October 17, 2012

FABULOUS FLORALS: “The flowers are very personalized and customized. This is what I enjoy most — to fit all the pieces together, so that everything suits the personality of the celebration and the site.” Antonietta Branham, owner of The Cottage Garden, provides flowers for a variety of events. She is shown near a display of orange Free Spirit roses, blue hydrangeas, and green Bells of Ireland.

“This is my passion! The joy that flowers can give a client is wonderful.”

Antonietta Branham, owner of The Cottage Garden, is enthusiastic about the opportunity to provide flowers for events of all kinds and sizes. She has recently opened a shop at 6 Chambers Street, where customers will find a variety of flowers charmingly displayed.

“I always wanted to have a little spot for people to come in and see me,” says Ms. Branham, who has been furnishing flowers for events for the past 10 years.

A long-time Princeton resident — since 1955! — she has had a wide-ranging career, including in real estate. “No matter what I was doing professionally, I always had flowers and plants in my home and office. As a girl, I loved flowers and art, including bringing textiles home to sew a dress. And it was always in the back of my mind to provide flowers for events. I didn’t really want to have a florist shop. I felt I could be more creative doing event work.”

Natural Way

Starting by finding flowers for family and friends’ events, Ms. Branham became more and more involved in the process, and soon established her own business. “When Martha Stewart began to be popular, and a more natural way of arranging flowers was coming into focus, I felt it was the right time.”

Opportunities for events, such as weddings, corporate fund-raisers, campus events at Princeton University, as well as family birthday and anniversary parties, graduations, Mother’s Day, memorial services, etc., began to increase, and she found herself busy year-round.

“It kept growing, and I just love it! My mission is always about the clients. I like to meet them in their surroundings, and I listen carefully to what they want to achieve. Sometimes, they may have a theme in mind. The first thing you must do is to see that the flowers are appropriate for the site. This is a must.”

Color is major, she adds. “This is the biggest issue for me. It’s all about color! If the client loves red, then it’s red!”

Ms. Branham tries to obtain seasonal flowers when possible, she notes. “It can be very seasonal. Spring is the best time for flowers. There are more collections available then. I also like to keep it local when I can. Farmers in the area are growing a variety of flowers, including dahlias.”

Other popular flowers for Ms. Branham’s events include roses, of course — and in all colors — hydrangeas, tulips, calla lilies, lily of the valley, and forget-me-nots.

Flower Markets

She gets selections from all over the world, including Holland, South America, France, Italy, and Israel as well as parts of the United States, and even her own garden!

Ms. Branham goes to the flower markets in New York City and northern New Jersey weekly to find exactly what she wants. “I have a long-standing relationship with people at the flower markets. They know the quality of the flowers I need.”

The type of event determines the choice of flowers, and Ms. Branham enjoys the diversity. For fund-raisers, I usually concentrate on centerpieces, and often something for the entry way. Sometimes, it can include little lights, which adds interest.”

In the case of weddings, she will provide the bride’s and bridesmaids’ bouquets, and flowers for the church and reception. “Some brides like something very simple, architectural,” she notes. “Others like a more traditional look, but with a modern take. Some tend toward vibrant color.”

Ms. Branham especially enjoys the challenge of finding something different. “I enjoy clients who come to me for something that seems so unusual and so impossible to find that I can’t wait to get started!”

The fragrance of flowers often evokes memories, she continues. “I remind a bride to choose a flower with a scent she loves, so she will always remember the day when she encounters that scent.”

Unusual Situations

Three months notice is typical for a wedding, but if her schedule permits, Ms. Branham can be flexible. “There can be unusual situations. In one case, I met a bride by chance on Monday, and the wedding was the next Sunday! We did 15 centerpieces and bouquets for the bride and bridesmaids, and it turned out fine.”

Clients are from Princeton and the area, and also from northern New Jersey, Connecticut, and Manhattan. Cost is determined by the choice of flowers and how many are needed.

I first ask the client to establish a budget,” explains Ms. Branham. “Then, we’ll go on from there. Usually, I’ll get a deposit in the beginning and then payment right before the event.”

“There is no question that Ms. Branham loves what she does. The shop is filled with roses, hydrangeas, gardenias, and in the window is a display of beautiful peonies in a most gorgeous shade of pink, with white orchids intermingled.

Whether you are planning a small gathering at home, a larger happening in a hotel, “high tea” in a tent or a picnic on the patio, Ms. Branham will find just the right accompaniment of flowers.

“This is truly my mission; I will find exactly what the client wants, and then see that the flowers arrive on time for the event, are the right color, and in perfect condition.”

She also provides flowers for home decor for private residences, and reminds people that many times, less is more. “Flowers are a luxury, after all. I recommend to people that a few lovely flowers are better than a bushel of typical, ordinary ones.

“I am so pleased and encouraged about my new location,” she says, with a smile. “I have great hope for it, and I look forward to being here a long time. I love to meet people who share the same passion for flowers, and I love to share information with them.”

The Cottage Garden is open Tuesday through Saturday, and by appointment Sunday and Monday. Call for specific hours. (609) 924-3446.

FALL FASHION: “I want women to find fashion that they love at prices they can afford,” says Linda Martin, owner of Flutter Boutique in Pennington. Ms. Martin is shown with a fashion-forward black dress featuring a sheer fitted Swiss bodice and sleeve from the fall Darling line, exclusive to Flutter.

“You want to look as good on the outside as you feel on the inside,” says Linda Martin, owner of Flutter Boutique in Pennington. Opened last March at 20 South Main Street, the boutique has become a favorite of customers from all over the area.

“We don’t target any particular age group,” points out Ms. Martin, who has had a long career in the fashion industry, “Our customers can be mothers and daughters who have come in together, have fun shopping, and each one leaves with something. It is everyone, 16 to 60-plus and everyone in between. It’s really about attitude. It’s your attitude toward fashion that matters, not your age.”

Formerly head of human resources for all the Macy’s Department stores and also for The Children’s Place, Ms. Martin had always dreamed of having her own store. “I knew I wanted to do this and have a boutique. This is where my heart was leading me.”

Even as a toddler, Ms. Martin knew what she wanted to wear. “I kept changing my clothes all day,” she recalls, with a smile. “And when I was six, my godmother gave me an Easter outfit, and nothing went together. I didn’t want to wear it! Clothes always mattered to me. I had a subscription to Vogue when I was 13.”

Right Place

When the Pennington space became available, Ms. Martin knew it was the right place to be.

“People started coming in right away, and there has been great word-of-mouth. I’ve really been surprised at how quickly people have embraced the store. We have lots of regulars, and many customers have become friends. It’s so nice when I see a customer and know their name. I think people really wanted a store like this.”

You don’t have to be a “fashionista” to enjoy yourself at Flutter. Ms. Martin and the friendly, knowledgeable staff are there to be fashion advisers for customers who are looking for advice. Others may know exactly what they want, and find it right away.

“We take what is ‘in fashion’ and interpret it for you, the individual client, and focus on your style,” explains Ms. Martin. “Style is not defined by your size, your age, or your budget. Style is personal and unique to you. I want women to find fashion they love at prices they can afford. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to look great.”

It is also important to Ms. Martin that the selection at Flutter is unique, with items not found in other shops in the area. “My goal is to carry a great selection of quality sportswear, dresses, and accessories that you won’t find anywhere else. Every week, we have new things coming in, so there is a fresh look in the shop. And many items are exclusive to us in the area. When they go to a party, clients can be confident that others will not be wearing the same dress.”

In fact, dresses of all kinds — from informal to party glam to Mother-of-the-Bride and Mother-of-the-Groom styles — are all on display.

Wearable Fashion

“Our customers like dresses,” notes Ms. Martin. “We’re really a destination place for dresses. What makes dresses so appealing is a no-brainer. With women so busy, it’s a relief to get up in the morning, and just put on a dress. You don’t have to worry about what top will go with the pants or skirt. It’s a time-saver.”

Indeed, Ms. Martin does not want customers to be stressed about getting dressed at all. Helping them to look their best is a priority
at Flutter. Versatility is key, she adds. Clients want items that can be worn for more than one occasion or purpose. “We focus on wearable fashion that customers are comfortable in.

“Customers can go high/low,” she adds. “That is, you can put a great outfit together, perhaps incorporating one expensive piece and one less expensive. It’s very individualized today.”

Fall is always a highlight of the fashion scene, with new energy and excitement in the air. “Fall is all about leather,” says Ms. Martin. “Pants, skirts, tops. It’s also about leather accents, trim, shoulder detail, etc. And lace is still very important. Lace has really moved from fashion to a basic. You can wear lace with a leather skirt. Again, it’s so individualized.”

Another popular fashion piece is the peplum, she continues. “It’s very feminine, and you see it with dresses, jackets, and tops. It’s great with a narrow pencil skirt, and with embellishment.”

Sequins and beading also lend a bit of glitter to a variety of the items, including tops and dresses, at Flutter. And fashion is nothing without color! Important fall colors are burgundy, cobalt blue, and black “with a shot of color”, reports Ms. Martin. “A black dress with black suede shoes will look great with opaque panty hose in cobalt or teal. Navy and black together are a great combination. A navy dress with black leather shoulder treatment is a terrific look.”

Many Choices

Skirt lengths are up to the individual, she points out. Adapting the length to what the customer wants is the trend today. “They can be everywhere — what looks best on you. Below the knee, mid-calf, even longer, and if age appropriate, above the knee.”

In addition to dresses, an appealing selection of pants and tops is available. Tunics with tapered slim-cut pants are very popular, and there are many choices in color, style, texture, and pattern.

Accessories, such as a wonderful piece of jewelry or an intriguing scarf, complete the fashion statement. The display at Flutter offers many options.

“Statement necklaces, such as large dramatic pieces, or pendants with tassels, are popular right now, and dangle and drop earrings as well as more tailored basic jewelry are all in demand,” says Ms. Martin. “People are also stacking lots of colorful, vivid bangle bracelets together. This is a popular look.

“Our scarf selection offers a variety of textures, patterns, and colors for every season, and we also have outstanding handbags. Studding and embellishment are popular now, and we have all styles — shoulder, across the body, and clutches. Portfolio clutches are big favorites. They are thin, but larger, and you can fit more in them.”

Ms. Martin is often asked about the origin of her boutique’s name, Flutter, and the explanation is intriguing. I had heard the expression: ‘Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.’ That is exactly how I feel. I had retired from one aspect of the fashion industry, and now could do what I had always wanted.”

Beauty and Grace

It so inspired her that she wrote a poem to express her feelings.

“The wings of a butterfly are delicate but strong, its power deceiving.

It is said that the flutter of a butterfly’s wings can turn the tides of an ocean.

And while the life-span of a butterfly is brief, it savors every moment as it moves from flower to flower, enchanting us with its beauty and grace.

What we learn from the butterfly is this: Live every day creating beauty, never underestimate your power and when you can ….. Take flight!”

“I love everything about what I’m doing now,” says Ms. Martin. “I know that every day I get to go exactly where I want to go and do exactly what I want to do. I can’t wait to get here in the morning. What I absolutely love is this: I love fashion; I love selecting merchandise; and I love interacting with customers.

“I also believe in giving back to the community. We support a variety of organizations and charities, including Christine’s Hope for Kids. We sell Christine’s bracelets, and all the proceeds go to the foundation.”

Flutter offers complimentary gift wrapping in addition to very pretty gift bags. Special end of the season sales and shopping nights are other also available. “We always emphasize attention to detail,” notes Ms. Martin. “It says to customers that we care about them.”

Flutter Boutique is open Monday through Wednesday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday 10 to 9, Sunday 12 to 5. (609) 737-2236. Website: facebook.com/flutterstyle.

October 10, 2012

KIDS’ CORNER: “We make this more of a boutique, a fun, happy experience for customers. And we are really filling a need for people, especially in this difficult economy.” Michelle Towers, owner of Milk Money, is enthusiastic about the children’s consignment shop, and is also photographer of record for this photo.

Milk Money at 51 North Tulane Street is cheerful, charming, friendly, and fun. Its bright decor and color scheme are immediately appealing to children and adults alike.

The children’s consignment shop, which opened several years ago, has been owned by Michelle Towers for the past year and a half. Ms Towers, who formerly lived in Paris, focusing on photography (she also worked for photographer Pryde Brown in Princeton), has worn many hats during her career, including running a restaurant in Pennsylvania.

“I have always been very entrepreneurial” she explains, and when the opportunity to acquire Milk Money presented itself, she was eager to start a new venture.

“I’m a mom, and I had been a customer,” she adds. “The time was right. I believe if it’s meant to be, it will show itself to you. Milk Money is a great concept. It’s a franchise — there are five in New Jersey and Pennsylvania — but it’s independently-owned, and it gives you an enormous amount of freedom. You make it suit the location you’re in and the tastes of the customers. I am very independent and like to be my own boss, but the company’s there to support you if you need it”


The shop offers gently-used (and some never worn) clothing for infants and children up to 12- or 13-years-old, sizes zero to 16. The selection is especially focused on designers, often European, such as Mini Boden, Petit Bateau, Caitimini, and Hanna Andersson. Other lines include Papo d’Anjo, Gap, Polo, and Crew Cuts (the children’s line of J Crew).

Popular items today are jeans, of course, and the girls especially love skinny jeans. There is also an expanded section of boys’ clothing for all ages.

“We have a lot of European customers,” reports Ms. Towers, “and the flavor is different with European clothes. These lines are not easy to get, and you won’t find them all over by any means. The British Mini Boden line is a favorite with boys and girls, and has tops with fun graphics and designs, and also dresses.”

“We’ll sell a lot of coats in the winter, and after Halloween, people start asking for snow — pants, jackets, etc. We already have a big selection of Halloween costumes, and customers are calling for them right now.”

Shoes and boots are also very popular, particularly Uggs and Hunter rain boots. Footwear for tiny feet, including infants, is available as well.

In addition, Milk Money offers a variety of the very popular Melissa & Doug toys. “These are new, not used, and we are one of the few stores in the area to carry them,” says Ms. Towers. “Their sticker books are very popular for boys and girls, and also scratch pads, puzzles, magnets, and the arts and crafts items for beads, pretend cupcake-making, etc.”


One of the most popular sections at Milk Money contains the selection of strollers, carriers, high chairs, and bikes. “We do very well with equipment,” notes Ms. Towers. “We cannot keep strollers in the store. The selection we have is so well-made, including ‘Bugaboo’. It’s an organic wooden system-type stroller and grows with the child, having different uses. Strollers are multi-use now, and double strollers are very popular too.”

Other items include the Norwegian Stokke high chair, which also grows with the child. The comfortable Ergo carrier is organic and versatile, and is a baby carrier that can also become a backpack.

“We also have a Skuut balance bike made of wood and without pedals,” points out Ms. Towers. “It’s European-made and helps children learn to balance a small two-wheeler.”

The Milk Money arrangement with consignors is 60 percent for the store, 40 percent for consignors. In addition, there is a one-time 10 percent consignment fee for entry into the system. Items must be clean, in good condition, and reflect up-to-date styles. They are accepted on Tuesday and Thursday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Good Styles

“Clothes must be good brands, good styles, and in good shape,” says Ms. Towers. “When the consignment is completed, everything is listed, and consignors are directed to a website to track their balance. Also, on Saturdays, we have a drop-off day, when whatever people bring in is accepted for consignment or donated to charities.”

“We have two seasons,” she continues. “Fall/winter and spring/summer. We are currently accepting fall and winter items through December.”

“In mid-season, we lower some of the prices of items that haven’t sold. Also in January and July, we have a 50 percent off clearance sale. And we have a bag sale twice a year, when whatever you can fit in the bag is $20. That is very popular!”

Consignors are notified before the bag sale, if they wish to retrieve their clothes. After the sale, all unsold items are donated to charities helping children in need.

Consignors include people from all over the area and from as far away as New York, as well as European residents in Princeton, reports Ms. Towers. “They all bring in wonderful things, and customers love the selection. They are so appreciative and kind. There are so many regulars who love to come in — it’s almost a life-style for them!”

Customers enjoy the convenient arrangement of the shop, with categories for boys and girls, babies, and age-identified areas, she adds.

What’s Hot

“Every two weeks we send a newsletter to customers, which could include back-to-school specials, What’s Hot’, and a Wish List. All the consignors get this too. We also have a lot of things to see on Facebook.”

Ms. Towers couldn’t be more pleased with the direction Milk Money has taken. “With our selection of higher end designer clothes, the shop is set up more like a retail than a consignment shop. We are more of a boutique, with the brands we carry and the new toys. And our layout is not that of a typical consignment shop.

“There is a lot of work involved in having a consignment shop, but the reaction has been even more enthusiastic than I expected. I love seeing the clothes come in, and I enjoy meeting the people. Some of the customers have been pregnant, and then later, they come in with the babies. This is wonderful! This is a happy business.”

Prices cover a wide area, with dresses and pants starting at $8.

Milk Money is open Tuesday through Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday 11 to 4. Friday hours will be extended to 7 in the future. (609) 921-1665. Website: www.milkmoneylove.com.

September 19, 2012

AUTOMOTIVE EXCELLENCE: “We sell safety. This is major. At Volvo of Princeton, it’s all about safety, customer service, energy-efficiency, reliability, and recyclability” Chris Long, general manager of Volvo of Princeton, is shown by a silver XC60, Volvo’s popular cross-over vehicle.

What is it about a Volvo? This automobile has almost unmatched customer loyalty. Once people have one, they keep it as long as possible, and then, only when necessity dictates, turn it in for — of course — another Volvo.

“Customer loyalty is incredible,” says Chris Long, general manager of Volvo of Princeton (Long Motor Company) at Route One South in Lawrenceville. “We have customers who come back for another Volvo, and refer friends here. Customer service is very important to us. If customers have questions or if there is ever a problem, we take care of it right away. If people bring their cars in for service, we make sure they understand what is going to be done.

“Also, the cars today are so amazing, with such high quality and so many features. We’ll go over a new car with the customer for 35 minutes to make sure they understand it before they drive it away.”

Volvo of Princeton is very much a family business, adds Mr. Long. “My dad, David Long, with his brothers Matt and Larry opened the business at 255 Nassau Street in 1982.”

It relocated to its current spacious quarters in 1991.

Family Focus

The family focus is strong. Chris Long’s Three brothers are also in the business, and founders David and Matt continue to oversee the operation. There is lways a member of the Long family in every location

In addition to Princeton, the Long Motor Company has Volvo dealerships in Edison and Bridgewater?, and last April, they branched farther afield with the purchase of a Porsche/Mercedes-Benz dealership in Atlantic City. “This was an opportunity to diversify, and there has been a great response,” says Mr. Long. “My dad is in charge of the operation there.”

Volvo, with its unique history and passionately-devoted owners has a story all its own, he adds. Safety, durability, and longevity are stressed again and again. This has been paramount since the company began producing cars in Sweden in the 1920s.

“The guiding principle behind everything we make at Volvo is, and must remain, safety,” said Assar Gabrielson, a Volvo founder.

But how did this automotive company in Sweden (originally a ball-bearing manufacturer!) become such a big success in the car-conscious U.S.A.?

“The Swedes were very clever,” explains Mr. Long. “They had a contract to produce small delivery vehicles, and something happened to the contract, so in the early 1950s they added windows on the sides of the vehicles to resemble station wagons, and introduced them to the American audience.”

Love Affair

Thus began the American Volvo love affair, and it has only grown stronger over the years. The Longs felt Volvo would do well in Princeton, and it has been an excellent match.

“Our firm, an independent family-owned business, buys the most Volvos of any other small independent company in the world — outside of Sweden,” reports Mr. Long, who has worked full-time in the business since 1994. “Princeton people love their Volvos, and they keep coming back for more.”

Volvo cars are manufactured, assembled, and shipped out of Sweden, and the North American headquarters is in New Jersey, he adds.

Careful attention to every detail of the automobile’s production is key. “Steel is very important when the cars are made, and we use a very high grade of steel. It is also about the placement of the steel in the car. The air bags are another aspect. Many factors are involved to create the safest car,” points out Mr. Long.

“Another thing, Volvo is very environmentally-friendly. For example, Volvos are 85 percent recyclable.”

Also appealing to customers is the recent emphasis on design. Long known for its box-like shape, Volvo has added new lines with a more stylish look, a bit more flair. “We have a great range of styles,” says Mr. Long. “Our S-60 mid-size sedan is very popular, and we have a convertible, a sporty hatch-back, a wagon and various versatile SUVs.”

Exactly Right

Silver continues to be the best-selling color, he adds.

Mr. Long is enthusiastic about the upcoming years, with Volvo poised to make a breakthrough in a number of areas. “In the next 12 to 18 months, Volvo will be revamping; coming out with smaller engines, higher performance, and two or three hybrids will be available. The company has been very careful about hybrids because they want to get it exactly right. Also, three of our current cars get 30 miles per gallon.

“I am really looking forward to the next five years,” he says. “It will be out of sight — changes with engines, environmental awareness. It is so exciting!”

Mr. Long, who grew up in the business, and learned it all — “sales, service, parts” — has always loved cars, and is fascinated by the changes in the industry. “The whole business changed with the internet. It’s so much easier to obtain information, and customers are much more knowledgeable. And with all the technology today, our technicians have on-going training and education at computer school. Some cars now start with the press of a button — not a key. It’s amazing!”

“Tiger” Car

Customer satisfaction is a priority at Volvo of Princeton, and Mr. Long enjoys the interaction with all the clients. “We do all we can to make it a satisfying experience for them. We have a courtesy shuttle, our black and orange striped ‘Tiger’ car, to take people home or to the mall. We also have a complimentary loaner car, if their vehicle has to stay a longer time for service.

“And there are a lot of summer sales events now, with great leasing opportunities and payment plans available. For new Volvos, we offer free maintenance for five years or 50,000 miles.”

Volvo of Princeton has won many awards for sales and service over the years, and giving back to the community has always been an important part of the Long family’s philosophy.

“My dad received the Salute to Dealer Award from Ford Motor Company, when they owned Volvo,” notes Mr. Long. “This is based on commitment to service to the community, and he was one of nine recipients out of 62 nominations from 30 states.”

The company has donated a Volvo to the American Red Cross of central New Jersey’s annual raffle for more than 10 years, and Mr. Long is on the board. Volvo of Princeton regularly contributes to numerous charities and organizations in the area.

“The focus is about giving back,” says Mr. Long. “This has always been important to us. We want to make a difference to people.”

Volvo of Princeton is open Monday through Thursday 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday until 6, Saturday until 5. (609) 882-6000. Website: www.volvocountry.com

CREATIVE HARMONY: “We’re getting known for being the landscape “theme” experts. We do the landscape in keeping with the architecture and design of the client’s house.” Tom Rinehart, owner and founder of Princeton Lawn and Landscapes, emphasizes the importance of an overall landscaping theme in harmony with the house and environment.

Your home is your haven, and ideally, this should be reflected outdoors as well as indoors. A landscape design in keeping with the architecture of your home and the environment can go a long way both toward enhancing your personal pleasure as well as the property’s future value.

“We believe that the grounds of a home should be in balance with the design of a home,” says Tom Rinehart, founder and owner of Princeton Lawn and Landscapes. “We offer an unsurpassed visual aesthetic in landscape design and superior service at a fair price.”

Whether the house is a stately Tudor, a charming cottage, or traditional colonial, Princeton Lawn and Landscapes can provide the appropriate landscape design.

“For example,” explains Mr. Rinehart, “if your home resembles a cottage in Provence, then your landscape design should incorporate elements such as rustic limestone, decorative planters, groomed boxwoods, and of course, loads of lavender. Unfortunately, a lot of landscapers recommend a contemporary American look regardless of the architecture of your house.”

Design and Color

Mr. Rinehart has a special interest in design and color. Formerly a vice president at Macy’s, he has had a successful career in the fashion industry, including establishing his own children’s wear company. After moving to Princeton 12 years ago, he became a strategic consultant to a number of companies in New York and Philadelphia, as well as focusing on executive searches for many other firms.

In time, he found he wanted to make a change. “My passion was always to get outdoors again,” he explains. “I am originally from Ohio, and I was the first male in the family in 200 years not born on a farm! But we loved to be outdoors, and our whole family gardened together on Saturdays.”

Also, the idea of his own business always appealed to Mr. Rinehart — from his earliest days. “From the time I was 12 or 13, I cut lawns and saved all my money for college. I loved the dignity of work, and was proud to have my own bank account.”

So, after careful research into the landscaping industry, he acquired an existing business, Blue Sky Landscapes in Manalapan.

Dave Guy, former president of Blue Sky, became Mr. Rinehart’s partner in Princeton Lawn and Landscapes last February.

“Dave has a pragmatic sense of design, and expertise in native species, creating hardscapes, lawn renovation, and superior customer service,” notes Mr. Rinehart. “We feel there was a niche for two things in landscaping: one, excellence can be affordable. You can establish a profitable business and not overcharge. And two, the importance of aesthetic sense and style. We are targeting Princeton, Pennington, Hopewell, Kingston, Montgomery, and Belle Mead. We are very focused.”

“Outdoor Living”

Providing planting design, installation, and maintenance, and “outdoor living”, including hardscapes, such as patios, walkways, courtyards, outdoor kitchens, and fireplaces, is a year-round job, says Mr. Rinehart.

“We had our first job in early March. It was a patio and big landscaping installation. We have had great word-of-mouth and referrals, and we are very busy. First, the challenge was getting jobs; now, it’s scheduling all the jobs. We are very encouraged.”

Customers generally focus on two issues, he adds: low maintenance and deer-resistant plants. In the latter case, Mr. Rinehart recommends a variety of deer-resistant plants, such as American holly, viburnum, barberry, juniper, spirea, lilac, dogwood, and butterfly bush.

“We also have organic deer-resistant products to apply that are our own recipes,” he adds. “We like to use plants that are native to the climate and environment, which generally require less maintenance. We also have very big potted containers that only need watering once a week. In addition, after we do a plant installation, we leave behind written instructions. If we are seeding and sodding a lawn, we come and water it for two to three weeks every day. We guarantee the lawn.”

If clients are simply not into maintenance themselves, Princeton Lawn and Landscapes will provide weeding, trimming, lawn cutting, and watering, as needed.

Mr. Rinehart and the staff will advise customers on appropriate plantings for sun and shade, and also the best materials for a hardscape. For example, he points out, “If you want a natural look that blends in well with the local environment, we highly recommend field stone or blue stone. If you want a more economical, easier to install option, synthetic materials are constantly improving aesthetically and look better than ever now.”

Residential Focus

Residential work is the company’s focus, and this is Mr. Rinehart’s special priority. “My passion is residential. I feel it is more creative. I love the idea that we can create a landscape design to go with the theme of the house. And this will also enhance the property value. If owners eventually decide to sell, they will get their money back.”

Small and large projects are all part of the job — everything from a day-long clean-up to a current hardscape, including three patios. Jobs typically take one day to three weeks or more.

Water gardens are another customer favorite, reports Mr. Rinehart. “We also do bird habitats, butterfly gardens, and bird baths.”

Mr. Rinehart is very proud of the company’s special technology feature, enabling clients to see “before and after” pictures of a landscape. “We have fabulous software that can show people how the new landscape or hardscape will look. I love showing this to them on the internet, and then having them see it in person.”

He also is planning to develop an on-line business, including selling self-contained water features and birdbaths. “I am really excited about building the on-line retail business, which will allow us to offer clients exceptional products.

“We look forward to doing beautiful things, to acquiring a phenomenal reputation, and then building on that reputation.”

Princeton Lawn and Landscapes can be reached at (609) 497-3206. Website: www.princetonlawn.com email: tom@princetonlawn.com.

September 12, 2012

CLASSIC CHOICES: “The staff has been here a long time, and we all enjoy being together. We feel this is a second home! We love being here for our customers, and many of them have become friends over the years.” Ellen Sabino, right, owner of Ashton-Whyte in Pennington, is shown with staff members, from left: Darby Van Heyst and Anna Moreno-Paz.

Ashton-Whyte in Pennington is certainly one of the most attractive stores around. Its quality items and charming displays invite customers both to browse and buy.

Known especially for a classic selection of fine furnishings for the home, including bed and bath items, furniture, and choices for babies and toddlers, the store recently added a line of tabletop products, including dinnerware, flatware, and stemware. In addition, a selection of clothing and jewelry is now available.

Opened in 1995 at 250 South Main Street, Ashton-Whyte (the name derives from 18th century London shop signs) has always attracted customers who appreciated its signature classic style and quality, notes owner Ellen Sabino. “We have always had a market that focused on a classic style. There was a real interest in the products we sell. I had always had an interest in decorative arts, including furniture and accessories. And, bed and bath was the original focus, and it is still our core.”

There is no question that customers, who come from all over the Princeton and Pennington area, enjoy Ashton-Whyte’s classic mode, which is reflected in the items throughout the store. “We’ve had a good fit with the lines we carry,” points out Ms. Sabino “All the lines are rooted in the classic style. They endure. Important lines in bedding include Down Right pillows and duvets; elegant bedding and great alternative down from Sferra; casual bedding from Pine Cone Hill; and great classic bedding from Matouk, and prints from Lulu DK.”

Table Linens

Bath items include towels from Matouk and Abyss, and wonderful plush bath rugs with super colors and designs from Habidecor.

Ashton-Whyte is noteworthy for its lovely table linens, including tablecloths and napkins from Le Jacquard Francais, and Calaisio’s rattan placemats, chargers, and baskets.

Ms. Sabino is enthusiastic about two new categories recently added to the Ashton-Whyte collection. “We have brought in tabletop items, such as dinnerware, flatware, and stemware. Juliska and Gien dinnerware, glassware from Reed & Barton and Sabre, and Iittala stemware are included.

“The newest thing is clothing and jewelry,” she continues. “We wanted to offer an environment for personal accessories, but we chose carefully because we are not a clothing store. We have some dresses and tops, also sweats, robes, pajamas, and handbags. Some of our items include tunics from Gretchen Scott; Before & Again’s colorful tunics, T-shirt dresses and T-shirts; jewelry and scarves from the Julie Collection; and Louen Hide handbags.

New Categories

“I have been so pleased at how the new categories have been received,” she continues. “When customers come in, they see things they don’t expect to see. That’s fun for them, and it creates interest. People say it’s fun to shop here. There is always something interesting.”

Many new customers, in addition to the loyal regulars, are discovering Ashton-Whyte, adds Ms. Sabino. “A woman came in recently and said, ‘I’ve never been in here before, and I love it!’”

They seem to like everything and appreciate the “One Stop Shop” aspect of the store. They will find an array of often irresistible items for the home. Colorful Melamine dishes from France, vintage furniture, including beds and dressers, lamps, indoor/outdoor area rugs, pewter picture frames, wooden trays and salad bowls, and framed artwork are all on display, as are cotton sheets, soap and candles, colorful cotton tunics, long cashmere cardigans in beautiful shades, and buttery soft fleece, to crisp cotton robes.

The jewelry selection features pieces from delicate to dramatic. Striking gold chains and beaded bracelets in aqua, black, and natural are among the choices. The latter are priced at an affordable $14.

Beautiful Blankets

Babies and toddlers are not forgotten at the store either, notes Ms. Sabino, “We have layettes and beautiful blankets, and keepsakes items, including music boxes.”

There are also little ceramic dishes featuring two miniature boxes for “First Lock” and “First Tooth”, piggy banks, bibs, and an array of adorable apparel for tiny tots.

“We also now have a Wish List for special occasions, including weddings, and we are working with an event planner,” reports Ms. Sabino. “We always listen to our clientele, and customer service and personal attention are very important, but it’s low key. We don’t hover. We want customers to enjoy the store and the shopping experience.”

Ashton-Whyte offers a wide range of prices, seasonal sales, complimentary gift wrapping, and gift certificates. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (609) 737-7171. Website: www.ashtonwhyte.com.

GREAT TASTES: “I wanted to make food for people so they can eat well; my meals are diet and palate-specific. I feel I am helping to bring the family back to the dinner table!” Personal chef Dan Vogt, owner of food by dan, is enthusiastic about his new business venture.

What’s for dinner? It’s been a long day; you get home late, you’re tired; there’s not a lot of time to prepare dinner, give the kids their bath and read to them, let alone relax after your own demanding work day.

Options are available, of course. TV dinners, fast food take-out, eating at a restaurant. None of these work out for tonight, however. What you really need is food by dan!

Dan Vogt is a personal chef, who loves to cook nutritious meals for people. Headquartered in Hamilton, food by dan offers weekly, bi-weekly, and monthly meals, including five entrees (four servings each) with a vegetable side.

“I will do it all for you,” says Dan. “I do the shopping, the cooking, the cleaning, and I stock the fridge. You have more time to enjoy!”

After School

From the time he was a young boy, Dan loved to cook. “I always had a passion for cooking,” he recalls, with a smile. “I started to love it when my nose could reach the countertop. My mom was my inspiration. I learned so much from her. She is the foundation of this project and of what I do.”

And he learned fast. “When I was 10, I made dinner for the family. At 15, I started cooking professionally at a nursing home for priests, where I was responsible for preparing meals for 80 people. I did this after school and in the summer.”

Dan especially loved to make “golumpki” (stuffed cabbage) and homemade pasta.

After college, he worked in restaurants and hotels, as a chef and also as concierge in the hospitality industry in northern New Jersey. When he later moved to Hamilton, he decided to go into business for himself. Looking for a way to demonstrate his unique creativity and love for cooking, he researched personal chef opportunities.

A personal chef, he explains, “serves several clients, and provides multiple meals that are custom-designed for the clients’ particular requests and requirements. These meals are packaged and stored so that clients may enjoy them at their leisure in the future.”

Dan began with a few clients, and very quickly, the business grew to encompass people in Mercer, Monmouth, and Ocean Counties, providing him with a thriving operation.

Perfect Match

“I started with a Thanksgiving dinner for a friend of my sister,” he explains. “It was so successful that I put an ad in FaceBook, and before I knew it, I did 10 more Thanksgiving dinners! One of the clients said, ‘I wish I could have you every week.’”

Why not? This fit in perfectly with his love of cooking and desire to offer healthy food to clients. A perfect match, indeed.

Helping his customers to enjoy nutritious meals, while relieving them of the shopping, preparation, cooking, and clean-up is Dan’s focus. Everything is completely customized to the client’s taste and needs, he points out. “I have an initial interview with people about their likes and dislikes, possible allergies or special dietary considerations. Do they need gluten-free? Are they lactose-intolerant? Vegetarians? Trying to lose weight?”

The entree can include meat, fish, or pasta, with a vegetable side. Dan enjoys preparing many of his own recipes for people. “I love to take classic American food and put a new twist on it. For example, meat loaf, with a balsamic glaze. I love to cook with vinegar. It adds great flavor and a whole new dimension.”

Summer Choices

Dan’s menu changes seasonally, he adds. Currently, summer choices include summer roasted chicken with pistachio sauce; Tuscan-style salmon; schnitzel (pork cutlet); tomato and watermelon salad; filet mignon with mustard whiskey sauce, and pasta dishes. Gazpacho is a popular summer soup, and chili is always a winter favorite.

Dan emphasizes that all the dishes are tailored to the individual. Roast chicken is a big favorite with many customers, as is Spanish chicken and rice.

He points out that fresh, quality ingredients are a must, and “I try to get produce and other items locally whenever possible. It is important that people know where their food comes from. I am also a member of the Slow Food Association and the American Personal and Private Chef Association.”

Dan shops for groceries the morning of the day he cooks (which can be in his commercial kitchen or at the clients’ home, if they wish).

Heating Instructions

After the meals are cooked, he then packages (vacuum-seals), labels, and delivers them to the customers freezer, with heating instructions.

Desserts can also be provided for an additional cost. “I love to make pies,” he notes.

Catering for parties and events is another service, as are cooking demonstrations and lessons.

“On Tax Day, I did a corporate event — a ‘Thank You’ for the company’s clients, with omelet stations for 25. I have also done picnics, barbecues, and romantic dinners.”

Dan couldn’t be happier that he has so many regular customers who are eager to sample even more of his cooking. “For me, this is being able to follow my passion. It’s edible art. It’s so creative — I’m creating something from my own hands that people can enjoy. Food is much more than what we eat. It is our culture, our company, our comfort, and our inspiration.”

food by dan is also a wonderful gift for a new mom, newlyweds, anniversary, birthday, housewarming, or a get well remembrance.

(609) 649-8238; email: dan@foodbydan.com; website: www.foodbydan.com.

“Classic books that I read as a child still inspire me to this day to write new books.”
—Denis Markell (Hush Little Monster)

“I like stories that are compelling, that tell you something about the world and life. And in this case, my first book is a true story, based on a dog rescued in the Baltic Sea. It is a story about courage, compassion, and empathy. I love to write and illustrate.” —Monica Carnesi (Little Dog Lost)

“A source of inspiration for me is something based on deadlines that Duke Ellington said that inspired him. There is something about a deadline that forces you to focus and create. Things happen in a certain order on a deadline. You are forced to create.” —Stephen Savage (Where’s Walrus?)

“I write historical fiction. I’m inspired to show history in a unique way to children and help them to remember the period. The first book I wrote was about my great grandmother, who was accused of witchcraft.”
—Kathleen Benner Dubble (The Sacrifice)

Eileen: “Writing for children. Reading is one of the best things you can do for a child.”
Marc: “My cat has a lot to do with giving me ideas.”
—Eileen and Marc Rosenthal (I Must Have Bobo!)

“I like to follow the characters to where they go, I start to write and suddenly a story comes out that you want to share with the whole world.”
—Lauri Jacobs (Silly Frilly Grandma Tillie)

September 5, 2012

McCaffrey’s is a favorite of Princeton shoppers. In fact, when you stop in at this popular market in the Princeton Shopping Center, you are almost certain to run into someone you know.

On the other hand, it attracts many out-of-towners.

“If I had McCaffrey’s where I live, I’d never cook!” said a visitor from Michigan. She was captivated by the variety and quality of McCaffrey’s prepared foods. Just heat and eat — a boon for those getting home late after a long day.

But there is much, much more. Take note of the quality produce (including a large organic section); gourmet cheese; the outstanding meat, poultry, and fish departments, featuring special cuts and made-to-order platters; the bakery with its custom cakes and crusty bread, (“best donuts in town,” says a customer); the deli, the floral department, gift baskets, the center aisles with the crackers, cookies, cereal, condiments, and staples of every kind; and the busy catering department.

Now celebrating its 20th anniversary, McCaffrey’s has grown and evolved since it opened in August 1992. At that time, manager Steve Carney was working in the store’s highly regarded meat department.

Great Match

“I was here two days before we opened, and it was phenomenal,” he reports. “People liked it right away, and it was a great match with Princeton.”

Princeton was the second McCaffrey’s store to open under the guidance of president and owner Jim McCaffrey. The first is in Yardley, Pa., a third is in West Windsor, and a fourth opened in Newtown, Pa. in July.

“Jim McCaffrey is a great owner,” says Mr. Carney. “He is very hands-on, and he is very respectful of the staff and the customers. He always has an open door policy. He is also very community-minded, and supports many charities and organizations.

“And, very important, we now have 160 employees at the Princeton store, and 80 percent of them are full-time with benefits. People can build careers here with opportunities for advancement. We’re giving them a living wage, and when customers shop here, they are not only purchasing the value of the product, they are helping the staff.”

Each store has its own personality (“Of course, Princeton is the best!”), he notes, with different items more popular with different customers and locations.

“One of the important things at Princeton, too, is that our staff have all built relationships with clientele. Many times, they know their names. Also, many of our customers are ‘European-style’ customers. They come in every day for fresh produce, meat, and bread.”

Colorful Display

“The food at McCaffrey’s represents quality,” says a longtime Princeton shopper. “They always stand behind everything they sell, and you can count on it.”

And, adds another: “I especially like the wonderful selection in the flower department and the helpful staff there. I also like the colorful display of the produce. It is pleasing to the eye, and makes shopping a pleasant experience.”

Produce is a very important department at McCaffrey’s, representing 19 percent of sales. The store focuses on local and regionally grown produce, including more than 100 fresh organic produce items.

“Organic has become very popular,” says Mr. Carney. “Our customers want this. We have dedicated and aware consumers, who want to eat healthier. This is an educated community, with educated consumers.”

In addition, customers can find unusual items such as fiddle head ferns, ramps (baby wild leeks), French wild asparagus, pluots (hybrid plum and apricot), Charantais melons, as well as the best-tasting heirloom tomatoes.

McCaffrey’s emphasis on offering the healthiest products is evident in the meat and fish departments too. “We have meat from Simply Grazin’, where the cattle are grass-fed. And we now have certified Angus all-natural beef, raised without biotics or growth hormones, on a 100 percent vegetarian diet.

Trust Factor

“Also,” he continues, “Our staff will do special cuts of meat if customers request them, and they will help customers make a selection out of the case. We don’t pre-cut meat as other stores do. Everything is cut and packaged here, and we grind our own meat on the premises. I believe we have the best meat in any store. The meat staff has a real relationship with customers. The trust factor is very high.

“We also have chicken and pot pies from Griggstown  Farm, and we work on bringing in sustainable fish. We are very conscious of the over-fishing problem and what is happening in the oceans.”

The deli is another popular spot at the store, with the cold cuts and McCaffrey’s homemade salads (without preservatives) always in demand. “We offer Boars Head, and this is a big item. Many customers want it.”

A variety of platters is also available from the deli.

“Our prepared food section has grown tremendously over the years, and the salad bar and hot bar are extremely popular, especially Monday through Friday. Interestingly, that drops by two-thirds on weekends, when more people are cooking at home.”

McCaffrey’s also has a very busy catering department, which prepares full dinners for events, especially during the holidays, when orders come in full-force, says Mr. Carney. “We do them for everything — Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’, Easter, Passover, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur. People can place an order on-line or in the store.”

The bakery department is also in demand. “Our specialty cakes are enormously popular,” he says. “We have our own decorators. I’ve said to the bakery, ‘cake to me is the centerpiece of a gathering. If that is wrong, it spoils the party.’ People always say ‘who did the cake?’ It’s so important for it to be right. During May and June, with all the graduations, celebrations, and other events, we had our biggest cake sales ever.”

Java Jim

Because Jim McCaffrey and his staff want everything to be “right”, they have been remodeling the Princeton store during the past two years. It is expected to be completed this month.

“One of the things I really like about McCaffrey’s is its manageable size,” says a Princeton customer. “It’s not too big — just the right size to get around and see everything easily.”

“We are remodeling to enhance the shopping experience and make it more comfortable, convenient, and inviting,” explains Mr. Carney. “We are rearranging sections and departments to make them more accessible. We have a new coffee bar, too, with McCaffreys own coffee — Java Jim!”

“In addition, we are replacing all the light bulbs with energy-efficient, environmentally-friendly lighting. We’ve updated the refrigerator with high-efficiency evaporators and fans. We are always trying to be aware of protecting the environment.”

Changes and challenges are a part of any business, and the food industry is no exception, points out Mr. Carney. McCaffrey’s is not only faced with competition from the traditional food stores and supermarkets but also from such companies as Target, WalMart, and Sam’s Club.

“Some of these stores, including Wegman’s, have private label products now, offered at lower prices. We are a national brand store. We try to do our best for our customers. We have always been very conscious of our price structure, especially since the problems began in the economy in 2008.

“We are also involved in environmental programs to eliminate waste, and we donate many products to food banks. We are a big supporter of Crisis Ministry and other organizations helping people in need. Jim McCaffrey has always supported many charities in the area and beyond.”

Capable Staff

Last year, two major storms disrupted power in the area, leaving McCaffrey’s without electricity for three days during one storm, resulting in a $150,000 loss in perishables.

“During the storm, it was rewarding to see what a capable staff we have, and the customers were so supportive. They were overwhelmingly happy to see us reopen,” says Mr. Carney. “The staff spends a lot of time together, and we’re really like a family here. When there’s a problem to be solved, we solve it!

“The most challenging episode we had was at the same time as the storms, when a person drove a car through the front door, right up to Register 6. Two people were hurt, but we were so lucky that no one was killed. It was very frightening.”

Now, McCaffrey’s looks forward to the 20th Anniversary Celebration, including the Food Fair, September 29th and 30th. “We’ll have all kinds of food, a band, door prizes, and lots of surprises. It will be a great event,” reports Mr. Carney.

“We love the Princeton Shopping Center. It’s a village community center, just right for us. And, we want our customers to know how much we appreciate their business and how important they are to us. We have an unlimited customer base, which continues to grow. And we have this great hometown store in Princeton. We’re the only real ‘super’ market in Princeton, and we have to take care of it.”

MCaffrey’s is open seven days 7 a.m. through 9 p.m. (609) 683-1600. Website: www.mccaffreys.com.

A romantic dinner for two, an elegant cocktail party for 50, a wedding for 200, a backyard picnic for 20 — whatever the number of guests or the style of event, Joss & Jules Catering and Event Design can provide everything from soup to nuts!

In addition, the firm can also coordinate all the arrangements, including table settings, servers, flowers, bar needs, and tent set-up.

“Give us your theme and vision for the event, and we will work closely with you from start to finish to ensure that your event is a stunning success,” says founder and owner Julia Flesch.

“Cooking is very creative, and it’s a real art to present it. We have a talented team of chefs, designers, and coordinators, who make the world of food design come to life. We also reach out to seasoned florists and servers to complete the package. When you are planning an event, you are building that show, and you have to take care of every detail.”

Quality and Presentation

“I also want to point out that we work within someone’s budget. We never sacrifice quality or presentation, but you’ll be amazed at how beautiful you can make an event within a small budget.”

Ms. Flesch, who opened Joss & Jules in 2006, has had an extensive history in many areas of the culinary arts. “Cooking was easy for me,” she explains. “I had a mom who cooked a lot — we were a family of 10 children! — and I watched her and was her helper. Also, as a young girl, I really liked to rearrange the design and presentation of the food.

“My mom had a commitment to cooking and for healthy food. She said if you learn to make a pot of sauce and a pot of soup, you’ll be okay. She was a professional cake decorator, and my grandfather was a chef.”

A native of Trenton, Ms. Flesch moved to Princeton 18 years ago. A single mother, she focused on what she knew best and was comfortable with — food. She was advised to contact Jack Morrison, owner of Nassau Street Seafood & Produce Company, and got a job in the catering department there.

“Princeton has been such a wonderful place for me,” says Ms. Flesch. “It has been a series of stepping stones. I ran Jack’s catering business, and was also involved with Blue Point Grill and the Witherspoon Grill for many years. I give Jack great credit for where I am today.”

Ms. Flesch has also served as a personal chef, including for Mr. and Mrs. William Scheide for four years. “This was another stepping stone for me, and it has been a wonderful experience.”

Extensive Catering

Her work for the Scheides has included extensive catering and entertainment planning, she adds. “For example, for his 70th Princeton University reunion, Mr. Scheide invited the entire Old Guard (alumni celebrating 66 years or more) to his house. They had a huge tent, and the Scheides continue to do this every year.”

When she decided to open Joss & Jules, Ms. Flesch needed a large kitchen, and in another positive series of circumstances, she found exactly what she needed,

“I had been church-hunting, and then I found the Assembly of God Nassau Christian Center on the corner of Chambers and Nassau Street. I didn’t have to look any further. The people seemed so happy there. They also had a campus outreach program, and I began cooking for the University students on Sunday evenings.

“This was another stepping stone. The church had a spacious basement kitchen, and I was able to use this as my headquarters. This has been so important. Jack Morrison, the Scheides, and my church have all empowered me.”

Joss & Jules has evolved over the years, and continues to grow, she adds. Every kind of event — weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, graduations, corporate fund-raisers, cocktail parties, and picnics; and every kind of food, including Mexican, Chinese, Indian, Italian, French, and American gourmet — are part of Ms. Flesch’s expertise. The emphasis is always on quality, healthy eating, and simplicity, she points out.

“The specialty of the business for me is the simplicity. We don’t do a lot of salty and heavy sauces. We have a real farm to table focus and feel. We want to teach people to eat healthy. Within a 20 mile radius of Princeton, you can get fresh food. The sustainable food movement is very big, and we have tapped into that. We want people to eat right. We also have a tent at the West Windsor Farmers Market.”

Artistic Design

Ms. Flesch enjoys both the cooking and the artistic design of the food. “It’s a way of expressing myself and the theme of the event. I’m always changing and tweaking the recipes, so they’re even better.

“Another thing,” she says, “we always want the best quality and choices for the client. We have a nice interaction with the other caterers, and we always utilize the catering community. If we know someone makes the best cake or pie, we’ll get it from them. For example, we always have Sweet Mama’s key lime pie for the Princeton reunions.”

Ms. Flesch recommends contacting Joss & Jules two weeks before a small event and four to six weeks for a large event. She is delighted to have many repeat clients.

“I think people see how happy we are and that we have such energy about what we do. I am so pleased about the popularity of our business. I want to share this. I wake up every day, and it just gets better and better. I love what I do, and l’m having fun.

“Cooking very healthy food is empowering. The sense of empowerment and the happiness that it brings is wonderful. We take our own talents and abilities and make it happen. Take one step at a time, work with what you have, and do that 100 percent.”

And never forget those who have helped, she emphasizes. “I love having my business in Princeton. There is such a great support system here. The resources, passion, and people here are special. They have been there for me every step of the way — stepping stone after stepping stone.”

Joss & Jules can be reached at (609) 954-2372. Website: www.jossandjules.com. facebook.com/jossandjules.

August 29, 2012

CREATIVE CATERING: “We are a 2-fold business. We can do catering alone or combined with designing the event. We can also design the event without doing the catering. Of course, we like to do both!” Julia Flesch, founder and owner of of Joss & Jules Catering and Event Design, is an experienced chef and event designer and coordinator.

A romantic dinner for two, an elegant cocktail party for 50, a wedding for 200, a backyard picnic for 20 — whatever the number of guests or the style of event, Joss & Jules Catering and Event Design can provide everything from soup to nuts!

In addition, the firm can also coordinate all the arrangements, including table settings, servers, flowers, bar needs, and tent set-up.

“Give us your theme and vision for the event, and we will work closely with you from start to finish to ensure that your event is a stunning success,” says founder and owner Julia Flesch.

“Cooking is very creative, and it’s a real art to present it. We have a talented team of chefs, designers, and coordinators, who make the world of food design come to life. We also reach out to seasoned florists and servers to complete the package. When you are planning an event, you are building that show, and you have to take care of every detail.”

Quality and Presentation

“I also want to point out that we work within someone’s budget. We never sacrifice quality or presentation, but you’ll be amazed at how beautiful you can make an event within a small budget.”

Ms. Flesch, who opened Joss & Jules in 2006, has had an extensive history in many areas of the culinary arts. “Cooking was easy for me,” she explains. “I had a mom who cooked a lot — we were a family of 10 children! — and I watched her and was her helper. Also, as a young girl, I really liked to rearrange the design and presentation of the food.

“My mom had a commitment to cooking and for healthy food. She said if you learn to make a pot of sauce and a pot of soup, you’ll be okay. She was a professional cake decorator, and my grandfather was a chef.”

A native of Trenton, Ms. Flesch moved to Princeton 18 years ago. A single mother, she focused on what she knew best and was comfortable with — food. She was advised to contact Jack Morrison, owner of Nassau Street Seafood & Produce Company, and got a job in the catering department there.

“Princeton has been such a wonderful place for me,” says Ms. Flesch. “It has been a series of stepping stones. I ran Jack’s catering business, and was also involved with Blue Point Grill and the Witherspoon Grill for many years. I give Jack great credit for where I am today.”

Ms. Flesch has also served as a personal chef, including for Mr. and Mrs. William Scheide for four years. “This was another stepping stone for me, and it has been a wonderful experience.”

Extensive Catering

Her work for the Scheides has included extensive catering and entertainment planning, she adds. “For example, for his 70th Princeton University reunion, Mr. Scheide invited the entire Old Guard (alumni celebrating 66 years or more) to his house. They had a huge tent, and the Scheides continue to do this every year.”

When she decided to open Joss & Jules, Ms. Flesch needed a large kitchen, and in another positive series of circumstances, she found exactly what she needed,

“I had been church-hunting, and then I found the Assembly of God Nassau Christian Center on the corner of Chambers and Nassau Street. I didn’t have to look any further. The people seemed so happy there. They also had a campus outreach program, and I began cooking for the University students on Sunday evenings.

“This was another stepping stone. The church had a spacious basement kitchen, and I was able to use this as my headquarters. This has been so important. Jack Morrison, the Scheides, and my church have all empowered me.”

Joss & Jules has evolved over the years, and continues to grow, she adds. Every kind of event — weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, graduations, corporate fund-raisers, cocktail parties, and picnics; and every kind of food, including Mexican, Chinese, Indian, Italian, French, and American gourmet — are part of Ms. Flesch’s expertise. The emphasis is always on quality, healthy eating, and simplicity, she points out.

“The specialty of the business for me is the simplicity. We don’t do a lot of salty and heavy sauces. We have a real farm to table focus and feel. We want to teach people to eat healthy. Within a 20 mile radius of Princeton, you can get fresh food. The sustainable food movement is very big, and we have tapped into that. We want people to eat right. We also have a tent at the West Windsor Farmers Market.”

Artistic Design

Ms. Flesch enjoys both the cooking and the artistic design of the food. “It’s a way of expressing myself and the theme of the event. I’m always changing and tweaking the recipes, so they’re even better.

“Another thing,” she says, “we always want the best quality and choices for the client. We have a nice interaction with the other caterers, and we always utilize the catering community. If we know someone makes the best cake or pie, we’ll get it from them. For example, we always have Sweet Mama’s key lime pie for the Princeton reunions.”

Ms. Flesch recommends contacting Joss & Jules two weeks before a small event and four to six weeks for a large event. She is delighted to have many repeat clients.

“I think people see how happy we are and that we have such energy about what we do. I am so pleased about the popularity of our business. I want to share this. I wake up every day, and it just gets better and better. I love what I do, and l’m having fun.

“Cooking very healthy food is empowering. The sense of empowerment and the happiness that it brings is wonderful. We take our own talents and abilities and make it happen. Take one step at a time, work with what you have, and do that 100 percent.”

And never forget those who have helped, she emphasizes. “I love having my business in Princeton. There is such a great support system here. The resources, passion, and people here are special. They have been there for me every step of the way — stepping stone after stepping stone.”

Joss & Jules can be reached at (609) 954-2372. Website: www.jossandjules.com. Facebook: www.facebook.com/jossandjules.

SWEET TREAT: “There is something very communal about ice cream. People gather together and want to share their ice cream experience. It brings back happy memories of going to get ice cream with the family and friends when you were a kid.” Clark Reed (right), owner of Jack & Charlie’s 23, the new ice cream parlor in Hopewell, is shown with manager Will Randall.

Ice cream in the summer! Ice cream any time — how sweet it is!

A brand new opportunity to enjoy everyone’s favorite sweet treat has just become available in Hopewell. Jack & Charlie’s 23, located at 23 Broad Street, is the new venture of owner Clark Reed.

“We just opened the end of June, and Hopewell did not have an ice cream shop before. I had been thinking about doing this for several years, but I had to find exactly the right ice cream,” reports Mr. Reed. “It took a year to find it. I checked all over, and selected Uncle Dave’s ice cream from Shady Brook Farm in Yardley, Pa. Uncle Dave, who has been in business for 20 years, makes the ice cream with cream from the farm, and it fits Hopewell’s special personality. We have 23 flavors at any given time out of a possible 60.”

The shop, which is named for Mr. Reed’s two young sons, Jack and Charlie, is the ninth retail store to carry Uncle Dave’s ice cream, and the first in New Jersey.

1950s Motif

“Uncle Dave has a rigorous application process,” continues Mr. Reed. “Our staff is great, and they’re all from Hopewell. Our manager Will Randall is doing a very fine job, and has everything under control.”

Mr. Reed had a particular image in mind for his ice cream parlor: friendly, unpretentious, and fun — all with a 1950s motif. “We do have a ’50s look, with black and white checkerboard floor, dining plate on the counter, and we have a friendly, down-to-earth atmosphere. We are not complicated.”

One definitely non-1950s feature, however, is the 21st century ATM machine!

Cones, cups, sundaes, sodas, banana splits, milk shakes, and root beer floats are all available for customers who can take out or savor their scrumptious specialty within. Twenty people can be accommodated on the outdoor porch benches and 10 at tables inside.

Mr. Reed is clearly pleased with the response from the public, and many repeat customers have already been sampling the delicious confections — and even more than once a day! “One customer came in with her mom for ice cream, and then came back for more later that evening. And for people with children the age of my kids, five and two and a half, this is the place to go. We have family-friendly prices.”

Billionaire Chocolate

Who can resist such flavors as billionaire chocolate (very rich!), banana chip walnut, vanilla beanie, cookies and cream, tiramisu, cappuccino, dulce de leche, butter pecan, peanut butter, peach, black raspberry, and mint chocolate chip. Toppings, such as hot fudge, caramel, strawberries, and of course, sprinkles, are big favorites.

Choices include hard ice cream, soft serve, frozen yogurt (sugar-free is an option), sorbets, frozen chocolate-covered bananas, ice cream sandwiches, and premium pops with caramel sea salt and top-of-the-line Belgian chocolate.

“By the way,” notes Mr. Reed, “the biggest season for Uncle Dave’s ice cream is fall. The number one seller is pumpkin, with pumpkins from the farm. We look forward to having that in September. Also, the peanut butter ice cream is very popular, and the peanut butter is fresh from the farm.”

In addition to the ice cream, Jack & Charlie’s offers hot dogs, soft pretzels, Fat Boy cookies, and a variety of sodas and juices.

“The Fat Boy cookies are baked here, and are very popular,” says Mr. Reed. “Also, everyone loves the hot dogs. We offer signature hot dogs from cities around the country, with their special toppings. For example, New York with sauerkraut and brown mustard; Chicago with mustard, relish, onion, pickle, and celery salt; New Orleans — BBQ sauce and onions; Dallas — chili, onion, and shredded cheese; San Francisco — chili, mustard, onion, ketchup, relish, pickle, cheddar cheese, and celery salt; and Philly, which is build your own!”

These are just a sampling of the many hot dogs from famous cities available at Jack & Charlie’s.

“Dollar Dog Night”

The shop offers lunch specials, including hot dog, beverage, and small ice cream at $5.99; $4.99 for children. A small ice cream cone or cup is $4.69 (with a very generous scoop); a hot dog is $2.

“We also have a lot of specials,” continues Mr. Reed. “Every Tuesday is ‘Dollar Dog Night’ — all plain dogs are $1. If you come in wearing a special sports shirt, you get a discount, and we offer coupons on FaceBook. We also sell Jack & Charlie’s T-shirts, and it is the only T-shirt I know that has Hopewell, N.J. on it. We also plan to have black and pink bowling shirts.

“My vision has been to start slow and gently add. The idea is to under-promise and over-deliver,” explains Mr. Reed. “I envision adding coffee and perhaps fondue in the winter, and a real first class shaved hot chocolate. We will also have live music on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

“This is a tremendous feeling of accomplishment, and I am happy to be able to offer this to our town. Hopewell has become elongated. Now, people can savor an ice cream cone as they walk along the street enjoying the streetscape and all the stores. Ice cream is a happy business!”

Manager Will Randall agrees. “I’ve always been in food service, and this is the most fun I’ve had!”

It is also important to Mr. Reed to support the community and organizations he believes in. He has created a unique way for customers to join him in this process. “Instead of tips, we ask customers to leave a donation to St. Michael’s Farm Preserve, part of the Delaware & Raritan Greenway Land Trust.”

Jack & Charlie’s is open Monday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Friday through Sunday 11 to 10.

(609) 333-9866 (YUMM). Website: www.jackandcharlies23.com. Facebook: www.facebook.com/jackcharlies23.

August 8, 2012

FRIENDLY FASHION: “I wanted dresses that would appeal to all ages. Most are my own designs, but there is also a selection from other vendors, both from the U.S. and abroad.” Aruna Arya, owner of Miss Simoni, the women’s boutique, is enthusiastic about her new venture.

“What you love to wear is fashion!”

Aruna Arya should know. As a fashion designer and owner of Miss Simoni, the new women’s boutique at 14 Nassau Street, Ms. Arya is an expert on the latest styles and trends in today’s fashion.

It is about comfort, individuality, informality, and versatility. Unlike times past, when the great fashion houses of Paris, London, and New York set strict guidelines about styles, skirt lengths, and the like, today it is up to the individual.

“Some women are looking for something totally different, unusual,” points out Ms. Arya. “Skirt lengths are everywhere — long, short, mid-length. Our long dresses have been so popular, they are currently sold out. I have always been attracted to comfortable clothing myself, and I incorporate that in my designs, free-flowing with an informal theme and lots of color.”

Fashion Design

Originally from India, Ms. Arya earned masters degrees in fashion design and fashion business administration in the United States and India. She worked for several years as a designer in San Francisco, where she developed a network of colleagues in the fashion industry.

“I worked with designer Joseph Domingo, and I learned a lot from him,” she notes.

India is known for its stunningly vivid colors and color combinations, and Ms. Arya’s styles often reflect this stimulating background. “My knowledge of Indian fashion helps me in in selecting a fine fabric, experimenting with colors, and achieving the highest quality of hand embroidery.

“Red is very popular at the shop, and also lots of combination prints,” she reports. “I carry tops, dresses, and skirts, no pants. Most items are 100 percent cotton in solids, prints, and plaids. Sizes are small to extra large.”

Accessories include a wonderful selection of scarves of varying sizes in colorful prints and patterns. Some are 100 percent silk and silk chiffon, featuring embroidery, tassels, and fringe. Others are accented with beading.

Handbags, jewelry, and hair accessories are also available, and many are one-of-a-kind. “I have colleagues who make handbags for me,” says Ms. Arya. “They are all customized, and I choose the fabric and color combinations.”

All Combinations

A variety of choices is available, including a beautiful linen fabric clutch, others in silk and with sequins. There are many lovely bags in all sizes.

The selection of jewelry includes earrings and colorful bangle bracelets. “The bangles are popular because they are so light and colorful, and in all combinations,” notes Ms. Arya. “They can match any dress. We also have sets with a necklace, bangles and earrings, all wrapped with silk thread. They are from India and very beautiful.”

Hair accessories from India have been very popular at Miss Simoni, and again, they feature vibrant color combinations, and are in many designs, including in silk.

Ms. Arya is very pleased that so many customers have found her shop, are returning, and that many have become regulars. “The dresses and scarves have been most popular so far,” she reports. “One day a lady came in and bought four scarves! Another time, a woman bought a dress in the morning; she came back later that day, was wearing it, and brought a friend with her.

“In another case, three ladies from a nearby company came in, and they were all wearing my dresses! I enjoy seeing the people who come in, and I like to notice their taste in the clothes. It enhances my design style. I like to see the customers’ personality, what they look at when they’re here. It all helps in my design work.

“Also, seeing regular customers come back makes me very happy. Seeing a familiar face is wonderful. I really have had great experiences with customers. A lady has come in several times, and admired the clothes, especially the detail work and the styles. She talked about clothes that her aunt had made for her, and the styles here reminded her of them. We really made a connection.”

Summer Sundresses

Indeed, there are many wonderful dresses at the shop — from summer sundresses to more elegant, sophisticated black vicose styles with gold accents.

There are also intriguing tunic tops and “Kurtas”, an Indian term for a fitted or unfitted top, explains Ms. Arya. They are in unique floral and natural designs, and in every color in the rainbow.

In addition, for the summer, the shop will have a selection of beach wear and cover ups. Ms. Arya is also very proud of the decor of the shop, which features a black and white motif, offering a dramatic showcase for the vibrant colors of the clothing.

“Giedre Miller was the interior designer, and she did a wonderful job in the store,” says Ms. Arya.

Prices at Miss Simoni are reasonable, with scarves from $20, hair clips at $8, and sales of selected items always available.

“We also offer a special discount for students, who have an I.D., and we’ve had a lot of students coming in, and also mothers and daughters. Our styles appeal to everyone — from teens to all ages. I also want to compliment my staff. They are great, and they really help me.”

Ms. Arya looks forward to becoming a mainstay on the Princeton scene, and eventually, she hopes to introduce a children’s line.

“The shop is named for my daughter, Simoni, which in Hindu means ‘obedience,’” she explains. “I am definitely here to stay. We are attracting a lot of customers, who are Princeton residents as well as tourists. We have a warm, friendly atmosphere here, and we look forward to welcoming even more customers.”

Miss Simoni, at 14 Nassau Street, is open seven days 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (609) 252-0888. Website: www.misssimoni.com.

August 1, 2012

POPULAR PIZZERIA: “Pizza is so popular because it tastes good, and it’s healthy. It’s bread, cheese for protein, tomato, and healthy toppings. It can be a healthy meal.” Ciro Baldino, president and an owner of Conte’s, the popular Princeton pizzeria, is shown behind the restaurant’s bar.

The current site of Conte’s Pizzeria at 339 Witherspoon Street, was once a bocci court, says Conte’s president and owner Ciro Baldino.

“The Conte family lived in the house next door, and this was a bocci court,” he explains. “They had a bar, The Golden Eagle, on Leigh Avenue. They enjoyed the bocci court with their family and friends, and they often made pizza for them. It became so popular that they began to think about making it a business.

“So, in the late ‘50s, they put this building over the bocci court, moved the bar here, and established Conte’s. The Contes were a long-time Princeton family, and Sam Conte was the owner.”

“The best pizza on the planet!” says the Conte advertisement, and a lot of people agree. The popular pizzeria has been going strong all these years and continues to draw crowds of hungry customers every day.

Best Pizza

In 1967, Ciro started working at the pizzeria when he was a boy. His uncle Louie Lucullo had become owner at that time, and Conte’s had also added sausage sandwiches to the menu.

“However, in the 1970s, the New Jersey Monthly magazine survey named Conte’s as having the best pizza in New Jersey,” recalls Mr. Baldino. “From then on, the pizza soared in popularity.”

He came on full-time in 1982, after a varied career, including teaching and working for the State of New Jersey. “I was always curious, and I wanted to learn about things,” he explains.

Of course, he had been learning about running a restaurant over the years, and when Conte’s became his full-time career, he and partners Tony Baldino (vice president) and Angela Baldino (secretary) formed a corporation Cirton, Inc. to oversee the operation.

Mr. Baldino is a firm believer in “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it”, or as he says, “You don’t add ice to cognac!” Conte’s had established such a strong reputation in Princeton — and beyond — for its quality pizza, friendly service, and warm atmosphere that the plan was to ensure its continued success.

“The menu has changed very little,” Mr. Baldino notes. “You don’t want to change a good thing. What we got from the Conte family, we never changed. We have the best recipes, and the key is how you cook it and the ingredients. Our ingredients are the best in the world! We also make our own sausage. The sausage sandwich is popular, and our most popular pizzas are plain, or sausage, or pepperoni.”


In addition to sausage, other sandwiches include meatball, steak, ham, and salami. Selected choices of pasta are available, including penne and spaghetti, plain or with sausage or meatballs.

Conte’s is, of course,   known for its delicious thin-crust pizza; toppings include everything from anchovies to mushrooms, peppers, olives — and much more.

Many people enjoy ordering a salad with the pizza, adds a long-time customer,  who also points out the friendly atmosphere. “We like it that there is always a celebratory, happy atmosphere at Conte’s. It’s always a fun place to go. I like the friendly waitresses, and I like the family atmosphere, especially in the early evening when people bring everyone but the dog! You’ll see little kids, big kids, moms and dads, and grandmas. Of course, we love the thin-crust pizza.”

Many other customers agree with this assessment, and Mr. Baldino reports that there are many regulars in attendance at any given time — lunch or dinner. “70 to 80 percent of the customers are regulars, and I know them all! We have lots of weekly customers, and some come even more often.”

Neighborhood Place

Princeton residents Terri and Michael David are counted among them. They go to Conte’s every Thursday evening without fail. “We have been doing this for decades!” says Mrs. David. “Conte’s has the best pizza, possibly in the world, and we’ve had pizza in many places. Coming on Thursday gives us a start on the weekend. We also like the feeling of a cozy neighborhood place. We know a lot of other people who come, and we are friends with the wait staff. Conte’s is just dear to my heart.”

A variety of beverages is available, and Mr. Baldino points out that many customers enjoy a glass of chianti or beer to accompany their pizza.

“We have also had lots of famous people over the years,” he adds, “including the current governor, who stops in and picks up a pizza to go.”

Conte’s is also popular with groups. Various sports and school teams come in after a game, and Princeton Democrats recently celebrated the nomination of their candidates for mayor and the new Council with pizza at Conte’s.

“I enjoy all the people who come in, and they’re from all walks of life, all backgrounds — University, business, students, families. It’s fun to interact with them all,” says Mr. Baldino.

Adds secretary and owner Angela Baldino: “We have people of all nationalities coming in — from India, China, France, all over. We want them all to have a wonderful experience — great pizza, a comfortable, friendly atmosphere, and we also want to thank our loyal customers who have supported us all these years.”

Conte’s is also available for private parties on Saturday and Sunday between noon and 3:30 p.m.

Regular hours are Monday 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesday through Friday 11:30 to 11, Saturday and Sunday 4 to 9. (609) 921-8041. Website: www.contespizzaandbar.com.

MADE -TO-ORDER: “Customers love this! It’s so easy to personalize things, and so quick. It’s right here, right now!” Hannah Teiser of Landau’s is enthusiastic about the store’s “Wonder Machine”: the AnaJet Direct-to- Garment Digital Printer.

Imagine this scenario. A store opens in Jersey City in 1914, moves to Brooklyn, then relocates to Princeton in 1955, is still going strong, and is still all in the family!

This is, in fact, the story of Landau’s, the popular clothing store at 102 Nassau Street. Now owned by Robert and Henry Landau, grandsons of founder Henry Landau, it has long been the place to go for wool, and it continues to offer an extensive selection of sweaters, throws, scarves, and other wool items for men, women, and children. In addition, it always adapts to the season, and there are many items for spring and summer. Currently, a large assortment of hats of all types — versatile, reversible, collapsible, crushable, crocheted, big brims, small brims, visors, straw, raffia, cotton, mixed fibers, simple to elegant — are big sellers for all ages.

What is especially intriguing about Landau’s is that you will always find something new, and often something unexpected. As Robert Landau has pointed out. “We are always finding the next best thing.”

So, in 2010, they introduced the AnaJet Direct to Garment Digital Printer. It will instantly print any design on a fabric item that has a flat surface and is at least 50 percent cotton. Tee and sweatshirts, aprons, wine and tote bags are all possibilities for this technology.

43,000 Impressions

This “Wonder Machine” has been a big hit, reports Henry Landau. “We have made 43,000 impressions since we began in mid-May two years ago. We went from doing 10,000 impressions in the first nine months to 33,000 in the last 15 months. We can do anything with a flat surface, both color and black and white, and any size.

“I had been to a trade show and saw this laser jet digital printer with water-based ink and a closed system,” he continues. “It works on a variety of items, has no set-up charges, is made in the U.S., and the technical support is second to none. Customers bring in their photo or design on a zip drive as a jpeg — we can also get the image off their website — and then we’ll print it out for them in minutes. We can instantly create exactly what you’re looking for. It’s so quick!”

They have expanded the initial series of T-shirts, polos, and sweatshirts to items such as hoodies, sweat pants, aprons, towels, wine and tote bags, even chair backs.

Customers are all ages, and include companies, organizations, and institutions as well as individuals. Popular images are animals, rock groups, sports, school teams, and business logos, but the machine has also replicated a book cover, the Titanic, The Pink Panther, and Red Hots candies! One image was a beer coaster.

700 Shirts

Numbers of items printed range from one to 700, and everything in between. We recently printed 700 shirts for Princeton Hospital’s employee giving campaign prior to their move, also 500 for the Math Olympiad at Princeton University Nassoons’ 70th Anniversary, and hundreds for numerous Princeton University events. And, we also did 60 shirts for a company a while back, and now they want 300 more because they have changed their logo.”

Birthdays, graduations, anniversaries, family reunions, bar/bat mitzvahs, and other events are all perfect opportunities for custom printed shirts, he adds.

“We did a shirt for a family party, and it was the dad’s 70th birthday. They wanted a shirt with his picture on the front, and then on the back, we did one shirt with ‘Happy’, one with ‘Birth’, one with ‘Day’, another with ‘To’, and then ‘You’. The family all wore them to surprise the dad.”

Mr. Landau is pleased with the wide selection of shirts — all sizes, colors, and styles — that he is able to offer customers. “What I love about this from a supply standpoint is that there is a national T-shirt and apparel supply company, with warehouses. One is in Robbinsville. So we can order from the Robbinsville warehouse and pick up what we need in two hours. Or they can send it the next day. If they have to get it from another warehouse, they ship it in two days. We’re never out of stock. This cuts the inventory I need to have on the shelves because we can get what we need so quickly from the warehouse.”

Landau’s not only offers all the shirts customers want, but in one case, they have provided a unique design as well. As Mr. Landau notes, “My brother Robert came up with a T-shirt design, and people have gone haywire over it. It says: ‘What part of E=MC2 don’t you understand?’ The T-shirts with this design have been flying out of here.”

It is certainly in keeping with the unique Albert Einstein mini-museum located in the store.

Many Reasons

Customers have been intrigued with the new machine for many reasons, but particularly because it is so quick and does such a great job, adds Mr. Landau. “The customer service aspect about it is wonderful. Landau’s has always been about customer service — service, service, service! We have always offered quality at a good price. The concept is: ‘what is a good value?’ And also, Robert and I are here. We listen to what the customers say. We are not absentee owners.

“We have also always had a quality staff. Many have been with us for a long time, and our staff is intelligent and knowledgeable. We all enjoy the customers and spending time with them. I think they know that we have a good time here.”

Landau’s has a wide price range, with many discounted prices. Custom design printed T-shirts are $20 for one, with lower costs for more volume: seven to 12 shirts each, $14.50; 50 shirts $9.50 each.

“I have really been thrilled with the machine and with the customer response,” says Mr. Landau. “It’s beyond what I expected. I am having fun, and so are the customers.”

Landau’s is open Monday through Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Sunday 11:30 to 4:30. (609) 924-3494. Website: www.landauprinceton.com.

July 25, 2012

WORK IN PROGRESS: “Our firm is restoring, waterproofing, and cleaning the facade of St. Paul’s Church in Princeton. It is a large project, and we are skilled craftworkers who specialize in church restoration, among many other types of projects.” Shown left to right, working high above ground, are Paul ­Pennacchi, president of A. Pennacchi & Sons Masonry Restoration Company, and stone masons Gene Davis, Edwin Arroyo, and Samuel Bowens.

High up on the scaffolding surrounding St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Church on Nassau Street, men are busy cleaning, waterproofing, and restoring the stone and mortar of the 56-year-old church.

“It’s a pleasure to work with the great community of St. Paul’s, including Pastor Monsignor Joseph Rosie, business administrator Lee Brennan, and so many others,” says Paul Pennacchi, President of A. Pennacchi & Sons Masonry Restoration Company, which is handling the project.

The bricks, stone, and mortar are crucial to a building, but never underestimate the people who see that the structure remains secure, stable, and strong.

Headquartered in Trenton, A. Pennacchi & Sons is a long-time family business. Established in 1947 by Anthony and John Pennacchi, it has a storied history. Anthony and John’s father, Gaetano, came to Trenton from Italy in the early 1930s, and started a masonry business in the Chambersburg section of the city.

Family Business

The company grew when his sons came into the business, and by the 1980s, business had branched out into the surrounding area, especially Princeton. “We have even worked as far north as Newport, R.I., and as far south as Washington, D.C.,” notes Mr. Pennacchi. “We are the oldest masonry contracting company in Mercer County.”

Mr. Pennacchi, who grew up in the business and worked there after school and on weekends, became a full-time employee in 1985, and president in 1995. It’s a family business in every way, he adds.

“My brother, Anthony, Jr., who runs the suburban Philadelphia division, is a master stone mason, who can design, build, and erect any form and pattern of stone work. My father, the ‘Patriarch’ of all operations, who is now 81, is still a very active consultant. He helps me every day overseeing the crews, and with estimates and scheduling. My nephew, Sam Risoldi III is foreman and oversees the work getting done on time.

“My wife Rose and daughter Adriana help in the office with payrolls and accounting work, and my son, Paul, Jr., at 16, already works here part-time, and after college, he will join us, and work from the ground up, as we all did.”

As a full-service masonry, restoration, and waterproofing company, A. Pennacchi & Sons works on both light commercial and residential projects. It has a full-time staff of 10 craftsmen and multiple sub-contractors, who are employed year-round. It handles industrial brick, stone, and stucco work, brick and stone pointing, masonry and concrete repairs, chimney restoration, and waterproofing both above and below grade. It also installs French drain systems, sump pumps, and does foundation restoration.

In addition to St. Paul’s, current and recent projects include work at Jasna Polana Country Club, St. Lawrence Rehabilitation Center, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Hamilton Township Municipal Building, The Trent House, Drumthwacket, the Clark House, and countless private residences.

Basic Necessity

“Business is doing very well,” reports Mr. Pennacchi. “Sales are up, and last year was one of our best years. We are not a luxury. The work we do is a basic necessity for people. We are diversified, and we do all kinds of jobs, and we treat everyone the same regardless of the size of the project. The diversity of the work is such that one day we are at St. Paul’s, then at a golf course at Jasna Polana, then work at the Institute for Advanced Study, and at the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton.

“We’ll fix steps at a house, sidewalks, chimneys, patios, etc. A job could take one day, a week, three weeks, or months — it varies. For St. Paul’s, it is three months, and we are on schedule. I estimate how many hours, how many days, how many workers, and how much material will be needed for the job. There are no hidden costs or surprises. The challenge is managing all the jobs, but I really enjoy the diversity.”

Mr. Pennacchi, who is a member of Brick Layers Local Union #5, knows how important it is to be hands-on in the business, and he appreciates the skill, workmanship, and experience of his employees.

“As a bricklayer and stone mason, you serve a four or five year apprenticeship to a skilled mason. It is such a valuable experience. Our employees are our greatest asset. They are very skilled at what they do, and have their own specialties, and they are very dedicated. When we look at a building, we already have it conquered! We have people who are stone masons, others who specialize in basement waterproofing, and others who are plasterers. Here at Pennacchi & Sons, we all work as a team.”

New Techniques

“And, we are constantly learning and researching new techniques in restoration,” he continues. “My brother and nephew have completed the Jahn Restoration program, a select form of stone sculpturing, and they are pro’s at replicating ornate stone work.

“Another thing. I don’t call my competitors ‘competitors’. They are my colleagues and friends. If we all get too busy, we will work together.

“We also have great suppliers, including Yardville Supply, Heath Lumber, Kucker-Haney Paint Company, and Tattersalls. All are family-owned businesses that have supported us from the beginning.”

Mr. Pennacchi is very proud of his company’s longevity and fine reputation, and looks forward to an outstanding future. “I believe that success is based on quality, honesty, and personal relations with our customers. I look forward to continuing what we’re doing. My father, brother, and I are very content with how far we have come. It will be up to the fourth generation to take it to a new level. We are very proud of the business and what my grandfather began, my father and uncles continued, and how much the business has grown in 65 years. We still have customers whose fathers and grandfathers hired my dad back in the day! We are here to stay!”

A. Pennacchi & Sons are members of the Mercer County Chamber of Commerce, the Better Business Bureau, the Newport Historical Preservation Society, registered by the State of New Jersey as Historical Preservation Contractors, and are certified Jahn Applicators.

(609) 584-5777. Website: www.apennacchi.com.

ADVOCATE AND ACTIVIST: “The legal profession is really a helping profession, as hard as that sometimes may be to remember. I have always had a variety of clients — brilliant scientists, business people, educators, physicians, authors, and other creative people who have given me the privilege of working with them. And that is what it is — a privilege.” Attorney Cathryn A. Mitchell looks forward to putting her legal expertise to work for those who need it.

Princeton has been home to attorney Cathy Mitchell for 21 years. For much of that time, she practiced law with her husband, until three years ago when she left that partnership — both personally and professionally. It was at that time that her life in Princeton started anew, reports Ms. Mitchell.

“In many ways, my situation was not entirely different from that of a well-educated mother who left the work force for some time. In my case, my law practice — counsel to global business — had focused on the work and aspirations of my then partner. When that connection was severed, all of that changed. I am now living and working in accordance with my own values. As Gandhi said, happiness is when your thoughts, actions, and words are in harmony, and now, for the first time in my life, they are.”

Ms. Mitchell’s transformation, new sense of fulfillment, and professional reawakening evolved while facing the challenges and opportunities that came along with ending a partnership that spanned almost two decades.

“I gave myself permission to let go of the attention paid to another person’s dreams, and, for essentially the first time, to consider how to pursue my own. For example, I have always wanted to teach in a law school, and recently, I was a guest lecturer for an entertainment law class at a university in Philadelphia. It was a mind-blowing experience.”

High Achievement

High achievement has been a hallmark of Ms. Mitchell’s life. Born in New York City, brought up in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., she attended the University of Florida, where she received a BS, BA in finance. She continued her education at the University of Florida Law School in Gainesville, and while there, she was named to the University of Florida Hall of Fame, and was a prosecutor on the student honor court.

In law school, she earned three “Book Awards”, which recognized the highest grades in the class, in her case: business organizations, corporations, and criminal procedure.

After law school, Ms. Mitchell worked in a boutique litigation power house firm in Miami known for antitrust and intellectual property (IP) litigation, and white collar criminal defense. She honed her IP litigation skills there on cases for famous watch companies, such as Rolex and Cartier.

Moving to Princeton in 1991, Ms. Mitchell worked in the legal department of Prince Sports, then in Lawrenceville. While there, she began filing trademark applications, handling endorsement agreements for athletes, human resource and employment issues, and anti-trust compliance.

In 1993, she moved to the Princeton office of a New York law firm, but eventually left to start her own practice, which her husband would ultimately join.

Her view of career choices has changed dramatically, reports Ms. Mitchell. “I put the professional desires and goals of my husband before my own, despite the fact that I had worked hard to earn a law degree. I cannot say I would make the same choice today, and certainly would not recommend it to my daughter, or a friend. It was not the smartest thing to do.”

True To Yourself

“It is important to retain professional independence, not only to ensure that your professional identity remains distinct and intact, but also to give you an opportunity to be true to yourself and to follow your own professional aspirations.”

Having said that, she does look back with pride on a number of her cases over the past years.

“The law suit in Miami by Pat Metheny against soon-to-be governor of Florida Bob Martinez for using sound-alike music in his political advertisement was one of them. It was a right of publicity case, and brought to the forefront a number of music-intellectual property issues that had propelled me into the field in the first place.”

Then, there is the 10 years she spent as “private prosecutor” for Princeton University — different in scope and subject from her other cases, but legally challenging and interesting.

“This work for the University had me interfacing with the Princeton University Office of Public Safety — the campus police force — almost every day for a 10-year period. I attended court on behalf of the University in Princeton Borough and Township two days every week, and handled dozens of trials and hundreds of criminal cases. It was great to be on my feet and interacting with the community in this way.”

Ms. Mitchell also spent 12 years as the law columnist for The Times of Trenton. In addition, she has published seven scholarly pieces for the New Jersey Law Journal in the past two and a half years, for a total of nearly 75 overall.

She has received numerous awards and honors, including the 2006 NJ Biz “Best 50 Women in Business” award; 2005 Princeton YWCA’s Tribute to Women award; Who’s Who 2002 New Jersey Business Leaders; “40 Under 40” (New Jersey’s most successful business leaders under 40), recognized by Business News NJ, among others. She has also served as president of the Princeton Bar Association.

Epitome of Community

Community is paramount to Ms. Mitchell, and this is one of the treasures she finds living in Princeton. “I believe that community is transformative and Princeton, to me, is the epitome of community. It’s the synagogue that is two blocks away and its two incredible rabbis, including a young woman rabbi for my daughter to see; the shopping center, the library, the Arts Council, tennis courts, free summer concerts Thursday nights at the shopping center, the farmer’s market at the library plaza, Princeton Merchants’ Association, Princeton rescue squad, where my son hopes to become a cadet.

“There is the tight-knit community in which I live in Princeton Borough, with its block parties and neighborhood picnics; Westminster Conservatory where my son has studied music for 13 years, and the Community Park pool where he is a lifeguard; the Hun School of Princeton, where my daughter is finishing middle school; also the Mercer County Bar Association in which I am very involved.

“I am teaching my children that safety and happiness and security and joy come from connection; from being part of something larger than yourself, from giving whatever you have to help others. These are my values, and this town, on its own, teaches these values to my children by allowing them to experience them for themselves.

“Professionally, I have worked on Nassau Street for most of the past 20 years, and I am continuing to do so now at 44 Nassau Street, Suite 310. This is a familiar, welcoming, and safe place for me. On the surface, I know virtually every banker and shop owner by name, and they know me. That gives every day a ‘Cheers’ feeling that very few people have today. I run into clients, contacts, referral sources, mothers and fathers of my children’s friends all day long. Every week I see a Third Circuit Court of Appeals judge and an Appellate Division judge, friends who are professors at Rutgers, neighbors, etc. It’s a welcoming feeling of connection.”

Ms. Mitchell’s practice is more diverse than in the past, she adds. She finds that she is often playing the role of “consigliore” or trusted advisor in legal matters, whether it is helping a physician in the hiring of a new employee, or sorting through some issues that may ultimately involve the dissolution of a business partnership, or discussing the ramifications in the event of the end of a marriage.

“This has come as somewhat of a surprise to me,” she notes. “Clients are asking me to handle different types of matters for them, because of trust. This is a humbling experience. I also continue to mentor young women and girls, especially young female lawyers, and I donate a portion of my revenue to Womanspace in connection with which I am doing a significant amount of advocacy; in particular, regarding safeguarding the protections of the Violence Against Women Act.”

Complex Tasks

In addition, she continues to file trademark and copyright applications for companies. As she points out, “It’s a rather routine process, but the reason that clients might select me is because there are software licensing issues, and some intellectual property litigation issues potentially as well, and I am therefore available to handle the more complex tasks as they arrive.

“And, if we are talking about family matters, I have considerable criminal trial experience and an understanding of the municipal court system here in Mercer County. So to the extent that there may be criminal or domestic violence issues, which come up often in a family matter, I might be able to provide something a bit more comprehensive on those issues.

“Similarly, I have a finance degree and an interest in forensic accounting and finding hidden assets as well as white-collar criminal issues (forgery, etc.), and to the extent those issues may be present in a family matter, I could be a good resource there as well; in particular, working with experts and preparing clients for trial/settlement, as well as with complex issues of child custody about which I have significant knowledge and experience of my own.

“Princeton is a town with a long memory,” continues Ms. Mitchell. “When you do a good job for someone, they often remember it, and they want you to help them again. This does not just apply to attorneys, but to accountants, investment advisors, and other professionals. I have found that many people are saying something a lawyer can only dream of when she begins the practice of law: ‘I trust you, and I want you to stand by me in good times and bad.’

“Our justice system is the best in the world; our courts try their best, but they are overworked — we know that. They do the best they can, however. As lawyers, we have a responsibility to make our clients’ lives easier, to the extent we can. I can say definitively that I most enjoy the people with whom I work. I learn so much from them, from being around them, seeing the way they handle their own lives, and meet the challenges they face with courage and grace and resilience.

“And I do believe that in helping people, I am setting a good example for my teenage children, which is what matters most to me right now. I want them to experience for themselves what the Buddha says: ‘If you knew what I know about the power of giving, you would not let a single meal pass without sharing it in some way.’ And also, ‘Your work is to discover your world and then with all your heart give yourself to it.’”

Ms. Mitchell can be reached at (609) 921-8383, and cam@cathrynamitchell.com.

July 18, 2012

IMAGINATIVE CREATION: “Creating jewelry is my passion. It’s what I always wanted to do and have always done. I am very fortunate to be able to do it.” Jewelry designer and goldsmith Robin Hepburn, owner of Orion Jewelry in Pennington, is shown in her new boutique.

As they enter the Orion Jewelry boutique in its new location in the Pennington Square Shopping Center, on Route 31, customers are captivated by the dramatic decor, highlighted by the striking “Chambord” walls and organic lattice work motif.

In addition, the warm and welcoming environment, featuring displays of imaginative, innovative, and beautiful jewelry, adds to their pleasure.

“I want people to feel comfortable here. This is very important,” says owner Robin Hepburn, who is a jewelry designer and goldsmith.

Ms. Hepburn moved to the new location in May, and she could not be more pleased. “I needed a larger place, and I am so happy to have a beautiful showcase for my work in this new boutique.”

Goldsmith and Designer

Ms. Hepburn is an experienced goldsmith and jewelry designer, having been in the jewelry business for 35 years. And before that, she was always interested in art and design.

“My father was a silversmith,” she adds, “and I went to art school. Later, in 1986, I had a jewelry business in St. Thomas, the U.S. Virgin Islands.”

Three hurricanes and 10 years later, she relocated to Pennington, where she had been born.

Today, in many ways, her jewelry design still evokes the tropical motif and the spirit and serenity of the islands. The sculptural forms and rare gemstones fuse to create hallmark pieces that are both elegant and exotic.

“I think the main draw has been the uniqueness of the jewelry,” she points out. “My pieces are all personal and one-of-a-kind, made from scratch.”

Many of her creations, including earrings, necklaces, pins, and bracelets, are on display, and in addition, she does a great deal of custom work.

Custom Design

“Someone can come in with a dream, and I help the dream become a reality. A customer may bring a stone to me, and I can create whatever they want. I also custom-design older pieces that a client may wish to have a newer look. This is one of my specialties. I like working with special pieces and creating something that is unique for the client. I recently made a cuff bracelet in gold with three diamonds for a man to give his wife for their 30th wedding anniversary.”

Ms. Hepburn also recalls one of her more unusual projects, but equally personal. “I made an 18k gold locket, which was to contain the ashes of the client’s beloved pet dog.”

Ms. Hepburn explains that when considering a piece, she first begins with a drawing, “and then I start to figure out how to make it three dimensional.”

Her pieces incorporate precious, semi-precious, and museum-quality gemstones with high karat gold and sterling silver. In keeping with her life-long dedication to fair trade practices and protecting the future use of rare materials, all Orion jewelry is made using 100 percent recycled and refined metals and ethically-sourced gemstones.

“I get the stones from people who mine and cut the stones, and I like to work with the more unusual stones, including tanzanite, drusy, and ametrine (combination of amethyst and citrine),” she explains. “I also include different kinds of opals and pearl, and stones, such as lapis, aquamarine, and turquoise. Opals can have many colors, and I have recently used bright Mexican fire opals. I’ll also use blackened sterling silver, which can be very dramatic.”

Three of Ms. Hepburn’s pieces, two necklaces and a brooch, were recently entered in an international contest.

Green Diamond

Among the pieces which are showcased is a beautiful green beryl pendant with gold chain, coordinated with matching earrings. Another necklace includes a green diamond with aquamarine set in yellow and white gold, with a white gold chain.

Still another superb necklace features a green garnet pendant, with matching earrings.

Ms. Hepburn is especially enthusiastic about the design and decor of her new boutique. In collaboration with Hopewell-based artistic designer Sean Mannix of Highland Design Farm, a uniquely attractive setting has been created.

“Sean designed the entire interior, the showcases, and the Orion brand. He implemented the entire look of the store brand and design. All the showcases, signs, and logos were done by Sean. His artistry and my vision came together, and made my dream come true.”

Dramatic and Intriguing

The design of the interior, including inspired lattice work-style motif, is dramatic and intriguing. Assorted lighting fixtures of different sizes are suspended from the ceiling, adding more interest. It is all together a very fitting setting to showcase Ms. Hepburn’s creations.

“It is important to note that everything — the materials, the showcases — were made locally,” she adds.

In addition to the jewelry, Ms. Hepburn offers elegant Orion “Tini”, sets of small martini glasses, which are suitable for hors d’oeuvres or “mini” drinks. They include solid silver picks, handcrafted by Ms. Hepburn. A set of four is offered in a beautiful lavender gift bag, and is an appealing hostess gift.

“I so much enjoy working with my customers, and I look forward to helping them in my new studio,” says Ms. Hepburn.

Orion Jewelry is open Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Saturday 10 to 4. (609) 737-7235. Website: www.orionjewelrystudio.com.

NEW LOOK: “Customers are so pleased with the new arrangement, combining hardware and housewares together. It is very convenient for them to have everything under one roof!” Kelly Babbitt, manager of housewares at Smith’s Ace Hardware & Housewares in the Princeton Shopping Center, is shown near a display of popular housewares items. The new configuration coincides with Smith’s Ace Hardware’s 10th anniversary in the Shopping Center.

Smith’s Ace Hardware just got bigger and better! Its companion store, Smith’s Ace Housewares, has now relocated with the hardware in expanded space at the Princeton Shopping Center.

“We wanted to have everything together, and we needed more room to expand,” explains owner George Smith. “Housewares is very popular, and we opened it originally in 2004 because of customer demand. People really wanted housewares.”

In its 10 years at the Shopping Center, Smith’s Ace Hardware has truly become the indispensable place! Carrying both a complete range of hardware and housewares, it offers customers an attractive local alternative to Home Depot and Lowe’s.

“I wouldn’t think of going anywhere else,” says a long-time customer. “They have everything you need, and the service is great. The staff is knowledgeable and helpful.”

Family Business

George Smith does know the hardware business. He and his brothers now own four Ace Hardware stores — in Yardville, Mercerville, Newtown, Pa., and the Princeton location. They are continuing the family business, started by their grandfather in 1946.

“Yardville Supply started out as a concrete plant, then added lumber and a hardware store,” says Mr. Smith. “My dad worked there and became president of the company. My brother Ed and I started helping out when we were 15 or so. I stayed in the building materials business, and Ed was in the ready mix business.”

In 1997, they joined Ace Hardware, which was established 75 years ago and has 5,000 stores across the United States. It offers a broad selection of its own private label products, as well as many name brand items.

The Princeton store opened in 2002, and has lived up to the Smiths’ expectations. “We thought Princeton would be a good location, and the space was available,” recalls Mr. Smith. “There has been an absolutely great reaction. The way the community has responded has been exceptional. People still come in all the time, and say “We’re so glad you’re here!’”

The expanded space includes 18,000 square feet and is filled with all the tools, supplies, and gadgets one expects to find in a hardware store. Everything is conveniently arranged according to department, with a full section devoted to housewares.

“We have 30,000 different items,” reports Mr. Smith. “30 different hoses, 100 different kinds of nails, 300 light bulbs, and new things all the time.

“The goal was to expand and not lose sales. Everything was completely rearranged — a total remodel, and we did the work ourselves. We hired the electricians, plumbers, carpenters, etc. Getting the remodel completed and in place has been a challenge. It took over a year and a half, and Princeton Township and the Shopping Center were very helpful. Everyone came together to make it happen.”

Room to Browse

Everyone loves hardware stores. There is so much to look at, and something so intriguing about all those gadgets. Now there is even more room to browse.

The paint department has grown significantly over the years, reports Mr. Smith. It now carries five lines of Benjamin Moore paint, including the environmentally-friendly Gen X, as well as the Ace brand lines, such as Clark + Kensington. All the painting supplies, stains, and varnishes are on display.

Bird seed of all kinds, feeders, and houses are year-round sellers, and as everyone heads outdoors for spring and summer, Smith’s Ace can furnish all the needs. Outdoor furniture, bistro tables with umbrellas, Tiki torches, solar lights, and hammocks are all in stock. Grills, including state-of-the-art Weber gas grills, are big sellers, and the store offers even more in the expanded space.

Lawn care supplies, from potting soil and planters to weed killers, grass seed and turf enhancers are available, as is a complete line of garden tools — pruners and rakes to wheelbarrows and hedge trimmers.

Mail boxes, outdoor thermometers, signs and numbers, and the all-important picnic needs: thermos, cooler, and basket are available.

All the hardware cabinetry, also door locks, padlocks, and hooks, nails, screws, and bolts of every kind; and plumbing items, from pipes and tubing to toilet seats, are on hand, as are shower caddies and curtains and storage containers. And don’t forget buckets, brooms, and bags!

Fix-It Place

“We also sharpen knives and scissors, and make keys, We’re the Fix-It place,” adds Mr. Smith. “We also have new wall and ceiling lighting fixtures, new faucets, and expanded cleaning supplies.”

Housewares have become very popular, he continues. “We have tried to get things others don’t have. We have the Ace brand products as well as many others, and everything is very good quality.”

Big sellers in housewares include the very popular “Soda Stream”, which allows customers to make their own soda at home. “It’s made in Israel, is ecologically important, and ultimately is less expensive,” says Mr. Smith. “There is a COT (a special container), which carbonates the water, and there are more than 30 different flavors. We’ve had it about a year, and it just keeps getting more and more popular.”

Blenders are always favorite housewares items, and Smith’s Ace has them all, including the very special $400 Vitamix model, which can do it all: make soup, juice, peanut butter, even flour.

Colorful Patterns

The Lodge enamel cast iron products, including Dutch ovens, are big sellers, as is the line of Melamine dishware in wonderfully colorful patterns, and with coordinated place mats, tablecloths, and napkins.

Tea kettles, trays, toasters, and timers are available, as are clocks, measuring cups, drying mats. and colorful aprons; Pots and pans, coffeemakers, and cutting boards in many designs and styles are always highlighted.

Canning is making a comeback, report the housewares staff. “Some people are canning with a passion now. They’re making relish, even mustard. A lot of people can tomatoes and fruit, and make jam. We have all the Ball jars and other needs.”

Prices at Smith’s Ace are geared for every pocketbook — from five cents to $1000, and everything in between.

Mr. Smith is very happy with the Shopping Center location. “I like the Princeton customers, and the diversity that is here. We have people coming from England and France and other countries, and lots of regulars. We offer a Rewards program, which accumulates. When someone spends $250, they receive a $5 coupon. And they get a $5 coupon on their birthdays. We have a lot of specials and sales as well.

“We try to fill customers’ requests, and keep their needs uppermost. We work hard to offer quality products and the best service.”

Smith’s Ace Hardware & Housewares is open Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday 8 to 5, Sunday 9 to 3. (609) 430-4300.

July 3, 2012

LOTS OF LUGGAGE: “We have a very big inventory. Our selection is the largest around, and we also have an extensive website.” Adam Tieger, website customer service manager at the LuggageFactory in Ringoes, shows a customer the new “foldable” Spinner bag from Lipault.

Does anyone remember luggage without wheels? If you were born before 1987, no doubt you do. On the other hand, “wheels” have become such an integral part of the travel scene, that it seems they were always there.

In fact, says David Southard, CEO of the LuggageFactory in Ringoes, “A Northwest Airline 747 pilot, Bob Platt, came up with the idea in 1987. He invented the original Rollaboard R wheeled luggage, and he started the Travelpro company.”

Now, wheels are not only on the traditional “suitcase” but on carry-ons, duffles, backpacks, and even garment bags. There is also the 4-wheeled Spinner style, which can move in any direction, and the latest “foldable” wheeled luggage, which folds up when empty for easy storage.

And, whatever your luggage needs, the LuggageFactory at 76 Route 202/31 in Ringoes, can provide you with extensive choices at reasonable prices.

From A to Z

“We have the best selection in the area, and the best prices,” notes Mr. Southard. “Everything is good quality, and we have sales all the time. We do a lot of volume.”

All the major brands of luggage – from A to Z – are available, with Tumi, Briggs & Riley, Travelpro, Samsonite, and Vera Bradley among the most popular.

“We’ve only had Vera Bradley for a year, and it has become our second most popular seller,” Mr. Southard reports. “People like the entire line of Vera Bradley, including luggage, handbags, and accessories, with wristlets special favorites. “And it’s all ages — grandmothers, mothers, and daughters. And husbands come in to buy it for their wives.”

The LuggageFactory was founded in 1980 by Daniel Popkin, and remains a family business, says Mr. Southard, who has been with the company seven years. “At one time, the company even made luggage, but over the years, it evolved into selling all brands and accessories. We also now have a very big on-line business and an extensive website, which was established in 1997.”

Customers will find everything, including traditional luggage of all kinds, duffles, business cases, laptop bags, attache cases, and garment bags.

Even with the advent of wheels, people are opting for lightweight luggage. Gone are the days of heavy leather cases, although handsome leather products, including attaches, laptop and business cases, and messenger bags, as well as wallets, are still available.

Ballistic Nylon

“Most bags today are made of nylon and polyester, and ballistic nylon is the strongest and most durable,” points out Mr. Southard. “Another line that is very popular is the polycarbonate lightweight, durable, and hardside style from Rimowa, which is designed in Germany and made in Canada.”

Black is the number one selling color in luggage, but customers also like the very colorful luggage tags, including pom poms, to identify their bags easily. Also popular are “Margarita” tags and doggie tags.

Accessories include TSA locks, security bags, passport holders, lumbar supports, neck pillows, travel blankets, sunglasses “readers” and illuminators (eyeglasses with a light for reading), and travel underwear and socks. “This is very popular,” reports Mr. Southard. “You just wash it out when you’re in the shower, and it dries in two to three hours. We also have great crushable travel hats, and maps of many cities.

“Our staff is very knowledgeable, and we can advise customers on airline rules and security regulations. There have been big changes in checking luggage, and we recommend that people not buy the biggest bag. You have to pay extra to check any bag weighing 50 pounds or more.”

Great Selection

Many of the LuggageFactory employees have been with the company 20 years or more, points out Mr. Southard. Customers are equally loyal, he adds, and regulars come from Mercer, Hunterdon, and Bucks Counties.

“They count on us for a great selection, good quality, and reasonable prices, and really knowledgeable service. Also, many of the luggage lines we carry offer life-time warranties, even if there is airline damage.”

Luggage prices range from $100 to $600-$700, and an annual Tent Sale will be held July 20, 21, 22 with big savings in all categories.

“We have worked hard to build a great reputation, and we guarantee our luggage, our quality, and our prices,” says Mr. Southard. “We are also looking forward to renovating our space for even better customer service.”

The LuggageFactory is open Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 10 to 5. (908) 788-4810. Website: www.luggagefactory.com.

June 20, 2012

Family businesses, especially those that have stood the test of time, are rare today. Princeton has provided a congenial setting for a number of such firms over the years, but not many remain today. An exception is Hamilton Jewelers, located at 92 Nassau Street.

And not only has it marked 24 years in the Princeton location, it has a centennial celebration this year — 100 years since its 1912 beginnings in Trenton.

Irving Siegel purchased the business in 1925 for $15,000, and Hamilton Chairman Martin Siegel takes time to reflect on what it has meant to the family. “I started to help my dad in the business when I was 12 years old. I never thought of doing anything else. I came into the business formally in 1955, and now my son Hank is President and CEO. It has meant more than I ever expected to have the family business continue. It’s the dream of a father, passed on to a son and grandson.”

Excellent Quality

The business thrived over the years, and today, there are five stores; one each in Lawrenceville, Red Bank, two in Palm Beach, Florida, and the Princeton location.

Hamilton is known for its extensive selection of fine jewelry, estate and antique jewelry, watches, and giftware. Its own “Hamilton Collection” has become a signature part of the store’s inventory, and it is known for excellent quality at reasonable prices. Many of the pieces can be customized for additional personalizing.

Finding the latest and finest examples of quality jewelry often requires traveling to far away place, notes Vice President Donna Bouchard. “We bring in things from all over the world. We had a collection from India, and Hank was just in China. He finds the most amazing items.”

Having an eye out for inventive designs and the latest techniques is important in a fast-changing world. “We have tried to adapt our business model to best suit the needs of our clients, and we will continually embrace new technology and ideas to always improve our service and offerings,” points out Hank Siegel.

“The big change has been in the technology,” adds Ms. Bouchard. “A lot of people now shop on-line. We started our website 15 years ago, and it’s a thriving part of the business.”

“We try to be on the cutting edge of what is going on,” notes Martin Siegel. “We offer new and innovative ideas to our customers.”

Range of Styles

In addition to its signature Hamilton Collection, the store has always offered the creations of the finest jewelry designers, some exclusive to Hamilton.

Timepieces from internationally renowned watchmakers are a highlight at the store and available in a wide range of styles, all featuring the finest craftsmanship combined with modern technology. Hamilton’s in-house workshop features several certified Swiss watchmakers and master jewelers to provide high quality service for jewelry and watches.

Antique and estate jewelry and watches are another important feature at Hamilton. This distinctive selection is of special interest to those who appreciate pieces which carry the added dimension of untold stories of times past.

Giftware includes china, crystal, sterling silver, home accessories, and more. In addition, a Business Gift and Insignia Division is available for corporate gifting, and a VIP e-mail program delivers timely event announcements and exclusive product offerings.

With Father’s Day and graduations ahead, watches are always a welcome gift and can be engraved, notes Ms. Bouchard. “For girls, a first strand of pearls, gold hoop earrings, or diamond stud earrings are all good gifts.”

Even with all the fashion changes over the years, certain items can be counted on — diamonds, gold, and pearls, she adds. That string of pearls remains the jewelry of choice for many women. Pearls continue to endure and fascinate.

Happy Business

“This is a happy business. People are often celebrating special times in their lives,” points out Ms. Bouchard. “And they love jewelry! There is so much history to it. It was once used as currency in trading, and for some people, it serves as an amulet to bring good fortune or prevent bad times. It’s something you wear. It says a lot about your personal style and what you want to express.”

“Jewelry has been worn over the centuries as an adornment and as a symbol of love and caring,” adds Martin Siegel. “It is also a lasting gift that can be passed on as an heirloom from one generation to another.”

Hamilton offers items at a wide price range, to suit just about any pocketbook. Pearl bracelets start at $25, and the Hamilton Collection offers pieces, including silver, under $50. Then, there are those exceptional items in the hundreds of thousands of dollars!

The Siegels have always emphasized the importance of service, adds Ms. Bouchard. “We are set apart by our service and our attention to detail. Every one of our associates thinks about the relationship, not the immediate transaction. It’s the development of a long-term relationship that is important.”

Personal Greeting

As Mr. Siegel notes, “When my father took over this company in 1925, he started a custom of personally greeting each visitor. This warm gesture established the spirit of friendliness you find today at every Hamilton store.”

Ms. Bouchard has also been impressed with the Siegels’ employee involvement. “The business is very personal to the Siegel family. They pay attention to every detail. There are 125 employees, and Hank knows each one and has a personal relationship with every employee.”

Giving back to their communities has also been important to the Siegels, and Hamilton has supported numerous charities and organizations over the years. Currently, they have initiated “100 Days of Giving” in commemoration of their 100th anniversary. The program encourages all Hamilton associates to volunteer their time to an organization of their choice in their community. They volunteer one work day of service to the charity, and receive a full day’s compensation from Hamilton.

Hamilton is hoping to yield 100 full days of commitment to a wide range of organizations.

“For 100 years, we have enjoyed the support and loyalty of our communities,” says Hank Siegel. “We are proud to offer a way for our company and associates to give back. It was important for us to construct a program that could be relevant for each associate, while supporting the overall needs of our neighborhoods.”

Hamilton is also planning a series of other events to commemorate their anniversary.

The store is open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday and Friday until 8, and Saturday 12 to 5. (609) 683-4200. Website: www.hamiltonjewelers.com.

SENIOR SERVICES: “We are trying to create an atmosphere of home and an opportunity for residents to age in place,” says the staff at Brandywine Senior Living Center at Princeton. Shown (left to right) are residents Gloria Pyne, Theresa Farkas, and Doris Bishop, taking part in the “Roots of Love” horticulture class.

Princeton is fortunate to have many choices of living arrangements for older adults. From independent to assisted living to long-term or continuing care, the options are abundant.

Choices can diminish for older people generally, notes Ellen Reid, Director of Community Relations at Brandywine Senior Living at Princeton. “We offer our residents a variety of opportunities and flexibility at Brandywine, and they appreciate these choices.”

Brandywine Senior Living at Princeton opened in October 2011 at the former site of Buckingham Place, 155 Raymond Road. Brandywine, which operates 24 senior living communities in five states in the mid-Atlantic and northeast U.S., purchased Buckingham Place’s assisted living and memory facility. The Buckingham Place adult daycare program is still in operation at the Raymond Road location.

As a leading provider of quality care for older adults, Brandywine offers assisted living, including nurses on-site 24 hours every day, as well as a special “Reflections” program for patients with Alzheimer’s Disease and Alzheimer’s-type conditions. It also provides short-term respite care and rehabilitation care.

Life-style Choices

The entire Buckingham facility was renovated, with new decor, featuring the Brandywine signature green and gold colors, as well as new artwork. 124 residents can be accommodated in comfortable studio or one-bedroom apartments, with a number featuring kitchenette including refrigerator/freezer, and microwave.

The attractive outdoor landscaping offers colorful gardens and plantings, and walkways for residents.

Life-style choices, including activities, trips, flexible dining times, abound at Brandywine. “We have all-day restaurant dining, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.,” points out Ms. Reid. “This is a program unique to Brandywine and enables residents to select whatever time they wish to eat.”

In addition, there is a private dining room in which residents can entertain friends and family for special dinners or parties.

These opportunities for choices help to validate the residents as individuals, adds executive director Holly Minnis. “They decide what they want to do. It’s up to them.”

And, indeed, there is much to do! A library stocked with best sellers, game room with pool table and slot machine, activity room with arts, crafts and cards available, book club, exercise, computer, cooking and art classes, gardening areas, daily on-site movies, as well as outings to museums and theaters are all available.

Residents also have the opportunity to act in the monthly plays held at the center, notes Stephanie Gaber, Director of Activities/Escapades Producer. “Curtain Calls is our once-a-month drama program. The residents audition to be in the play, and then they perform it for the other residents, family and friends. They love this!

“There is so much for people to do here. They love our ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ wheel game held twice a month, and there are real ‘card sharks’ for bridge, poker, and 21. We also have intergenerational programs with children from area schools and organizations. These are very popular, and the residents enjoy being with the kids.”

Special Events

Special events, such as residents’ birthday parties, theme parties, and Valentine’s Day parties for couples (a number of married couples live at Brandywine) are other amenities, she adds. “We had champagne, a strolling violinist, and the couples renewed their vows on Valentine’s Day.”

Entertainers, including “Seniors Entertaining Seniors” come to the center, and trips and outings are also available. “We go to museums, concerts, movies, theater, and to area places, such as Drumthwacket, Bainbridge House, Grounds for Sculpture, Terhune Orchards, Morven Museum and Gift Shop, and restaurants.”

In addition, amenities and services include basic cable TV, complimentary transportation to medical appointments in the area, weekly housekeeping (towel and bed linen service), full service beauty salon and barber shop, personal mail boxes, and a bistro with beverages and snacks available 24/7.

Residents are typically in their seventies up to 100-plus, with a median age of 82 to 83, notes Ms. Minnis. Brandywine gives them the opportunity to remain in their apartment, even as their health needs may change.

“Doctors, including primary care physicians, podiatrists, dentists, and wound care specialists, visit weekly, and we also have a psychiatrist and psychologist on-site. If someone needs a home health aide or ultimately, hospice care, this can be arranged. There are different levels of care available, and our team puts a health plan together for the residents, and continues to monitor their situation.

“Everything is as convenient as possible,” she emphasizes. “If they have an appointment with their doctor here, they don’t have to wait or drive to an office. It’s so much easier for them and their extended family. There is also a wellness center with portable X-ray and lab work service. Physical therapy is available. All our residents’ needs are met. Their apartments are checked every day to make sure everything is all right.”

Motivated and Engaged

“We offer an opportunity for people to be independent, and at the same time not to have to worry about cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, and housekeeping, etc.,” points out Ms. Reid.

The Brandywine staff makes it all possible, and sets the tone, note the administrators. Most staff members have been with Brandywine or Buckingham Place for many years. “We are set apart by our staff,” notes Ms. Minnis. “The staff here is the best clinical staff I have ever seen. They are highly motivated and engaged. They really care about the residents. It takes a certain kind of person, and our staff members are patient, caring, and capable.

“In addition, prior to anyone being hired, they are subject to a complete and thorough screening and background check. This is extremely important for the welfare of our residents. We want them to have the best care possible, and they do.”

Deb Shane, Brandywine Senior Creative Director, stresses the importance of continuing training and education for the staff. “We have ongoing education, emphasizing new ways to learn and grow, and there is always something new happening. We want to keep things fresh, as we strive to make a difference in the residents’ lives.”

“I feel we are making a difference in their lives,” says Ms. Reid, and that difference can extend to the entire family, she notes. “When families come in to talk with me, they can be in crisis. It’s amazing what people are juggling today. I am so pleased we are able to help and share these moments in their lives.”

“I originally worked in long-term care,” adds Ms. Gaber. “There was very little assisted living then. This has been a big change, and also, the opportunity for activities has really changed. There are so many options and kinds of stimulation offered now. This is so important.

“I love coming to work,” she continues. “Older people have stories to tell and a history to share. We have fun together. It’s wonderful when someone says they had such a good time at an event or outing. I walk away with a really good feeling.”

For further information about Brandywine, call (732) 329-8888. Website: www.brandycare.com.

June 13, 2012

CAFÉ WITH A CACHET: “Everything here is gourmet, and it is all European inspired. We even play European music during the day.” Adriano Didonato, director of operations, is very enthusiastic about the new Bon Appetit Café in Princeton Forrestal Village.

Bon Appetit in the Princeton Shopping Center is a Princeton tradition. Established in 1964, it has always represented the finest quality in gourmet items from around the world, prepared food, and more than 250 different kinds of cheeses.

Now, owner Bill Lettier has extended its reach to Princeton Forrestal Village with the new Bon Appetit Café. “We had wanted to establish a new location, and we felt something was missing at Forrestal,” explains Bon Appetit director of operations Adriano Didonato. “There is the food court and full sit-down restaurants, but nothing in between. We thought there was a need for healthy gourmet food in a different setting. We could offer a café where you can get the best food, but not have to spend too long. It’s something different.”

The café, which opened last December, is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner with most of the food brought over from Bon Appetit’s flagship store in the Princeton Shopping Center.

“We already have a loyal group of regular customers, including lots of Forrestal office workers and store employees at lunch time,” says Mr. Didonato. “We get people from the gym, also shoppers, and many from Princeton. On Saturdays, we have a lot of families and kids, including many repeats.”

Big Draw

Bon Appetit’s popular sandwiches, salads, and pastries are a mainstay, but the café offers something new that has proved to be inspired.

“The really big draw is our crepes,” Mr. Didonato reports. “We make fresh crepes, and we’re the only ones in the area doing it. We wanted to offer something warm in the morning, and they have been a big hit. The inspiration for them really came from New York. We went and checked out a lot of restaurants that served crepes there. And we also wanted them to be reasonably priced. We offer both sweet and savory.”

Customers love them all! “These are the best crepes ever. They have wonderful flavor and taste great,” reports an enthusiastic customer.”

“The Classic” with two eggs, ham and Gruyere cheese, “The Monterey Jack”. including scrambled eggs, pepper Jack cheese, tomato, sour cream, and avocado; and “The Southwest”, with roasted chicken, cheddar cheese, avocado, tomato, and chipotle sauce are all big sellers.

Those with a sweet tooth have even more choices: “Italian Banana” with Nutella, fresh sliced bananas, dusted in powdered sugar, and topped with whipped cream and strawberries; “Spanish Treat” with dulce de leche sauce, dusted with powdered sugar, and topped with whipped cream; also “White Strawberry”, including white chocolate sauce, fresh sliced strawberries, dusted with powdered sugar, and topped with whipped cream are all specialties.

Other equally irresistible choices include “Belgian Classic” and “Fresh Exotic”.

Signature Sandwiches

Also popular are the café’s sandwiches and salads. Classic sandwiches feature bread, wraps, croissants, and foccacia. Signature sandwiches are served on baguettes. Classics range from the ever-popular BLT to chicken curry or tuna salad to ham and cheese to turkey and lingon berries to grilled portobello, hummus, and roasted red peppers on a spinach wrap.

Signature sandwiches include “The Italian” with mortadella, ham, salami, provolone, lettuce and toasted red wine vinaigrette; “Grand Bleu” with smoked turkey, caramel, red onion, blue cheese, arugula, and arugula mayonnaise; classic club; and turkey, brie, and mayonnaise chutney, among many other choices.

Bon Appetit’s fresh baked bread is available, and the wide variety of muffins, cookies, Danishes, and also chocolate croissants are other treats.

Beverages include coffee, espresso, cappuccino, latte, hot chocolate, and chai tea, as well as organic juices, special sodas, such as Dr. Brown, and also Coke.

Corporate and box lunches are also offered.

A variety of items can be purchased, including teas, nuts, cookies, and candy, such as chocolate-covered espresso beans and chocolate-covered dried fruit.

Prices include $5.99 for classic sandwiches, $6.49 for salads, and $5.99 for sweet crepes.


The café, which can seat 24, with its attractive, uncrowded setting, offers a friendly down-to-earth ambiance. Pictures of artisan cheeses and bread highlight the walls, and large baskets are filled with assorted products, such as Bon Appetit coffees. Windows face the large fountain across from the Westin Hotel, and outdoor tables will be available in the spring.

“We think we are set apart,” points out Mr. Didonato. “Everything we offer is made fresh every day, with fresh ingredients, and some items and sauces are exclusive to Bon Appetit. Our ambiance is different, with an artisanal European feeling. We have sponge-painted walls, and we definitely didn’t want to be crowded.

“We have a really good staff, including general manager Erin Miller, and we have all worked together to make this happen. It has been a real team effort. The original idea was Bill’s, but we all helped with ideas and the decor, etc.”

Mr. Didonato’s own Bon Appetit career began when he was 15. “I did everything and over time, I learned every aspect of the business, and did every job. The greatest thing I can say, as director of operations, is that it’s a big treat to put your own stamp on things and feel you can really have an influence on what happens.

“I try to plan carefully, and we want to keep on improving and expanding what we offer. We will have an ice machine in the summer, so we can have iced tea and coffee. It’s exciting to be involved in a new venture and to keep adding new ideas and items for the customers.

“We are very encouraged. We’re off to a great start, and we look forward to becoming a destination place.”

The café is open Monday through Friday 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday 9 to 6. (609) 454-5683.

BODY AND SOUL: “Gratitude Yoga integrates the physical practice of yoga with mindfulness meditation practices and the cultivation of compassion. Yoga is a vehicle for self-discovery and a means for increasing our awareness of the present moment, cultivating wisdom and compassion, and above all, opening our hearts to love and to serve others.” Gemma Farrell, owner of Gratitude Yoga, looks forward to introducing more people to the benefits of yoga.

“The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away,

A sordid boon!”

That was what William Wordsworth had to say in 1806. Imagine what he might think today!

Because of a world “too much with us”, many people are enjoying the calm and tranquility available in an hour session of yoga. It has been increasing in popularity, with practitioners participating in a variety of different yoga styles. The desire for calm and quiet is often the initial attraction.

“I just wanted to find a quiet place for an hour, where the phone wouldn’t ring,” says a Princeton resident, who has additionally discovered the benefits of exercise and toning the practice of yoga also brings.

Sustainable Exercise

One of the newest yoga studios on the scene is Gratitude Yoga at 27 Witherspoon Street. Opened last January by certified instructor Gemma Farrell, it offers several types of yoga in an attractive spacious setting at the back of the Holsome Tea & Herbs location.

“People have come to see yoga as a means of exercise that is sustainable,” points out Ms. Farrell. “It combines strength and flexibility, and it emphasizes the core. This is very important.

“There is also a spiritual component. It is very calming and tranquil, and we help our students to be in the moment and to be aware of their body. I love the opportunity to connect on this level and help people develop compassion and understanding of themselves.”

Ms. Farrell focuses on Vinyasa yoga, which emphasizes flow, she explains. She also combines it with aspects of other types of yoga. “Our current approach fuses the alignment precepts of Iyengar with the freedom and creativity of a Vinyasa flow practice, and incorporates the deeper release stretching and meditation aspects of Yin yoga.

Iyengar, power, hot flow, and Baptiste yoga are all available at Gratitude Yoga. Classes include gentle to strenuous, and students of all levels, from beginners to advanced, participate.

“There are typically 30 in my classes, and they are men and women and all ages, from teens to people in their 80s,” reports Ms. Farrell. Classes are usually one hour and 15 to 20 minutes, and are offered in the morning and evening, although there are some afternoon classes, including the popular noon lunchtime 45-minute session.

Seven Days

“Some people come several times a week,” she adds,” and some even come every day. Others come on a weekly basis. It varies from person to person.”

Teachers establish their own hours, and the studio is open seven days.

“Payment is by donation, and people pay what they are able to afford,” she explains. “We have a box for the donations.”

A pre-natal yoga class is also available, as are classes in Pilates, Tai Chi, and martial arts.

Ms. Farrell has been very pleased and encouraged with the response to her studio in such a short time. She is motivated to share yoga’s benefits with as many people as possible. “One of the most important things is helping students to keep in touch with themselves. We are so accustomed to projecting outward. This is a way to look inward and to become more comfortable and compassionate with yourself. And gratitude is so important. Out of the spirit of gratitude, we cultivate compassion for others.

“It is in the spirit of gratitude that I want to share the benefits of yoga so more people can experience it. In yoga, people can practice human connection.”

In addition to the yoga classes, Ms. Farrell is offering the “Gratitude Cleanse, a 21-day program to cleanse your body, open your mind, and awaken your heart.”

Inner Peace

The program, starting on June 1, is based on Ms. Farrell’s new book Gratitude Cleanse, which features daily instruction, nutritional information, yoga poses, spiritual reflections, and many raw vegan recipes. As she notes in the book’s introduction, “In addition to working with food to cleanse your body, you also may want to take these three weeks to incorporate other life-style habits that will promote well-being and a sense of inner peace.

“It is encouraging to know that we possess the potential for growth in many different directions. As you adopt some of the diet and life-style changes recommended in this cleanse, it may be helpful to recall the concept of seed potential. Recognizing and touching the positive seed within ourselves and others is the first step in promoting positive changes and in growing a compassionate, expansive, wise heart.”

For more information on the Gratitude Cleanse and Gratitude Yoga, call (732) 642-9721. Website: www.gratitudeyoga.org. E-mail: gemma@gratitudeyoga.org.

June 6, 2012

FAMILY FAVORITES: “We are a true family business. My parents have helped out, and also my husband’s parents and his sister and brother-in-law. Even the children are involved.” Jennifer Smit (left), owner with her husband Rudie of Olsson’s Fine Foods, is shown with family members, from left: Lauren, Charlton, Analice, and Niamh Smit.

Tangy and creamy Triple Creme, Australian Parmesan, Irish blue, semi-soft Pont L’Eveque, semi-hard Tumbleweed (cross between Cantal Fermier and aged cheddar), the unusual “Stinking Bishop” from England … all these and many more are available at Olsson’s Fine Foods at 53 Palmer Square West.

“We have more than 200 different cheeses, as local as Cherry Grove and as far away as Australia,” says co-owner Jennifer Smit.

The shop, which opened in June, 2011, has made its presence felt among cheese lovers. It has consistently received high praise not only for its quality products but also for its knowledgeable and friendly service.

“It can be an educational experience here,” points out Ms. Smit. “We love to tell people about the different cheeses. We also keep track of their purchases on green index cards, so we can make suggestions of other cheeses they might like to try. It’s also nice if someone wants to give a gift. We know what the person likes.”

Taste Sensations

Ms. Smit and her husband and co-owner Rudie Smit have had a long-lasting love affair with cheese and good food generally. They always enjoyed cooking, and when they traveled, they liked to explore new taste sensations, scouting out good restaurants and food and cheese shops.

“My husband is Dutch, and we travel often to see his family. Then, there is always an opportunity to find new cheeses and gourmet items,” notes Ms. Smit

Olsson’s has along history, she adds. Started by Chef John Olsson 25 years ago, it was located in the Trenton Farmers Market. Changing ownership over the years, it was eventually purchased by the Smits.

“Olsson’s was where we bought the cheese for our wedding,” reports Ms. Smit. “When we heard it was for sale four years ago, we decided to buy it. It was a way to take our passion for food and have it evolve into a new adventure.”

Moving to Princeton last year was an opportunity to expand the business, she explains. “We had a lot of customers from Princeton, and they wanted us to be open more often. Having the shop offers us opportunities to bring in cheeses we only dreamed about in the other store. We also sell to a number of local restaurants now and to Princeton University for targeted events.

“When we decided to move, we looked at a lot of locations, and we kept coming back here. We get new people in every day, and we have lots of regulars from Princeton and the area, including Bucks county. We find that many people in Princeton have a sophisticated palate. They have often traveled, and there is also a large international group here. They all enjoy cheese.”

Super Selection

The charming shop offers a super selection, arranged according to category (hard, soft, cow’s milk, goat and sheep), and with helpful identifying — and often whimsical — comments, such as “smooth and pillowy”, “sweet and salty”, suggestions for suitable wine pairings, and other useful information.

The Smits also provide background and history about their cheeses on the Olsson website, offering informative and entertaining “Cheese Thoughts”. For example, “We have a goat’s milk cheese that was once produced solely in the Garrotza area of Catalonia. Garrotza has a white interior with a very creamy texture that is surrounded by a natural mold rind. It has an unusual but mild flavor with a light acidity and a hint of hazelnut”

Another entry: “Port L’Eveque, a classic cow’s milk cheese made since the 12th century, today is still one of the most popular cheeses in France. Its cross-hatched, brine-washed, soft-ripened rind smells a bit pungent and earthy. This is wonderful semi-soft cheese, ready for tasting and bringing home!”

In addition to the cheeses, Olsson’s also offers a variety of delicious grilled cheese sandwiches and homemade soups. All are favorites including seasonal specialties, reports Mrs. Smit.

Red Dragon

“The Dragon”, with red dragon cheese, fontina, and bacon; “The Dutchman”, with vlastaas gouda, fontina, salami, and limon blueberry spread; and “The Traditional” with smooth fontina paired with aged cheddar are all in demand. “The Tuscan” and “The Newton” are other popular choices.

The soups include butternut squash with Griggstown Farm sausage; potato leek; tomato; carrot and ginger; and cheesy broccoli, among others. One or two different soups are available each day.

The shop is also filled with an array of tempting gourmet products, including unusual preserves and fruit spreads, organic red rice, English honey and almond cookies, and fig and oat biscuits that pair well with tea. Special chocolate sauce and European Nutella and the traditional Dutch toast-topping chocolate sprinkles are other intriguing items.

Turkish dried figs, apricots, and dates (also chocolate-covered figs) are big favorites, as is the variety of olives, nuts, crisp artisanal Italian flatbreads with olive oil and a hint of parmesan, and the European-style butter.

Wild Hibiscus

“We have wild hibiscus flowers to put in champagne glasses,” adds Ms. Smit. “When they are put in the champagne, the flowers open. It is a great gift.

“Another unusual item is an all-natural honeycomb from Savannah, Ga., which is very nice paired with cheese. We also carry Griggstown Farm and D’Artagnan sausages and meat, and fresh pasta, such as spinach, asiago, and roasted garlic ravioli and other varieties. The ravioli only takes four minutes to cook. In addition, we have small cheese platters to go, and bread from the Witherspoon Bread Company.”

Selected coffees, including espresso, cappuccino, and latte, are offered, as are hot chocolate and tea.

Cheese prices are by the pound, and customers are encouraged to taste before they buy. A small slice could be in the $1.90 range. Grilled cheese sandwiches start at $5, soups from $4.50, and special discounts are available every day. Gift certificates are also offered.

“We are so pleased with our welcome here, both by the customers and the other merchants,” says Ms. Smit. “People enjoy coming in and getting a grilled cheese sandwich and soup, and then taking it out on the Green in nice weather. We’re a small gourmet shop, specializing in cheese, and we hope to continue to build relationships. I enjoy meeting the customers and learning about them. We want to be part of the community and offer a community experience. And we hope even more people will come in and see us. We look forward to bringing in all the wonderful new products for customers to try, and we will have a new series of cheese tastings and classes soon.”

Olsson’s Fine Foods is open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Thursday and Friday until 8:30, Sunday noon to 5. (609) 924-2210. Website: www.olssonsfinefoods.com.