ITHACA, N.Y.—A new restaurant has opened its doors in downtown Ithaca ––  the Hound and Mare cafe debuted their new storefront on Aurora Street earlier this month.

The new restaurant, located at 118 N. Aurora St. on Restaurant Row, is a cafe and bakery that is specializing in breakfast sandwiches and coffee. It is occupying the location left behind when Mediterranean restaurant Sahara closed in 2018, and will be open every day except Tuesday, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. (although the hours may change in the coming weeks).

Hound and Mare is being operated by Tam and Christine Lam, two sisters whose family has a long history in the dining landscape in Ithaca. The Lam family originally emigrated to the United States from Vietnam in the late 1970s and now own Saigon Kitchen, a popular Vietnamese restaurant on West State Street in Ithaca.

The new restaurant takes its name from the translations of the two sisters’ Chinese zodiac animals—”Hound” for Tam and “Mare” for Christine. Christine moved back from Los Angeles after four years due to the COVID-19 pandemic and family circumstances, and the opportunity to open a restaurant with her sister, who works as the Vice President of Warren Real Estate, was too exciting for her to surpass.

“I really wanted a brighter space,” Christine said. “Since I haven’t had a winter in the last four years, and there was this impending doom that was coming on to me, I thought I needed to create this space that was bright and welcoming and reminded me of LA. So all of the breakfast sandwiches are named after neighborhoods or streets in Los Angeles.”

Hound and Mare (Photo by Matt Butler)

Despite their family’s local history, Lam said that the Hound and Mare would be primarily American-style food, though there will be a few nods to the Lam family’s success with Saigon Kitchen. The steak in the steak and egg sandwich will be marinated in Saigon Kitchen-style spices, yielding a soy/lemongrass style flavor, according to Christine, who will be baking and cooking food each morning. She also helped in the construction of the interior as well.

Opening on Restaurant Row can be a blessing and a curse, something Christine said she understands. Some restaurants thrive among the competition, carving out a niche for themselves and joining the group of other prominent restaurants on the block; others are swallowed up among the sheer number of other options people can find within such a short distance of each other. Christine said she thinks Hound and Mare will be able to separate itself by finding a comfortable balance between small-city atmosphere and its homages to the Los Angeles metropolis. There is, of course, an added level of difficulty, at least for the next several months, because of the pandemic.

“I am scared, because my parents are beloved, as they should be,” Christine said. “But we’ll see if I can do it on my own. (…) I’ve always worked at my parents’ restaurant, but I’ve never done it on my own even though I wanted to. (…) I always think, ‘If not now, then when?’ And it turns out, it’s now.”

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com