rice and banchan – a catch‑all Korean term for veggie and seafood side dishes.
‘Every big night just starts with one idea – pick something you can get excited about,’ she suggests. ‘Maybe it's summer and the idea is building a spritz bar at home. So, if the bar is where you're putting your energy, maybe the next step is finding some really great potato chips and a nice tinned fish. And, if it gets to later in the night, maybe you order a pizza once everyone's had a few rounds of drinks.’
If you're worried about things going wrong, Katherine says to make a list of just the key events in the timeline. ‘Sure, if I have to take something out of the oven at this time, and take something out of the fridge at this time, I'll note it down. But, beyond those few things, it's good to remember that it's not going to be perfect and that no one expects [you] to be perfect.’ After all, a big night isn't just a one-time thing – it's a way of hospitality, and a philosophy of hosting and entertaining that's ideal in 2022. [The idea of] “any night can be a big night” is something I return to again and again. I want people to feel this is something they can achieve and that they don't need any additional skills or knowledge. You just have to want to bring people together at home.’