Our Masters of Their Craft series is monthly features where we give a glimpse into the life, vision, and work of artists, entrepreneurs, craftsmen, musicians, business owners, innovators, and fellow dreamers who excel in their area of expertise. They use their gifting with passion and excellence. Their work is tried and true. By sharing these innovators with others who we know will value the labor of their hands as much as we do, we aim to make a humble attempt at giving them honor.
Be sure you don’t miss the AMAZING GIVEAWAY the Masons are generously providing at the end of the post!! It is incredible…you want to win this one, believe me.
Team member Karen is the vision and hands behind these special posts…she will take it from here.
THE MASONS : RESTAURATEURS
Taylor and Leeann Mason, a young husband and wife team, are not merely restaurateurs or entrepreneurs; they are artisans, who have established an urban, farm-driven cookery in the heart of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Every facet of their restaurant exudes precision, deep thought, and creative genius—from the name to the atmosphere to the seasonal menu to the edible plants used to add just that right touch of flavor. When stepping into their restaurant, you step into the old world of a French or Italian village where life slows and food nourishes.
On a rather bustling Lancaster city street, sets a restaurant with a little black terrace, big doors that open to usher the outdoor air inside on warm nights, and a distressed sign on the exterior that simply states “Ma(i)son.” The concocted name plays upon the French word for house (maison) and the couple’s last name (Mason), with the idea that their eatery is literally the Mason’s house. When dining at their business, their customers dine at their home, and with their keen sense of hospitality, they share their home and their food with them.
While progressive and forward thinking, the Mason’s philosophy of food is rooted in the past. They strongly adhere to the practice of acquiring fresh, local, whole foods, thus establishing a relationship with area farmers and artisans. Their small menu changes weekly, adapting to the weather, farmers, and seasons. As the chef, Taylor uses his hands to create each dish deftly simple in order to herald the ingredients. He adds his artistic touch to the intense labor the farmers have already completed.
From the restaurant’s inception in 2011, the Masons have fused work life and real life, initially living in the apartment above the restaurant. With the birth of their dear Ella, the family moved to a larger abode away from the business as they learn to navigate parenthood; however, the intimate nature of their restaurant remains the same. Each night at Ma(i)son, Taylor and Leeann continue to welcome you to their dinner table.
Where did the idea for Ma(i)son originate?
We had not been planning on opening a business as soon as we did. Ma(i)son wasn’t something that we had been working on or dreamt about. When we moved back to the East Coast after our time in California, we knew that we eventually wanted to open some sort of business centered around food and wine. The space found us and so we put together our vision for what would work best there and created a visual representation of our philosophy on food and dining.
How long did it take your idea for the business to become reality?
Two weeks after our first walk through of the property we made an offer. We began work a couple of months later, and within six months of first stepping foot in the space, we opened to the public on July 1, 2011.
How did your vision for your business change throughout the time you first began discussing it to when the restaurant started?
Our vision for Ma(i)son didn’t change much but rather became more clearly defined. We wanted a rustic-chic interior that evoked a cozy and welcoming ambiance. We wanted the service to match that and be well informed and executed, but casual. Similarly, we wanted a menu that was small and changed with the seasons, showcasing the region’s incredible bounty in a rustic way with a hint of refinement.
Tell us about your philosophy of hospitality with your restaurant.
Our philosophy in terms of hospitality at the restaurant is simple. We want our guests to feel as if they are dining in someone’s home. We want the food to be as if it came out of a home kitchen, cooked by family. We want our staff to tell the story of the hard-working local farmers and artisans whose hard work went into creating their meal. When our guests leave, we want them to feel like they just left a friend’s house; had a wonderful, hyper-seasonal menu; learned something about the food or product; and can’t wait until to come back.
What are 5 of your key beliefs about food/cuisine? (or more or less!)
1. Seasonal. Always cooking what is ‘of the moment’
2. Organic practices. Treating the land with respect.
3. Slow food. Meals should be about spending time together as a family and enjoying that hour opposed to how quickly can we cook it and eat it.
4. Italy is where Taylor’s soul is from…therefore leading him to love all Italian cuisine
5. Treating ingredients very simply. The hard work is in the farmers’ hands, once it reaches Tays—it’s his job to not mess it up!
What has shaped/influenced the manner in which your approach food and operate your restaurant?
There have been various people in our life that have taught us key points in hospitality, i.e. details, finesse, one step ahead, etc. But I do believe its like a sport—you’re either athletic or you’re not!
What are the aspects of Ma(i)son that you are most proud of?
We are most proud of the body of work we have curated during our three plus years of business. We are proud of the reputation we have created, all of the friends we have made along the way, and the uncompromising way we have done it all.
What are some dreams you have for your business?
Our dream and hope from the beginning was to be known for the caliber of our cooking and hospitality than any signature dish or fancy show. Our dreams are to continue to build upon the foundation that we have built and continue to push the culinary landscape of Lancaster.
Where/how did you learn your business skills?
During our time in Napa Valley we went through a crash course of extremely high profile hospitality.
How do you unwind?
We unwind as a family by hiking, going for a picnic, or being away (anywhere!) from the house and business.
The biggest blessings of parenthood so far…
The biggest blessing in my entire life so far is Ella. The next biggest is that she healthy. I don’t know how I could ask for anything else in this lifetime.
The biggest challenges of parenthood so far….
The biggest challenge of parenthood so far (9months in!) was definitely the sleep deprivation in the first 6 months. We didn’t think Ella would ever sleep though the night or for more then 4 hours at a time. But slowly she did, and now she sleeps a solid 12 hours. The challenge that will always be present in our life is work/family balance.
How do you balance the responsibilities of being parents and being restaurateurs, especially as you fuse “work life” and “real life”?
We know that running a restaurant is a lot of hard work and long hours and when we decided to have a family we wanted to be the one present in our child’s life. We do a lot of handoffs at around 5:00. One of us goes home and the other goes to work!
Are there any challenges of your restaurant that you did not expect to face when you first started?
Every day there is a new challenge that we ‘didn’t expect’ when we started. With any business it’s all about ‘managing’ mistakes and challenges …constantly.
What is most rewarding about your business? At the end of the day, what brings your satisfaction?
I think what brings us the most satisfaction is making sure people are having a good time and enjoying a lovely meal. When they walk into Ma(i)son we want them to forget about the vigours of life and just be present. Enjoy the atmosphere, enjoy their company whom they are with, and enjoy what they are eating. Another aspect that we love is educating people about food. How important it is to know where your food came from! The grocery stores are poison- filled aisles with junk that is not good for you and especially your growing child!
How has working together strengthened and tested your relationship?
Working together has definitely done both of those things! There are times when it’s been “too” much, but that’s life and there are peaks and valleys! Overall we work well together, and it has not strained our relationship at all. We promised ourselves when we started this if our relationship starts taking a toll–we sell and move on because our marriage is more important than a restaurant.
Taylor and Leeann are generously giving away The Tasting menu! This is valued at $100 and includes being seated at the Chef’s Table where you can watch your chefs create your beautiful dishes! It is 4-5 courses shared…tasting a true glimpse of the season!
To enter the GIVEAWAY, please comment and answer this question: What is your favorite seasonal vegetable? Giveaway ends at midnight FRIDAY, August 29th. Winner randomly chosen and announced Saturday.