For the launch of Brunch Concierge, we had the opportunity to connect with Sean Feeney, to learn about his approach to hospitality and his passion for launching Fini Pizza – a to-go slice shop. Brunch Concierge is a community-led newsletter that will offer reservations, recommendations and personal stories from some of the most coveted experiences in New York.

Staying relevant in the restaurant industry is a constant battleground for survival. However, Sean Feeney, co-founder of Lilia, Misi and Fini Pizza found his secret ingredient to success: building a community that feels like family. 

The start of his story is not a typical one. It starts with a risky choice of cooking a spaghetti bolognese for his neighbor and world renowned chef, Missy Robbins. In our conversation Sean said “A couple of years after we became friends, in the one year when she took off (from) being a chef, I realized she was someone even more than a friend, a family member, and I wanted to help her in any way possible to start her own restaurant.” Finally the timing seemed right; he was ready to make use of his 14 years spent “professionally dining” and she was ready to go from chef to owner. That pasta was the beginning of their lifelong friendship and the journey of turning their passion for food into an actual business. 

After viewing 38 potential spaces, number 39 nestled on Union Avenue in Brooklyn, felt right and gave birth to their first restaurant, Lilia. It very quickly became the talk of the town and getting a reservation was simply impossible. In 2019, they spent an entire year asking some hard-hitting questions; “how do we take this special experience (at Lilia) and convert it into something people could take and recreate the environment at home”? As their waitlists continued to get out of hand, in 2020, Missy and Sean started weekly instagram drops of fresh pasta and sauce in the form of a prepackaged, dummy-proof kit. The goal was to offer their customers the opportunity to recreate the dining experience in the comfort of their own space. Sean and Missy’s approach towards their business was not that of a traditional “restaurant”, they wanted to cultivate community in a neighborhood, and were willing to bend some of the traditional practices of a restaurant to make the customer happy.

As their community grew, Sean continued to find ways to give back, leading us to where we are seated right now – in his office nestled behind Fini Pizza. Something Sean loved the most about a slice shop was that it was intentional to their neighborhoods, that when you walked in it made you remember a happier time, and when you consumed the pizza it took you back to the nostalgia of your childhood. For Sean himself, it took him back to his local pizzeria after a baseball game where his memories of community went far beyond just the pizza. “It's not about something that is actually delicious, but it was about what else we can actually do.” With that vision in mind, he built many programs that incentivized those in the neighborhoods to do good, including offering educators, first line firefighters, and social workers a free slice. People kept coming back because they felt good, a ripple effect that made them continue to do good. 


Sean, now on the other side of the table, continues to build restaurants beyond the fundamentals of dining and into the hearts of people who want to keep coming back week after week. 


To close the interview, I asked Sean to tell me the story behind the unique design of his office space — he said "this space behind Fini is very versatile. It is not just an office, but a test kitchen, and a place to gather for friends and family". As people came into the space, they wanted to fill each empty shelf with gifts that mattered, and so the office now has become a collection of different gifts from friends. Now, every item holds a story, every momento a memory.

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