March 27, 2013

Terra Momo Group Chosen To Run Restaurant and Cafe In Dinky Station Buildings

Terra Momo Group, the Princeton-based operator of five local dining establishments, will run the restaurant and cafe to be located in the buildings currently occupied by the Dinky train station. According to information from Princeton University, which plans to move the station to make room for its $300 million Arts and Transit project, a pizzeria-style cafe is planned for the north terminal building, and a farm-to-table-style restaurant will be installed in the south building, which was formerly used for baggage-handling.

“We are just at the point of signing a letter of intent with them,” said Kristin Appelget, director of Community and Regional Affairs for the University. “It’s an exciting time and a great opportunity. This will be of interest to people who work in adjacent University buildings, and it will be a great complement to McCarter Theatre.”

The Momo Group’s previous association with McCarter Theatre, which is located across University Place from the station buildings, was a factor in the decision. “They have operated the cafe that is open during performances, so they know the staff there and that’s a benefit,” Ms. Appelget said. “We think this should support McCarter.”

Terra Momo, run by brothers Raoul and Carlo Momo, operates Mediterra and Teresa Caffe on Palmer Square, Terra Momo Bread Company on Witherspoon Street, the cafe at Princeton Public Library, and Eno Terra in Kingston. In an article in Tuesday’s issue of The Daily Princetonian, Carlo Momo said, “Even though there’s some sense of comfort knowing we’re involved, we’re also going to surprise people. We hope the cafe and restaurant will add, with the arts neighborhood being scheduled for that part of town, a whole other dimension and attraction to Princeton itself. Princeton is becoming more and more of a destination and we’d like to make it a dining mecca, too.”

The cafe will have 54 seats including a bar, and will serve, breakfast, lunch, and dinner as well as wine and beer. The restaurant will accommodate 116 diners inside and 60 outside. Architect Rick Joy has designed the exteriors. “The renovations will be done by the University, but the interior fit-out that makes the buildings into a cafe and a restaurant will be done by the Momos,” Ms. Appelget said.

The search began last summer with an open house, during which area restauranteurs were invited to examine the facility and learn about the project. “After some preliminary review, we had four potential operators we thought very highly of,” said Bob Durkee, University secretary and vice president. “That process eventually led to the Momos. We had always hoped we would end up with someone who was already local, so we’re very pleased.”

Adds Ms. Appelget, “Ultimately, Terra Momo and Carlo were selected because of how they had put time into thinking about the cafe and restaurant, and how it fit into their overall business plan. And their success in Princeton was something that was very much of interest to the committee.”

Serving on the selection committee were several University representatives and independent food service consultant Tracy Lawler, who is based in Princeton.

The cafe is targeted for a summer of 2015 opening, while the restaurant is planned for an opening a year later. “We hope that much of the work on the site will be done well prior to that, though we can’t be precise,” said Mr. Durkee. “The issue for them is going to be how long it will take once we’ve done the renovations, and then how complicated it will be to open when construction on the arts building is still going on next door.”

The Arts and Transit project includes three new campus arts buildings, renovation of the train station buildings, construction of a new station 460 feet south of the present location, and a new Wawa building. Construction of a new commuter parking lot, a temporary train platform, and a roundabout at Alexander Street and University Place is scheduled to begin this spring. The complex is scheduled for completion by the summer of 2017.