A new catering and event reception hall should be open in the summer of 2017 in the long-vacant farm house (also known as the mansion) at the old AT&T site on Carter Road in Hopewell.
Chef Max Hansen, who has been in the catering business for 25 years, will move into what his press release calls “the most ambitious venture of his career” — a 25,000 square foot, $7 million venue designed primarily for weddings, corporate events, and catered affairs. The facility, which is being expanded and renovated under the direction of architect J. Robert Hillier, will also become the new headquarters for his entire operation.
Hansen also operates Max & Me Catering, Max Hansen Caterer, and the Max Hansen Carversville Grocery in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
“There is a gaping hole as far as catering is concerned in the Princeton area,” says Hansen. “We intend on bringing the freshest, highest quality food made from the finest ingredients anywhere to this venture. We’re excited to raise the bar in catering in the region.”
The 9.5-acre venue located at 328 Carter Road in Hopewell will be able to accommodate more than 300 guests inside as well as on an elevated deck overlooking a pond, and on a lawn adjacent to the pond. The farmhouse sits on a larger, 300-acre property, and is an anchor to an 82-acre business campus. The site also includes the Princeton Technology Center, which has as tenants Worldwater and Solar Technologies and Sensors Unlimited.
Conversion of the old farmhouse, which had been used as corporate offices, required a use variance. At a special zoning board meeting on January 27 the township approved an application by Princeton Farmhouse LLC. The property can also be used for corporate offices and contain a commercial kitchen and a commissary kitchen to provide food services to the corporate campus employees at 330 Carter Road, which employ roughly 800 full-time workers.
The facility may also offer a “grab and go” service for the adjacent office complex. It will not serve as a full-service restaurant.
Hillier’s design calls for the removal of the existing farmhouse’s roof and construction of a modern barn structure, giving the original farmhouse, which was built in 1830, the look and feel of a renovated New England farm compound. The 1,700-square-foot deck and lawn will allow guests the opportunity to enjoy the al fresco spaces when weather permits, according to the press release. The property will be expanded to include an addition of 1,055 square feet to the first floor for lavatories and bride’s room, and 2,385 square feet on the second floor for lobby space and a coat room.
“One of the design features we’re really excited about is Studio Hillier’s modern interpretation of a classic New England structure,” said Hansen. “The farmhouse connects to the event space, and the deck will have a stunning view of the pond. We will also be landscaping the areas around the building with native and sustainable plantings. The level of sophistication and exclusivity is what this venue will be known for.”
“Working with Max is really exciting,” said Hillier. “He is as creative with his architectural ideas as he is with his food. We cannot wait to bring this grand, old farmhouse — one that is an icon on a beautiful landscape — back to life. We are working to create a state-of-the-art, yet very romantic venue for weddings and other affairs, and we are very excited to bring this project to life.”
Hansen grew up in Bucks County and attended Vassar College and the New England Culinary Institute. The Bucks County arts community influenced Hansen as a boy. “My grandparents moved here in the 1930s,” he says. “They were patrons of the arts, first in Phillips Mill and then they built a property — Quarry Farm — on the outskirts of New Hope. It was an inspirational place to grow up. They knew all the local artists, including Howard Pyle, who founded the Brandywine School. My grandmother studied with Maxfield Parrish.”
His grandparents were friends of Charlie and Freddie Child, whose brother, Paul, would one day become Julia Child’s husband. “Charlie Child painted a mural at my grandparents’ home, so we grew up eating dinner with this amazing art as background,” he says. While still in his early 20s, Hansen got to work alongside Julia Child at a private social event.
After college Hansen worked under chefs Thomas Keller and Michel Rostang in Manhattan. Since returning to Bucks County Hansen has cooked for First Lady Michelle Obama, former Presidents George W. Bush, George Herbert Walker Bush, and Bill Clinton, as well as the 2000 GOP Convention in Philadelphia. Hansen’s company catered the National Football League’s cocktail party at the Meadowlands for Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014, and for the New Jersey Manufacturers’ 100th anniversary celebration.
Hansen will relocate his entire culinary base of operations from Doylestown to the Hopewell farmhouse, creating a state-of-the-art, 7,000 square foot commissary with a centralized kitchen for his business. The project is expected to create around 100 jobs, with a number of openings for kitchen and wait staff, along with many part-time positions (http://maxhansenkitchen.com).
Hansen will be introducing a world-class chef to run the culinary operation, and notes that the new venue will contain high-tech audio and video capabilities for his bridal and corporate guests to enjoy. He eventually hopes to offer cooking classes at the facility. Hansen will also be utilizing many of the ingredients grown within a five-mile radius of the location, including fruits, vegetables, cheeses and other fresh foods from neighboring Cherry Grove Farms, Terhune Orchards, and Blue Moon Acres.
“Off-premise catering has been an ‘away game’ for the past two and a half decades, but now we’ll have an on-site, ‘home-court’ advantage,” said Hansen. “I am excited to be taking our game to an different level, combining a spectacular venue with exceptional food that’s prepared and served by an incredible team of passionate hospitality professionals.”
While the farmhouse will primarily be used for private affairs, Hansen and his team also plan to utilize the venue to host meetings, conferences, seminars, and other corporate events, and in support of the community of non-profit organizations in the area.