NGI Graduate Nancy McArthur recently told us about creating a café in Verona, New Jersey, from the ground up. Hobcaw Café is a collaboration between Nancy and her former Chef’s Training classmates Clare Green Wilson, Anri Wheeler Brenninkmeyer, Deniz Dinler, and Sheila Brady.
The new enterprise, according to Nancy, “focuses on our whole foods orientation as well as our preference for natural, ethically sourced ingredients.” Nancy is clear that ethics also extend to the café’s working environment: “I feel strongly that we need to create jobs, and that conditions in the food industry are abysmal in terms of pay and benefits. We will put in place a group health insurance plan and take every other measure to make ourselves an ‘employer of choice’ in our field. This will be an organization of colleagues treating each other respectfully.”
Hobcaw will provide café dining (24 seats), counter service, event catering, and home meal delivery or pick-up. The café will feature, along with its dining menu, locally roasted coffees, an espresso bar, and fresh juices.
When New Jersey’s growing season begins, Hobcaw Café will source its fruits and vegetables from local farms with whom Nancy has already worked. “We try to source only from the East Coast and use organic when we can,” Nancy says. The café’s specialties also include house-made stocks, cage-free eggs, and hormone and antibiotic-free meat and poultry. Endangered animal foods, such as tuna or sea bass, are not used. Processed foods are likewise forbidden. Nancy wants customers to know “we are trying to use the best quality ingredients while keeping our costs within a reasonable range.”
Nancy is equally proud of the gluten-free dessert offerings that include a “killer” brownie, house-made marshmallows (in pomegranate, Lillet, chocolate, almond, and vanilla bean flavors), French macaroons, as well as whole grain pastry crusts and breads.
For the past year, Nancy, Clare, Anri and Sheila worked out of a church kitchen for catered events. When the church leased the space to a nursery school, the team needed a commercial kitchen. They found 1,000 square feet, by word-of-mouth, between a convenience store and a Mexican restaurant.
For future food business aspirants, Nancy and the team will be documenting and publishing all aspects of starting and building the business, including municipal approval, build-out, and marketing. The team hired Ferrara and Company, a national advertising agency in Princeton, to create a brand, and an interior designer to create an atmosphere consistent with that brand. Nancy’s sons are running Sales and Finance so that Nancy and the chefs can focus on the quality of their product.
The café is slated to open this spring, but Nancy cites the usual “time delays, associated stress, and the usual doubts and concerns about business direction” as ongoing challenges. Still, Nancy is optimistic: “I have to say that Rosemary Serviss has been the key to our new business development so far. Thanks to the school, we have had wonderful catering opportunities, and we have been proud to show how great NGI and our training are.”