A week before Christmas, the kitchen staff at Mt. Kisco’s Village Social come in to work a bit earlier and stay a bit later each evening to prepare holiday meals for those less fortunate.
They’re doing their part to support The Westchester Christmas Dinner, and last year they prepared all the meals for 235 local families and people living alone. But prior to 2020, they were one of over 60 restaurants who contributed to The Dinner. Yet when the pandemic began and the meals were delivered to people’s homes (instead of The Dinner’s traditional in-person festivities), Village Social took on the entire job themselves.
For the past two years, they’ve cooked the entire meal for each family, which includes preparing countless turkeys along with a variety of sides and desserts. And they do it all at cost, only charging The Dinner for the price of the food.
“The Dinner approached us and proposed that we cook the entire meal,” explains Village Social Restaurant Group co-owner Joe Bueti. “It was easier for them to have us do it all than to organize and pick up the food from a lot of different restaurants.”
“On Christmas morning, a couple of us come into the restaurant and load up the cars with all the food we’ve cooked,” adds chef and Village Social Restaurant Group co-owner Mogan Anthony. “We’re more than happy to participate.”
Anthony joined Bueti at Village Social in 2011, and although they have very different backgrounds, the two men have a lot in common. In addition to sharing the same beliefs about giving to charity, they also both stumbled into the restaurant business.
Bueti first became interested in the industry during college while he was studying landscape design. He commuted home each weekend to work at Tuscan Oven in Mt. Kisco, and it was there that he developed a passion for the industry, and wood-fired pizza in particular. Much to his father’s dismay, Bueti convinced his older brothers to open a restaurant with him, and together they began Caffe Strega in Pleasantville in the 1990s.
“He asked me, ‘what do you know about the restaurant business – this isn’t the industry you grew up in,’” Bueti remembers. “He was an immigrant from Italy, and he was so upset and so vulnerable that he couldn’t help me. All he knew how to do was landscape.”
The brothers sold the restaurant in 1999, and Bueti opened 121 in North Salem in the spring of 2000, where he stayed until 2007.
Looking for a change, Bueti joined his father and brothers in the landscape business for three years. But throughout that time, Peter Smaha, a former 121 customer kept in touch. He knew Bueti would return to the restaurant industry eventually, and he wanted to be Bueti’s partner. He called Bueti regularly asking him to check out potential restaurant spaces he’d found, but nothing ever seemed right. And then one day, it happened.
“I was driving through Mount Kisco, and I noticed that Woody’s was closing up and going out of business,” Bueti remembers. “So, I showed it to Peter and approached the owner.”
Almost two years after Village Social opened its doors, Bueti hired Anthony to serve as the executive chef. Over time, Anthony has infused Asian culture into Bueti’s classic Italian cuisine.
“I grew up in Malaysia, and I became a chef by accident,” says Anthony. “I was living in Singapore and working as a waiter at popular hotels and golf courses when they asked me if I could help them in the kitchen. Eventually, I ended up working in the kitchen half the time and waiting tables the other half. But when I moved here, I decided I wanted to become a full time chef. So I sought out jobs that would help me learn the fundamentals of cooking.”
Anthony first worked under chef Brian Lewis at Bedford Post while also waiting tables at Tengda in Katonah. After several years, he began interning at Nobu in Manhattan and then cooked at several of John George’s restaurants.
“I started at Perry St. – a French-Asian fine dining restaurant, and then I would also work at Spice Market, which is five minutes away and a sister restaurant of John George,” Anthony remembers. “I eventually moved to the Michelin Three-Stared restaurant in Trump Tower, which was a big deal as a young cook.”
Anthony, who is a self-proclaimed “country boy,” left the city in 2010 to become the chef de cuisine at Barcelona Restaurant Group before joining Village Social in 2011.
In 2013, Anthony and Bueti opened their first restaurant together, Locali in New Canaan, and since that time, they’ve also opened Locali in Mt. Kisco, Pub Street and FattRoot in Pleasantville, and Village Social in Rye, along with their Ash & Ale pizza truck. But even though they’re busy, they make an effort to give back throughout the year.
“We’ve always believed in providing food for people who need it,” says Bueti. “We catered meals at The Ronald McDonald House for years, up until the pandemic.”
But even the pandemic didn’t slow them down. In March of 2020, Anthony, along with other Westchester chefs, restaurateurs and Captain Lawrence Brewing Company launched the Million Gallon Challenge. Their goal was to cook a million gallons of soup and distribute it to the hungry, especially the hundreds of thousands of hospitality workers who had recently lost their jobs. They delivered soups weekly for two years.
Now, as the world recovers from the worst of the pandemic and charities return to hosting in-person events, Village Social has resumed their charitable contributions. Every fall, they participate in the annual Feed Me Fresh fundraiser, which benefits the Mt. Kisco Childcare Center’s scholarship program. They also contribute to Bedford 2030’s annual gala each spring. Plus, they donate gift cards and send trays of food to numerous other local organizations.
And yet, Bueti and Anthony don’t think twice about giving back – it’s simply part of who they are.
This article was published in the November/December 2022 print edition of Katonah Connect.
Gia Miller is an award-winning journalist and the editor in chief/co-publisher of Katonah Connect. She says she’s living the dream she never knew she had. Gia enjoys telling people’s stories, laughing at her crazy dog and a good podcast. She thanks multiple alarms, fermented grapes and her husband for helping her get through each day. Her love languages are food and humor.