Tall and slim with curly dark hair, Jon Cross has a craggy look that most actors would kill for. Add a gravelly voice and you’re tempted to wonder why Mr. Cross has spent his life in the restaurant business rather than on the stage. And then he tells you. As a matter of fact, he is in the acting business. When not tending bar at the Alchemist & Barrister (A&B), Mr. Cross might well be learning lines for a voiceover commercial, a film, or a stage play. Just don’t ask him for specifics, like most actors he’s a tad wary of jinxing his next part. Here in his own words, is what he is willing to say.
“I was born in Los Angeles and grew up there until the mid-60s when my parents moved to the Princeton area. My father, Aaron Cross, was a developer and he was drawn to New Jersey because of the housing boom. He bought land and developed Rossmoor and Clearbrook at a time when communities for the over-50 age group were a new idea. My mother, Marian, ran the Lamplighter Christian Bookstore that is now next to Hoagie Haven. After I graduated from Princeton High School I went straight into the restaurant business. In fact, I’ve been working in the business since I was 14 and it has taken me all over, to St. Croix in the Caribbean, to Florida, California, and to South Carolina. I co-owned a bar/restaurant in Atlantic City for a time, called 12 South.
I settled back in Princeton in order to raise my son, Jon, who’s now 28. His mother, Patty, and I met at Good Time Charlie’s, where she worked for a while. It was a landmark in Kingston back in the day. We lived close to the Princeton Shopping Center where I had a small cafe, known simply as The Cafe. It’s now Camillo’s. When people around town or here at the Alchemist & Barrister recognize me but aren’t sure from where, it’s most likely from my days at The Cafe, which did a lot of business. I met a lot of people there.
My son now lives in Los Angeles and is an actor and sommelier. He combines both on his television show Through the Grapevine, which goes out on the Bite Size Network. He introduces wines for young people looking for good wine at a good price. He loves what he does and is very good at it.
That goes for me too. I love Princeton and especially working here at the A&B. Since I settled back in Princeton about five years ago — my Mom lives in Hopewell and it’s nice to be near her — I’ve been working on and off for chef/co-owner Arthur Kukoda. Artie and I go way back to when he was chef at Scanticon in Forrestal Village, and I’ve been coming to the A&B since before he opened 40 years ago. It’s a place that attracts a real cross section of the community, locals and people who’ve been at Princeton University and come back to visit. It’s a real bar. We get students as well as professionals and construction workers. And even though Artie’s constantly making changes to the restaurant menu and extending the space — a renovation of the dining room is in the works — there are some things that have stayed the same and people like that continuity. Besides Artie makes great food. When I’m here, I eat lunch and my favorite is Artie’s hamburger. It’s a custom blend of meats that I’m not sure I should divulge but it’s made with ground chuck, short rib, and hanger steak that is raised in the mid-West and is grain-fed. Artie tells me that if you want flavor, it has to be grain-fed.
Because of The Cafe and working at the A&B three days a week, I know a lot of people in Princeton. That’s how I got into acting. One day a fellow from McCarter Theatre came by for lunch at The Cafe and told me I had a great voice. He said I should do voiceovers. So I took him up on it. I did some commercial work. Then, one day, I met two filmmakers, brothers, who needed some voice work done. I was recommended and it worked out. One thing led to another and they offered me an on-screen role in their small independent film. Since then I’ve done a few films. In Benny the Bum, I played a bookie. I always seem to get seedy characters, but I enjoy playing bad guys. Having been in the restaurant business I’ve met a lot of characters with stories to tell and I can draw on that history. I hate to talk too much about upcoming projects in case I jinx the work, but I will say that I’m now working on a part in a play. I think of my late-blooming acting work as a hobby that has become a part-time career. It’s fun and I love it. Even as a kid, I admired actors and filmmakers, so it’s a great to get calls from casting agents. When they’re looking for ‘a world-weary older gentleman,’ they come to me. All the wrinkles I acquired in the restaurant business are finally paying off!”