Corrections or additions?

This article by Barbara Fox was prepared for the October 22,

2003 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Main Street Goes Rural

The first Main Street restaurant opened almost 20

years ago. It was a coffeehouse and bakery in a 19th-century house

on Main Street in Kingston. The second Main Street restaurant opened

just over 10 years ago. The Main Street Bistro and Bar at the

Princeton

Shopping Center soon became a town favorite. Now this family business

hopes to open a third establishment, two restaurants and a banquet

hall at a 19th century farmhouse on Carter Road — the former

Lucent

site — in Hopewell.

John Marshall, son of the restaurant’s founder, Sue Simpkins, is

scheduled

to present the next stage of the proposed $4.5 million plan to the

Hopewell Township Planning Board this Wednesday, October 22, and his

hopes are high to obtain all the approvals by the end of this year

and begin the renovations by the first quarter of 2004.

Main Street aims to buy the site, contingent upon approvals, but the

deal has not closed and the price is not available. It also would

buy one of Hopewell’s three liquor licenses that are now on the

market.

Commerce Bank is ready to float the necessary loans, and Chris Tarr

of Smith Stratton is representing the restaurant at township meetings.

The current restaurants (coffeehouse and bistro) would remain open,

and Main Street would move its catering kitchens from Princeton

Business

Park (on Crescent Avenue in Rocky Hill) to the new site. In addition

to the personnel already employed, about 30 part-time and full-time

jobs would be added.

Opening additional locations is not a new strategy for Princeton

entrepreneurs.

Tiger Noodles on Nassau Street branched out to Ya Ya Noodles on Route

206, and now tiny Ajihei on Chamber Street is expanding to Nassau

and Olden streets. Capuano’s has two eateries and Carlucci’s Grill

has three. And the Momo brothers, Carlo and Raoul, have four

restaurants

(including Teresa’s and Mediterra in downtown Princeton) plus a bake

shop in Central New Jersey and a restaurant in Colorado.

Marshall has been looking for the right old house for an additional

restaurant for seven years, and he thinks this one is perfect. It

has character, with details like fireplaces and raised wooden

paneling.

It has the space, 26,000 square feet on almost 10 acres with a

pristine

view. It would fill the need for a large upscale banquet hall, which

Princeton lacks. It enjoys community approval; most of the comments

at the hearings so far have been very positive. And it has a

dependable

sewer system, a requirement often overlooked.

The original structure was built in the 1830s by one of Hopewell’s

early founding families, the Gantzes, as a wedding present for a

daughter,

Marshall believes. Western Electric erected the adjacent building

and used it for laboratory and office space.

The surrounding 190 acres will see a minimum amount of development,

he explains. A former conference center, 3/4 of a mile away on the

other side of the road, is slated to be torn down and dedicated as

open space, along with another estate, in a parcel totaling 400 acres.

Another Lucent building, housing Lexicon Pharmaceuticals, is a quarter

of a mile or more away. "Because of the mature trees you are hard

pressed to spot it — you have the feeling you are surrounded by

open fields. The farm pond is in front of the farmhouse, and it has

picturesque features, like the original stone bridge," says

Marshall.

It’s been a three-year wait. Neighbors turned thumbs

down on a subdivision proposed last year so the owners, Townsend

Properties,

(represented by McDevitt Real Estate of Gaithersburg, Maryland),

redrew

the lots so that the farmhouse is a single lot unit, just short of

10 acres. Then Marshall’s application was not allowed to be heard

until McDevitt dedicated a different part of the tract to the

township,

promising to tear down a conference center and donate that land to

open space. That finally happened in April, and Marshall went to the

planning board in June and to the zoning board for the first time

in September. He needs a variance to let the general public have

access

to the site.

The site has a professionally operated private sewer (that had been

built by Lucent) and well water. For the design, Marshall has hired

David Schultz of Philadelphia-based DAS, known for his designs for

J. Seward Johnson’s restaurant, Rat’s, and for the renovation of the

renowned Le Bec Fin in Philadelphia.

The space — the farm house and a 1960s structure that is in back

of it — will be divided between two restaurants, a banquet hall,

administration, and cooking and catering facilities. Guests will be

greeted on the first floor of the farmhouse and go left into the pub

restaurant or right into the more formal restaurant, or ascend a

grand,

curving staircase to the second floor and proceed to the ballroom

on the second floor of the back building. The ballroom would be able

to accommodate 200 people for a wedding where a dance floor and head

table or needed, or more than 300 people for a fundraiser.

The second floor of the farmhouse will have offices for staff and

catering sales. The first floor of the back building will contain

the kitchens, delivery/dish rooms, and storage. An elegant white

tablecloth

restaurant has been in the back of Marshall’s mind for quite a while.

"The one thing we felt we were missing was more of an upscale

component," he says. "The bistro is full of action and

activity

and liveliness, but some people have said they wished the tables were

a little bigger, and all along we’ve known that there is this other

segment of the market, fine dining."

Adding the fine dining will expand the horizons for Main Street’s

chefs (Culinary Institute of America-trained Nick Schiano has been

the executive chef for seven years, and Don Daley has been the bistro

chef for even longer). "We have all the professionals on staff

and we will be able to spread them over a wider sales base," says

Marshall. "It would create excitement and upward mobility and

give our staff new creative outlets."

Marshall suspects that some of the bistro’s menu item, such as rack

of lamb that makes its appearance for the winter, are really too fancy

for a bistro, and belong more properly in a more elegant setting.

But too much elegance — if it means high prices — can stifle

a market. "We want to be very careful to not try to be a flash

in the pan," says Marshall, noting the notorious turnover of

pricey

restaurants. "We would love to be the most popular 3 star

restaurant

in town and not be the 4 star restaurant that fails." In that

vein, his solution is to offer a unified menu, like the bistro has

now, simultaneously offering inexpensive and expensive dishes for

both lunch and dinner. You can get a hamburger or you can get

something

pricey.

Similarly, the Farmhouse would have the same menu on both the bar

side and the white tablecloth side, take your pick. "Perhaps it

is not about the price, perhaps it is all the atmosphere. We are what

we are what we are," he says. He’s not worried about everyone

on the fine dining side ordering too cheaply. "If you choose to

get dressed up, you will order something appropriate to the mood."

Marshall is also unruffled when you ask him about family friendly

policies. Main Street pointedly welcomes "adults of all ages."

If you have a fussy baby or a rapscallion toddler, don’t even think

about bringing it. Main Street has only two high chairs and no kids

menu. Marshall predicts that families with children will gravitate

to the informal side of the Farmhouse.

A psychology major and business minor at Lafayette College, Class

of 1987, he has an MBA from Temple. His mother started the cafe while

he was still in college, and the 6,000-foot bistro opened in 1992.

Marshall is in charge of operations — hiring, payroll, and

benefits.

A Seattle native, Simpkins, whose background was in fashion and art,

designed the concept and decor of the bistro and cafe and is in charge

of promotion now. The photos depicting European scenes on the walls

of the bistro, by the way, were donated by one of the original Main

Street investors who had been a Time/Life photographer.

The Bistro seats 200 people (100 in the main dining room, 60

downstairs,

and 40 in the bar, plus outside tables). The Hopewell farmhouse

restaurants

would seat a total of 218 — 54 seats in the fine dining room plus

28 on a four season porch. The bar will be the same size, with a

bistro

feel, and will offer two private rooms, one to be called "the

library" with raised panels on and fireplace will hold 32 and

another with 56 seats, perhaps for trade group meetings.

Is it a frightening task? "It depends on the day you ask,"

says Marshall, who renovated the kitchen of his 200-year-old farmhouse

when his wife was home with a three-year-old and one-year-old twins.

At the age of 40, he looks forward to the challenge.

"The one thing that kept us going is the facade, which appears

stately and gorgeous to everyone driving by. It gives me the feeling

that we should go there for a family brunch. It feels like it wants

to be that," says Marshall. "It calls my name. Having three

years to think about it is a lot of time to come to your senses and

get cold feet, but it keeps coming back a resounding yes. I’m already

getting calls on wedding dates."

Main Street Bistro & Bar, 301 North Harrison

Street,

Princeton Shopping Center, Princeton 08540. 609-921-2779; fax,

609-921-6801.

Home page: www.mainstreetprinceton.com

Main Street Catering, 5 Crescent Avenue, Princeton

Business Park, G-5, Box 144, Rocky Hill 08553. 609-921-2777; fax,

609-921-7067

Main Street Coffeehouse Bakery, 56 Main Street,

Kingston 08528. 609-921-2778; fax, 609-921-0987.


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