Aunt Chubby’s Luncheonette and Bakery Offers History, Top-Notch Food, and Friendship
HOMESTYLE: “The customers are so happy that we have re-opened. They are coming all the time, even during the pandemic. They say they feel it’s like coming home because so many people know each other.” Lyn Farrugia, owner of Aunt Chubby’s Luncheonette and Bakery in Hopewell, is enjoying one of the restaurant’s popular salads.
By Jean Stratton
It’s all about family at Aunt Chubby’s in Hopewell. Family history, family tradition, families coming together — whether they are genetically related or through friendship and reaching out to others, who then become “family.”
“Our staff and customers are like family,” says Aunt Chubby’s owner, Lyn Farrugia. “We all take care of each other like family. We have had a great deal of help from so many people starting the business. Many of the Hopewell residents and longtime Aunt Chubby customers supported us, and continue to support us.”
Aunt Chubby’s Luncheonette and Bakery, at 1 Railroad Place in Hopewell, is a true treasure. Its history is both unique and engaging.
The building itself dates to 1903, when it was a general store and gathering place for the community, a tradition that continues today.
Evolving over the years, it continued to serve the community, eventually becoming a luncheonette.
Caroline Montello, aka “Aunt Chubby,” became a fixture at the restaurant in the 1970s, when she and partner Rose Sponholtz operated the restaurant. Initially known as Rose and Chubby’s, it later became Chubby’s Luncheonette.
Diners came from all over the area for the “down-home” cooking and friendly camaraderie. Chubby’s legendary generosity and “open-door” policy brought her many fans.
When she became ill in 2015, it was Chubby’s wish to spend her final moments in the restaurant, and that is what family and friends arranged for her. She was indeed able to breathe her last in the place she loved and that meant so much to her.
Having been “surrogate” mother to Lyn and Joanne Farrugia and Michelle Farrugia (now Hamilton), she bequeathed the restaurant to them in her will.
“We thought it was important to carry on Chubby’s tradition and serve the community as she had,” explains Lyn Farrugia, who also has a career in homeopathic medicine. “We all had grown up with the restaurant, and have fond memories of it and what it meant to the community.”
Restoring the restaurant, which had essentially been closed for some years, was a major undertaking, she says. “We completely renovated the building, under the guidance of Kevin Wilkes of Princeton Design Guild, and Pat Boyle of Hopewell Design Firm did the kitchen design.
“So many people helped us in the beginning. My daughter came from Arizona to design and set up the pastry department, and Michelle’s children were a part of it.
“We had the help of so many Hopewell businesses and residents. Ruth Morpeth of the Morpeth Gallery supported us from the start, and resident Anne Wright Wilson has been involved since she first began coming years ago when Chubby was running it.”
“I used to come for breakfast every Saturday after taking a walk,” recalls Wilson. “This was before my first baby was born, and she is now 36! Then, I brought my two children with me, and I still come for breakfast today.”
Starting the day with breakfast at Aunt Chubby’s is indeed a tradition for many. In fact, numerous diners come at least once a week, and some even more often. Breakfast has always been an important part of the luncheonette, and, over time, the menu has evolved, points out Lyn Farrugia. It is more contemporary in a number of ways, and features many locally grown products. Chubby herself had supported local farm and sources, and this has increased under Farrugia’s guidance.
In addition, there are now vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free dishes.
“We have our own special recipes, fresh ingredients, local sources, and we try to have eye-appealing presentations,” points out Farrugia.
One of the most popular breakfast choices is the Roasted Veggie Bowl, including roasted seasonal vegetables and arugula, topped with two eggs, says Farrugia. The Egg Sandwich, with cheddar cheese and choice of bacon, pork roll, or house sausage, is another favorite, as is the French-Style Omelet, with gruyere or cheddar, herbs, and an addition of mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, arugula, caramelized onions, or bacon, sausage, or pork roll.
Jersey Benedict features poached eggs, pork roll, hollandaise, and English muffin, and the buttermilk or buckwheat pancakes are a sure-fire success, served with butter, and pure maple syrup. These are not “ordinary” pancakes, says a breakfast fan. “They are large, fluffy, and fantastic.”
Thin and Crisp
Breakfast dishes are served throughout the day, and for many, they segue right into lunch. Other lunch choices include the Classic BLT on sourdough bread; Grilled Cheese, with cheddar and Swiss, on sourdough; Chubby’s Special Burger, with grass-fed beef, also a veggie burger; and the restaurant’s own popular chili.
Salads include special house green salads with mixed lettuces, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, apples, pepitas, and white balsamic vinaigrette; and Greek salad featuring tomatoes, cucumber, red onions, olives, feta cheese, and herb vinaigrette. Sandwiches are served with salad or Chubby’s super French fries, thin and crisp.
A wide range of drinks includes the very popular house lemonade, iced or hot tea (many varieties), sodas, and assorted coffees, from regular to expresso to cappuccino, and more.
The pastry case is filled with mouthwatering home-baked choices, such as Polenta Cake, Chocolate Glazed Macaroons, Ginger Cookies, and Lemon Blueberry Yogurt Cake. An assortment of croissants is an added pleasure.
Prices cover a range, with breakfast starting at $8 for two eggs, lunch at $9 and up for salads, and $11 and up for sandwiches.
Of course, COVID-19 has been a factor in Aunt Chubby’s business operation. Re-opening the eatery in June, after being closed for on-site dining since March, Farrugia is encouraged about what she and the staff and volunteers have been able to achieve, while facing extraordinary challenges.
“We are a luncheonette but with the added component of helping people in need,” she explains. “Before the pandemic, it was always my goal to make sure that people have food, especially if they were in financial difficulty.”
That focus has not only continued, but increased, with so many people facing hardships during this time, and the restaurant has established specific food-related programs to help individuals.
“Since the middle of March, the Chubby’s Project has delivered 1,500 meals to local folks who need it most,” explains Farrugia. “These meals are nutritious and made with love! We also deliver weekly grocery bags, with pantry staples and fresh produce. Volunteers deliver the food, assist with household tasks and errands, and provide human connection in this time of distance.”
“Part of our mission is to educate people about how food builds community and to help people who are food-insecure,” adds Liz Maziarz, Aunt Chubby’s development director. “Before the pandemic, we were giving money to the Hopewell Council of Churches who would advise us about who could use a gift certificate to Chubby’s.
“The pastors know the people who need help, and at first, we were using the profits from the restaurant to help, but with the pandemic, there really haven’t been profits, so we have been raising money.
Generous and Willing
“We have had help from Calvary Baptist Church, which received a grant from the Princeton Area Community Foundation specifically for the Chubby Project,” she continues. “We see that many folks need help — younger people who have lost jobs, seniors who aren’t leaving their house. And, we also see many people who are very generous and very willing to help others. The volunteers have been bringing bags of food, including a bouquet of flowers three times a week.
“The volunteers help in so many ways. When they deliver meals to people, it means so much to them, especially the ones who are living alone. It’s a chance to connect and talk to someone.
“Also, since March, we have offered groceries, and this has been a big success. We have fresh produce, local meats, milk, coffee, flour, yeast (it’s hard to get now), toilet paper, etc. We deliver in Hopewell and the area.
“In addition, anyone who knows someone who is in need can give us their name, and we will do our best to help them. People can also sponsor someone who needs help.”
Willingness to help is evident from all ages, points out Lyn Farrugia, and one is never too young. “A gentleman recently stopped in and told us his 9-year-old grandson was collecting money for Aunt Chubby’s Project to help people.
“We have also recently added an outdoor free pantry, which Pat Boyle built for us. Volunteers fill it with donated canned soup, cereal, diapers, paper products, and other items. People can come and take what they need.”
A visit to Aunt Chubby’s is a pleasure on so many levels, including savoring the friendly down-to-earth atmosphere. Before the pandemic — and after, hopefully — the lunch counter inside had its own fan club. Hanging above it is a painting depicting a man enjoying a cup of coffee at the very same counter — and Farrugia reports that he is still a regular.
The building itself is intriguing, including the original, now restored, 1913 telephone booth. It is said to be one of the first telephones in Hopewell.
Farrugia looks forward to continuing to serve the community, and is pleased to be able to provide a setting where everyone feels welcome. “I love seeing people come in and enjoy eating with us and being together. We have accomplished something together. I could not have done this without the staff, including our manager Olivia Boyle, and the volunteers. We are a true team.
”We want to continue to be a positive force in the community and bring people together. It meant so much when an area man, now retired, started coming in again after his wife had died, and he said to us: ‘You have given me my life back.’ “Of course, we look forward to things getting back to normal again, when people can come and eat inside, but in the meantime, our main challenge is to keep the prices as reasonable as we can, and still pay the bills. We always want to be the place where families can afford to eat.
“We want to be a community center, the place where everyone can feel welcome, whatever their circumstances. I was so happy the other day when there was so much community spirit at Chubby’s, with neighbors helping neighbors. Kids getting community service hours weeding for us, friends and families enjoying meals together, and 33 lunches sent out! Everyone outside enjoying the lovely weather.
“It’s a beautiful place and project, and I am so glad that it exists for everyone.”
For so many, in a difficult time, Aunt Chubby’s is showing the way life should be lived.
Aunt Chubby’s is currently open Thursday through Sunday 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. for breakfast and lunch, and in addition, it recently added a Wednesday night dinner from 5 to 8 p.m. All on-site dining is outdoors, with seating available for 40. No reservations; first come, first served.
Takeout and curbside pickup are also available, as is delivery in the area.
For more information about the restaurant and also to help volunteer or support Aunt Chubby’s Project, call (609) 466-1974. Website: www.chubbysluncheonette.com