A Breath Of Fresh Air With Joni Brosnan
As a kid growing up on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Joni Brosnan would count down the days, hours and minutes until the end of the school year and the arrival of summer vacation—a familiar feeling we can totally relate to, as kids and as adults. Every June, Joni’s family made their annual pilgrimage from New York City to Montauk, the easternmost tip of Long Island’s South Fork. Montauk to Joni was (and is) like Martha’s Vineyard to us, an escape from the ordinary and a chance to create Every day should feel this good memories all summer long. Breathing in those first sips of salty ocean air, taking in the tranquil sounds of the sleepy fisherman’s town and exhaling the hustle and bustle of the city—these feelings have stuck with Joni her whole life. It was the definition of the Good Life.
“When I was a little girl, we used to stay at the Lido Motel, right around the corner from John's Drive-In and the mini golf,” Joni recalls with a beaming smile. Her skin is sun-kissed and her hair is windswept after her morning yoga practice at Ditch Plains beach. “My brother, parents and I would rent at the Lido pretty much every other weekend. I have so many memories of being out here as a child and going to the beach. I couldn't wait to get out of the city and ride my bike. I just really wanted to be out here in the air and be one with nature.”
Back in the city, it wasn’t long before the draw of the outdoors and the desire to walk her dogs on actual grass became too strong to ignore. “I love New York City. But I wanted something brighter and more beautiful every day,” Joni tells us.
This was long before the days of share houses and the Surf Lodge, and Montauk was definitely rough around the edges (“it was the Wild West back then,” she says). Her city friends couldn’t comprehend why she wanted to leave, but with plans for a family in her near future, Joni made the decision to move out east permanently—and never looked back.
In 2000, with her roots newly planted in Montauk, Joni opened up the doors to Joni’s Kitchen, a 900-square-foot beach café located just steps from the beach and a quick walk into Montauk village. As the owner and head chef, Joni has been serving insanely delicious wraps, bowls, salads and smoothies made with fresh, local and organic ingredients since way before “gluten-free,” “paleo” and “vegan” were words that people actually used in normal conversation.
“I knew people would love a good, healthy place to eat, somewhere to grab something really fresh after working out,” she told us as we sipped smoothies on a picnic table out front while the lunch crowd formed a line out the door. “Eating vegan or organic definitely wasn’t the norm back then, but I think people were anxious for something fun and different with a New York kind of energy.”
Clearly Joni was onto something. Over the past 20 years, Joni’s has become a mainstay of the Montauk community, frequented by locals and tourists alike. Bold, bright, bustling and a little kitschy with its turquoise walls and surfboard décor, the vibe at Joni’s is pretty reflective of the vibe of Montauk itself. On any given day, you could rub elbows with a group of surfers, a family on vacation or an A-list celebrity. No matter what’s on the menu (Joni switches it up seasonally), you know you’re going to get consistently delicious food that tastes great and makes you feel even better.
The key to Joni’s success over the years? Her amazing team and of course, her awesome family—her 18-year-old twins Liam and Grace and her husband of 23 years Michael all helped out at the restaurant throughout the pandemic. (Fun fact: Liam and Grace also appeared in our Holiday 2021 catalog!)
“Every year, my team gets bigger and better and stronger. Then COVID happened, and it pushed me to do things differently and think outside of my box. I had to change the flow of how I work, and it was actually a blessing in disguise. I’m no longer begging people to come work for me. I actually have too many people now. And that’s a great problem to have.”
If the food at Joni’s isn’t reason enough to get you to Montauk for a visit, Joni has plenty of recs to make the trip out east worthwhile—what to do, what to see, and of course, what to eat. Experiencing nature is a must, and Joni sends lots of her café customers out to the trails at Shadmoor and Hither Hills (and if you bring back a bag of trash, lunch is on Joni). She also loves hopping on her bike and exploring the Montauk Point Lighthouse, where our friend Joe is the keeper (you can read about him here). But topping her list of must-sees in Montauk is (no surprise) the beach, where the surf is some of the best on the East Coast and the sunsets are absolutely breathtaking.
“The sunsets are pretty outrageous, especially in the fall. The sky turns this gorgeous yellow-orange. Out here, it feels so much more intense—you really notice the colors.”
No Montauk sunset is complete without some yummy beach eats. So if you’re picking up food to go, Joni recommends the wraps from her namesake Kitchen: the Gone Fishin’ (fresh mahi-mahi, green chillies, salsa, lettuce and non-dairy chipotle mayo) or the Love, Peace & Chicken (grilled chicken, brown rice, black beans, avocado, jack cheese, salsa and sour cream). We’ll take one of each, please.
For Joni, living and working in Montauk provides ample opportunities to stop and reflect on the Every day should feel this good life she’s created for herself and her tight-knit family.
“I've been here for over 20 years, and I'm just so happy that I picked this place to live. Rain or shine, whatever the weather is, I'm grateful to be out in Montauk, getting outside every day and doing what I love. I love being here. I feel so at home.”
Stop by and pay Joni a visit at Joni’s Kitchen, 28 S. Etna Ave in Montauk. Or just drool over her menu at jonismontauk.com.