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
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
site — in Hopewell.
John Marshall, son of the restaurant’s founder, Sue Simpkins, is
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
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
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
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
(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
It has the space, 26,000 square feet on almost 10 acres with a
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
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
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
It’s been a three-year wait. Neighbors turned thumbs
down on a subdivision proposed last year so the owners, Townsend
(represented by McDevitt Real Estate of Gaithersburg, Maryland),
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
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
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
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
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
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
restaurants. "We would love to be the most popular 3 star
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
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
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
and 40 in the bar, plus outside tables). The Hopewell farmhouse
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
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."
Princeton Shopping Center, Princeton 08540. 609-921-2779; fax,
Home page: www.mainstreetprinceton.com
Business Park, G-5, Box 144, Rocky Hill 08553. 609-921-2777; fax,
Kingston 08528. 609-921-2778; fax, 609-921-0987.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.