BRICKS & MORTAR: FOOD FOR THE SOUL

Jim Nawn Image

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A veritable best-of cornucopia of what to eat and drink in Princeton: The dry-aged angus beef burger with Adirondack cheddar and house-made pickles at Agricola. The Dinky Bar & Kitchen’s soft pretzels and spicy pimento cheese dip. The organic egg omelet with ham, Gruyère, and crème fraîche at Cargot Brasserie. The Two Sevens margarita with blanco tequila, lime, and agave. The person who helped make these culinary dreams a reality is sitting somewhat anonymously at a table in the front of the house at his French-style brasserie, Cargot. With the whir of the barista behind the bar churning out cappuccinos and espressos as backdrop, Jim Nawn—Fenwick Hospitality Group founder, gentleman farmer, and local restaurateur—watches as the breakfast crowd slowly turns over to lunch, signaled by the increasing hustle of the servers and the crescendo of laughter and silverware. He appears very much in his element, admiring from a respectful distance the practiced orchestrations of the staff he has carefully assembled—but that wouldn’t entirely be true. Creating what is considered one of the area’s leading restaurant groups was not what he considered his “calling.”

“I’m not a foodie,” Nawn says, sipping a coffee, sun streaming in through the wide windows behind him. “I come from a family of six and we ate what was put on the table. For me, it’s about the project, the building, the people, the team-building, the physical
space—it’s about creating a feeling, an experience. That is what really excites me.”

Born in Holden, Massachusetts, Nawn grew up with his five sisters in the same small town where his great-grandfather, grandfather, and father were raised—and where everyone knew their names. He went to nearby Holy Cross College, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts, and after working for his father, Nawn headed to Boston College to get his M.B.A. With that degree under his belt, he took a job with an international pharmaceutical company and spent 11 years in finance and administration while he and his wife, Ann, started their family. Fast-forward to 1998: After signing a development agreement with Panera to franchise 40 units, he went town-hopping through central and northern New Jersey for locations and found Princeton.

“I went all over the state with Panera and [decided] Princeton was a good place to do business,” he says. “The energy Princeton University brings to this town, the intelligence, the youth … it’s so vibrant. It’s where Ann and I chose to live—and we really liked living here.”

After a brief return to Massachusetts to be closer to family, Nawn made his way back to Princeton and did something entirely unexpected: He sold his units back to Panera; bought a working farm, the 112-acre certified-organic Great Road Farm, in Skillman; and registered at the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan.

“When I walked away from Panera, I was on my own again,” he says. “I tend to jump into things, but I like to be prepared when I jump. Going to school was a time-management technique so I didn’t jump into something too quickly.”

Restaurants Grid

Clockwise from top left: The light-filled front bar at Cargot Brasserie; cozying up to The Dinky Bar; casual, Central- and South American–inspired cuisine has a new home at Two Sevens; farm-to-table dining at Agricola.

While he worked toward completing both the I.C.E. Culinary Arts and Culinary Management programs, he began to conjure the idea of a restaurant of his own, a gathering place in the heart of the town he now called “home.” He also had his first experience working in a professional kitchen, an externship at a Flatiron District restaurant. The six-week culinary turn gave Nawn on-the-line training in a standard-issue high-end restaurant kitchen, complete with the requisite blood, sweat, and spectacle. It also provided him with the insight into what he knew his own kitchen, once he had one, would not be.

“One day, the executive sous chef asks me to prepare the vegetables for mirepoix. I get the oil in the pan and I start roasting. Then he comes over and starts screaming at me. To this day, I still don’t know if he was just testing me,” he recalls with a laugh. “I’ve never punched anybody—I mean, not in anger—and if I had been somebody else, I would have taken a swing at him because he was in my face. But I thought, ‘Just keep your head. Nothing we’re doing here is life or death.’”

And keep his head he did: After working with a consultant to gather information on the dynamic local restaurant scene, and with Great Road Farm as his culinary muse, he opened his inaugural eatery, the rustic American–themed Agricola (agricola, appropriately enough, is the Latin word for “farmer”) in 2013. The classic English pub–style spot The Dinky Bar came next, in 2016, then the French brasserie Cargot the following summer. And the final jewel in the food crown debuted in late 2017: the Central–and South American–inspired cantina Two Sevens.

“Someone said, ‘Heavy is the head of the man who wears the crown.’ And yes, sometimes it is hard, partly because if I could put my hands on it and do it [all myself], I would. But you can’t do that,” he says. “The [big] business decisions are things I worry about. But the actual operation, when we service, when we open, the details [of that] … that’s all in the hands of the general manager and the chefs and my teams. I trust that they know what they’re doing and, if they need me, they’ll tell me.”

A typical workday for Nawn has a fluid, free-flowing quality to it—his “privilege to roam”—and that suits him just fine. He has an office at the farm, where he works alongside his bookkeeper and checks in with farm manager Kyle Goedde. But he’s happiest when he’s making his circuit of town, usually beginning at the bottom of Witherspoon Street, at Two Sevens, where he chats with the staff and occasionally picks up a few tacos to go.

Next he walks up the street, past the Arts Council and the Princeton Public Library, and into the heart (and occasional chaos) of town, to Agricola. He then heads up through campus, making his way to The Dinky Bar and Cargot, where he might take a meeting with his business partner (and one-time college roommate,) Rich Galvin, or sit down with his director of operations Billy Van Dolsen, to discuss special projects—like the upcoming gala for the Princeton Public Library, to be held this November, at the new Lewis Center for the Arts, where Nawn’s Fenwick Catering & Events group will be providing a plated dinner for approximately 400 guests.

Farm Collage

Scenes from Great Road Farm: “I oversee the farm, but by and large, Steven Tomlinson, who was the farm manager, and now Kyle Goedde, take care of everything. Farming is really hard work.”

“If you’re walking on a treadmill in your basement, it’s exercise. But walking down Witherspoon Street and across town, to me that’s an experience. It incorporates everything about the [area],” he says. “You inevitably bump into people you know, you see people who are interesting. And is there a more beautiful campus? It’s a really cool [cross section of] the whole town … and I think it’s good for the soul.”

All of this movement, the hellos and hand-shaking, the four-successful-restaurants
responsibility, the purveying of so much food, could easily overwhelm a person—or at the very least go to his head. So perhaps the most notable hallmark of Nawn’s quartet of restaurants and, indeed, of the man himself is the calm, level-headed approach to what easily could be daily level-10 drama. His kitchens are places of order and relatively peaceful food creation. He firmly believes in the power of open and honest communication between him and his staff—and he makes himself vulnerable to feedback of all kinds so he can constantly improve upon his processes and practices. This philosophy for running his business also applies to how he wants to live his life—and it’s become a valuable piece of parental wisdom he’s often dropped on his three sons: James, 25; Peter, 23; and Henry, 19.

“You grow from [your missteps] and sometimes you’ll be embarrassed [by them]. But you know what? If you can live your life treating victory and defeat with the same response, you’re probably going to be more effective and happier,” he says. “I’ve told my boys this many times: It’s all part of the journey: You can’t get too high and you can’t get too low because you’re only going to be fooling yourself. I think the law of averages would suggest that eventually everything kind of does come back to … average. So, if you’re really lucky, chances are you’re going to be unlucky, too.”

This belief system is something he’s found order and solace in particularly over the past six months, after Ann, his wife of 26 years, unexpectedly and suddenly passed away in October of last year.

“I think human life is imperfect, and God gives you what you need to deal with the imperfections. And that, to me, is kind of this whole idea that life rolls out as it does,” he says. “Fifty-two years and nothing bad happened to me. If I think I’m going to escape life without some terrible thing happening to me, that’s [silly].

“I cry a lot now,” he admits. “I married a great woman. [But] I have a great family and good friends. I was given everything I need to put one foot in front of the other for my boys and for myself … and there’s no reason why I can’t get through this.”

With the signs of spring (Nawn’s favorite season) finally unfurling everywhere along his regular walking route—from the pear trees along Witherspoon Street to the Japanese flowering cherry trees on campus—and Great Road Farm coming alive with more than seven acres worth of vegetables (the freshly harvested asparagus will be on the menu, of course), Nawn is optimistic about the brave, new world he’s living in—but that won’t include another restaurant.

“Ann and I talked about this before she died [as a way] of making things simpler: We were going to enjoy what we had built,” he confides. “So I’m not building anymore. Yes, we’re operating. The investments have been made. We need to operate. We need to [continue to] make each experience consistent and enjoyable, and that’s building on some level, but it’s just not building in physical spaces anymore. There’s not room for another restaurant by Jim Nawn in this town,” he adds. “It’s a great place to do business, but I’ve done all I can.

“There’s this Maya Angelou quote: ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’ That to me is true across everything: business and life and whatever. And in this business, people … their experiences are a feeling experience. It’s not a say or a do. It’s a feeling. And that,” he says, “is what hospitality is all about.” —Jennifer P. Henderson (photographs by Jess Blackwell)

BRICKS & MORTAR: HOPEWELL IN BLOOM

Hopewell Opener

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Nestled at the foot of the Sourland Mountains, Hopewell is a town at once peaceful and vibrant, quaint and avant-garde. Originally settled in the 1700s and officially incorporated in 1891, it’s often referred to as a kind of “Mayberry”—due to the highly walkable, tree-lined main street dotted with independently owned shops, restaurants
for all tastes, and beautiful Victorian homes; the town’s surrounding preserved lands wide enough to wander for miles; and its community of highly devoted residents. It’s the sort of authenticity that cannot be replicated (although some have tried) and so it should come as no surprise that, over the past several years, the area has experienced a renaissance. Freshly invigorated by a group of small-business owners—boutique retailers, restaurateurs, gallerists, food purveyors, designers—Hopewell is growing into not only an ideal place to build a thriving livelihood but also a good, solid spot to plant roots (literal and metaphoric) and watch them grow into something spectacular. We gathered some of Hopewell’s most dynamic entrepreneurs who, with their magnificent blend of small, creative businesses, are redefining the concept of “local.”

BRICKS & MORTAR: So, I know some of you are dyed-in-the-wool Hopewellians …
Mary Ann Browning (Tomato Factory Antiques & Design Center): My family moved from Princeton to Hopewell in the 1930s. I went to the Hopewell School and then Princeton High School. I attended Parson’s School of Design, in New York City, and then my husband and I returned to Hopewell, in 1961, when the Hopewell Valley Canning Company became available.

Robin McConaughy (Double Brook Farm, Brick Farm Market, Brick Farm Tavern): My husband, Jon, is originally from Ringoes, and I’m from Kingston. We moved back to the area from Philly via Manhattan in 2001, as we were starting a family. In 2002, we bought what is now the main property for Double Brook Farm, from John and Kathy Winant, who own Coventry Farm. They liked that we wanted to start a farm—they also liked that we weren’t going to develop the 63 acres.

Bobbie Fishman (The Bear and the Books): I grew up in Hightstown, in the 1960s, and when we learned to drive, we’d head for the hills, and for New Hope. Hopewell was the beginning of where New Jersey could seem attractive to me, compared with the 4,000-person, flat, dairy-farming town that was my home. [Many] years later, a dear friend and teacher of mine who lived just outside of Hopewell died, and my husband and I moved to live with her husband on their land.

Brick Farm_Tavern

Robin and Jon McConaughy’s Brick Farm Market and Brick Farm Tavern (inset).

B&M: And how did the rest of you find Hopewell?
Ellen Abernathy (Boro Bean): We moved from Buffalo, New York, in the 1980s to work for my brother in Princeton. He was one of the two “Toms” (Tom Grim and Tommy Block) of the famous Thomas Sweet. We worked there for more than 25 years. The “Toms” decided it was time to move on—and we did too. The coffee shop became available about the same time, so my husband, Johnny, and I, along with Tom Grim, decided to take it over. That was 10 years ago.

Amy Karyn Lichstein (Amy Karyn Home): We’ve been in here for more than 10 years. [We left] Princeton after the collapse of the economy, in 2008. We’d established a business and customer base in Princeton and chose Hopewell for its proximity to the area and ease of access.

Rory Philipson (The Blue Bottle Café): Having grown up in Montgomery, I was familiar with the area and always admired Hopewell’s downtown, Main Street feeling. My husband, Aaron, and I had been looking for a turnkey restaurant location in the area. Back in 2006, it was only The Brothers Moon and Soup du Jour; upscale B.Y.O.B.’s were far less common, and it seemed evident that the local community could support another great dining option. We opened Blue Bottle in 2006.

Ruth Morpeth (Morpeth Contemporary Gallery): The gallery moved to Hopewell in 1999, from Pennington, where it had been established in 1996. I was actively looking in Lambertville when I drove by the 43 West Broad Street building. I peered in the large windows and saw the potential of the space even though it was quite dilapidated: beautiful, natural light and a wide, open interior. At the time, there was little to recommend Hopewell, in a commercial sense, but Route 518 was a heavily traveled road and the windows provided good visibility.

B&M: In the past few years, there’s been a renaissance of the economy and culture here. How have you felt it?
E.A.: When we came, Hopewell was a little sleepy. Many storefronts were empty, and we joked that the sidewalks were rolled up at 2 p.m. But there were great antiques, the little gem of a library, the amazing elementary school, and charm. We figured if we made great things, people would come. And they did!

R.P.: People here like local, they like [patronizing] smaller businesses. It’s the reason
we’ve preserved the quaintness of the area, despite the obvious growth.

R.M.C.: People in Hopewell do like to buy local. The borough and the township have been great partners in establishing how we achieve our needs versus the needs of the community. Many of the [committee] members are our neighbors and care greatly about making the town better and bringing in a diversity of businesses. The borough puts on events such as Cruise Night and Food Truck Friday that energize people to come in, with families, and enjoy the town.

M.B.: I’ve seen the change [reflected in] our business. We draw clients from Princeton, West Windsor, North Jersey, and Penn-Hunterdon county, and they are much younger and more interested in a mix of modern art and antiques. So, in the last few years, we’ve become more diversified, adding more contemporary and Art Deco merchandise, and Rocky Hill potter John Shedd and Umbrella home decor who’ve taken space [in the building].

Hopewell 1

Clockwise from top left: Tomato Factory Antiques & Design Center; The Blue Bottle Café; Amy Karyn Home.

B&M: Do you feel this “blooming” has changed the tenor of the town?
E.A.: Yes, there is a new energy, a real pulse, but the warmth and charm are still present. With new families coming in, we see the involvement with the elementary school, support for the traditions that the town has come to know, and support for the local businesses. We see people coming in from other towns to our shop, but we get major support from our local folks, and we are grateful.

M.B.: Hopewell has added more businesses and restaurants, but it still has that feeling of a small town.

A.K.L.: It has to do with the demographic pull, too, as more and more restaurants open, the traffic [increases], as does the town’s ability to draw new customers into its stores.

R.P.: The biggest changes, of course, are those that have been brought about by Robin and Jon: the recent remodeling of the Hopewell Theater, the conversion of the old Chevrolet dealer into the incredibly impressive Brick Farm Market, along with Troon brewery, the distillery, Brick Farm Tavern, the transformation of what used to be a Sunoco station into a multi-business space (Step in Stone, Amy Karyn, ThinkForm Architects). The McConaughys have done so much for this beautiful little town.

R.M.: Twenty years ago, Hopewell was primarily known for its antiques shops. The restaurant scene has certainly put Hopewell on the map in recent years.

R.M.C.: When I was a kid in the ’70s, I used to breeze through Hopewell [on my way] to New Hope to see my great-grandparents. There was hardly anything here; I’m not sure there was even a stoplight at the time. Since we’ve been here, several buildings have been given a face-lift and extended the downtown part of Broad Street: in addition to our buildings, the Soup de Jour building was re-imagined into Nomad Pizza, the building behind that was Twine for a bit (which has moved near the Tomato Factory, improving yet another unused building), and Blue Bottle brought a funky, graffiti style to its entrance. Yoga and wellness has come to town with Hope Wellbeing and Sault Haus, among others. And there’s always something happening: Peasant Grill is renovating and moving into a bigger space; the restaurant space behind Boro Bean is under new ownership and, in general, more and more people are moving to Hopewell for the excellent elementary school, the huge swath of preserved land at St. Michaels, and a variety of food and entertainment options within walking distance for borough residents.

B&M: The collaborative spirit within the local-business community is strong here.
R.M.C.: The Hopewell Restaurant Association is the best example I have of the collaborative spirit in Hopewell. We share closings, openings (especially important when a bomb cyclone of snow is blanketing the region), menus, and pricing for the special Eat-In-Hopewell week … Food Truck Friday and Cruise Night offer us an opportunity to talk to other restaurants and plan what we’ll do for the evening. And even though [Jon and I] own the Hopewell Theater, we have other vendors there selling commissary items, such as the Peasant Grill.

E.A.: We belong to the Hopewell Restaurant Association too, and have helped plan and promote Restaurant Week Hopewell the past few years. It’s a supportive effort, with the idea being the more people that come to visit this beautiful town, the more they will come back, bring a friend, tell others. We all try to help each other out and be supportive. It’s a great group.

A.K.L.: The collaboration exists because of the desire of all the shops to succeed. We cross-advertise, we recommend each other to customers, we mention places to eat and shop locally. We’re all in tune with our community and try very hard to watch each other’s backs. That’s what is so special about the Hopewell community: So many talented creative people are doing great things for the sake of Hopewell.

R.P.: Hopewell supports Hopewell. The goal is keeping people close to home—regardless which of our delicious venues they choose to indulge in.

Hopewell 2

Clockwise from top left: Boro Bean; The Bear and the Books; Morpeth Contemporary Gallery.

B&M: What has been the secret to your success as your businesses have grown and evolved?
R.P.: Life balance. Blue Bottle closes two weeks a year, the first week of January and the week of July 4th. Two months after we opened, my mentor wrote me a letter (that still hangs in my office) urging us to slow down in order to avoid burnout. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Success for us has meant recognizing our limits and not trying to do too much.

R.M.C.: The key has been extremely strong community support for what we are doing. People want healthy food, they want to know where their food comes from, and they want a place that is welcoming to buy and enjoy the food. Once the farm started growing, we looked to expand as locally as possible to keep all elements of our business close.

B.F.: I suspect the crucial element in any business is to be doing something you love and know a good deal about. I don’t sell books because I think selling them is a money-making proposition; I sell books because I think children will love them, and I think most of the books that get a lot of the marketing money in the world are often not the wonderful books. I believe in the books I sell. And I judge success in terms of happiness: my own happiness made possible by the satisfaction of my customers.

A.K.L.: Attention to detail and going above and beyond for clients. We take what we do seriously and always try to do our very best.

E.A.: We know so many of our customers well, and we try to instill the idea that we want people to [feel] welcome and invited to stay. We love to say, “Is that for here?” or “Are you staying with us today?” We also decided early on that we would only serve food we would serve our family. That is a guiding principle.

R.M.: Fortitude and luck (not particularly in that order), as well as a passion tempered by pragmatism. Last but not least, generous landlords … all combined have helped keep the doors open these past 20-plus years.

B&M: So, would you say there seems to be something in the air in hopewell?
B.F.: It’s very much a town of its own character: quirky, homey, affordable, simpler, a more centered place than [other towns]. Hopewell is my town. I am very happy here. I like that the town is walkable: I walk to work, and I like that many of our children can walk to school. It makes us feel like we are somehow related and part of our own small world.

R.M.: There’s a strong sense of community here. Almost everyone I know is passionate about living in Hopewell and that at the core holds us closer, despite differing points of view, than we otherwise would be.

E.A.: The walkability, the schools, the businesses, the people. We love the ride into town, especially in the spring and the fall, with all the foliage, the beautiful Victorians. Hopewell is close to everything yet feels like its own special place.

R.M.C.: Hopewell is very much agrarian at its core. People like working the land, being on the land, and enjoying the fruits of the land. People care greatly about preservation issues, be it historical or environmental. The pace of life is a little slower and a little gentler. And when you need the sophistication of the city, N.Y.C. and Philly are just an hour away. Now, choosing which team to root for is another matter entirely …
—Jennifer P. Henderson (photographs by Jess Blackwell and Rae Padulo)

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BRICKS & MORTAR: LOVE WHERE YOU LIVE

Art Room

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Julie Rosenthale is the owner and chief creative guru of Hopewell’s happily color-splattered studio, Art Sparks. She is currently developing programming and workshops to encourage parents to create art with their children and recently exhibited her encaustic works at Handmade Hopewell, a new makers’ street fair showcasing the borough’s creativity, imagination, and talent.

“I moved to the Princeton area from Atlanta 25 years ago, after college. I followed my parents here and was really excited to be in an intellectual college town, and in such close proximity to the phenomenal art museums of New York and Philadelphia. My educational background is in art history, studio art, and teaching, but I also spent a decade working for local businesses, which allowed me to see the area’s spirit of entrepreneurship up close—and the concept of Art Sparks was always in the back of my mind.

Working as an early childhood art teacher, I would marvel at the uninhibited creativity of young children, and their innate ability to notice detailed aspects of art that adults can often miss. I was eager to create a place where kids could enrich their love of art-making, but in a space where the creative process wouldn’t be hampered by concerns about spilling paint and glue.

Living in Hopewell for the past 19 years, I’ve discovered what a true artistic community it is. It’s incredible to see artists working en plein air with their easels and paints outside the historic railroad station or learning that Hopewell has an annual tour of its artists’ studios. And I love exploring The Watershed Institute; the moment I enter the drive to Honey Brook Organic Farm, I feel my blood pressure drop. Nature and art go hand in hand, and I’m always inspired by the preserved lands of this beautiful area.

But my favorite thing about Hopewell is the people. The town is populated with genuinely caring, super-smart parents who have an understanding of the value of the arts in the development of a child—and the active nature of this community has driven the artistic culture and activities of Hopewell. We’re lucky to have schools that support the arts, and programs that encourage not only the visual arts, but theater, music, culinary arts, dance, and creative writing. Being part of such a dynamic community, I couldn’t imagine a better place to be raising my children.” —As told to Jennifer P. Henderson

 

 

BRICKS & MORTAR: STOP! IN THE NAME OF ART

Pretty Sculptures

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Cars whiz by on Nassau Street. Small World’s delicious-smelling line winds out the door. Work meetings and school days and social commitments run long—and our busy, plugged-in days leave little space for vital reflection or rejuvenation. But just a quick stroll away, in the heart of the Princeton University campus, there is a true respite from the rush of daily life. Fronted by the monumental, jewel-like glass structures commissioned by brother team Doug and Mike Starn, this otherwise unassuming building houses one of the nation’s leading art institutions and one of our area’s greatest treasures: the Princeton University Art Museum.

Universal in scope, P.U.A.M.’s world-class collections bring a globe-spanning breadth of art—more than 100,000 pieces ranging from ancient to contemporary—to lucky students, scholars, and the community-at-large. This is home to artist powerhouses like Stella, Warhol, and Homer, who have influenced culture as we know it with their soul, thought, and talent, and who continue to elevate the spirit in a world that sorely needs it. We couldn’t be luckier to have the works of these masters, and so many more, right in our own backyard.

Welcoming more than 200,000 visitors a year, P.U.A.M. serves as a gateway to fine art and the University itself. At the helm is museum director James Christen Steward, who keeps “the visitor in mind” with P.U.A.M.’s innovative and dynamic programming, a cornerstone of its commitment to education. Exciting exhibitions, panel discussions, “Late Thursdays” offerings, family friendly activities like Saturday’s “Art for Families,” and synergistic community pairings such as those between the Museum and the Princeton Garden Theatre, with happenings like “Modernism on Screen.” Events like these attract visitors from near and far, but perhaps it’s the casual afternoon that carries the most meaning: the quiet hour stolen amid the hurry, when it’s just the viewer and the solace of the art.

We sat down with P.U.A.M. curators to get their P.O.V. on an arresting trio of collection highlights, an important bequest by a cherished faculty member, and a new exhibit that will knock your proverbial, art-loving socks off.

COLLECTION HIGHLIGHTS
Sometimes the story behind the art can as interesting as the art itself. These three masterworks, chosen by P.U.A.M. curators, provide an intimate look at provenance, history, and relevance, as interpreted by an iconic movie star, way-before-their-time feminists, and marital “politics.”

Marylin Sized-1

Andy Warhol, Blue Marilyn, 1962. Princeton University Art Museum.
Gift of Alfred H. Barr Jr., Class of 1922, and Mrs. Barr.

“Pop artist Andy Warhol was fascinated by celebrities and preoccupied with loss, mortality, and disaster. Warhol began producing his iconic portraits of Marilyn Monroe shortly after the troubled actress committed suicide, in August 1962. Around the same time, he began experimenting with silk-screening, a technique he used to reproduce existing photographs repeatedly, as if on an assembly line. Silk-screening tends to flatten the resulting image both literally and symbolically, and even the addition of acrylic paint, applied by the artist, does little to animate the Marilyn depicted here. Blue Marilyn belongs to the “Marilyn Flavors” series, eight of which, including this one, debuted at the Stable Gallery, in New York, in 1962. Like many of Warhol’s Monroe portraits, they are based on black-and-white publicity stills from the actor’s 1953 film Niagara. Alfred H. Barr Jr., a Princeton alumnus and a founding director of the Museum of Modern Art, purchased Blue Marilyn the year it was made and donated it to Princeton in 1978.”

Puam Harp

Angelica Kauffmann, Portrait of Sarah Harrop (Mrs. Bates) as a
Muse, 1780–81. Princeton University Art Museum. Museum purchase,
Surdna Fund and Fowler McCormick, Class of 1921, Fund.

“This rare portrait of a self-made woman by one of the few professional female artists of the period suggests an unusual sympathy between artist and sitter. Kauffmann, one of two female founding members of London’s Royal Academy, shows Harrop in the wilderness, a lyre by her side and a roll of music in her hand. The background alludes to Mount Parnassus, the home of the ancient muses, while the lyre likely identifies Erato, the muse of lyric poetry. The sheet music grounds the portrait in the modern world: it is an aria from George Frideric Handel’s opera Rodelinda, Queen of the Lombards (1725). The picture dates from the time of Harrop’s marriage and the music reinforces its role as a marriage portrait. The aria, “Dove sei, l’amato bene,” is sung by Rodelinda’s husband, King Bertarido, in hiding and believed dead, when he learns his wife has agreed to marry the usurper to save the life of their son. This plaintive aria begs Rodelinda to console his soul and laments that he can bear his torments only with her. Harrop, whose husband and mentor was a musician of modest origins and a promoter of Handel’s works, was a celebrated interpreter of the composer’s operas and oratorios.”

Dress and Jacket

Yinka Shonibare M.B.E., Nelson’s Jacket and Fanny’s Dress, 2011.
Princeton University Art Museum. Museum purchase, Fowler McCormick, Class of 1921, Fund

“The British naval commander Horatio Nelson (1758–1805) and his wife, Frances “Fanny” Nisbet Nelson (1758–1831), are portrayed in this sculptural pair. As in a traditional matrimonial portrait, the couple’s character and status are conveyed through the attributes of their clothing: the formal coat of a vice admiral and the empire silhouette of Fanny’s fashionable gown. Here, however, Shonibare has crafted these period costumes from Dutch wax fabric—the signature medium of his practice—to call attention to not only the Nelsons’ position in society but also their legacy: the colonial expansion enabled by Nelson’s naval campaigns during the Napoleonic Wars. Inspired by Indonesian batiks, the Dutch and British both produced wax-resist cloth in their competition for control of West Africa—its land, its people, and its luxury market. As the cloth increasingly became associated with African fashion, it also appealed to the colonial impulse to collect and display the cultural artifacts of foreign lands. By positioning these figures in glass vitrines, Shonibare broadens his examination of the legacy of British colonialism in West Africa to contemplate the responsibilities of museums as they relate to practices of collection and display.”

FRANK STELLA UNBOUND
Literature and Printmaking

Stella Sized

Clockwise from left: Juam (1997), Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960; Then Came an Ox and Drank the Water (1984), Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960;
Atvatabar (1996), Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, M.A., Tyler Graphics Ltd. 1974–2001 Collection, given in honor of Frank Stella.

Honoring the 60th reunion of Princeton University alumnus Frank Stella, Class of 1958, the upcoming exhibition, Frank Stella Unbound: Literature and Printmaking, is an unbridled celebration of the artist’s powerful visual narrative, his vision for interpreting written work, and, of course, his longtime commitment to abstraction. Completed between 1984 and 1999 in partnership with master printer Ken Tyler, this collection of 41 works is culled from four major print series and, say P.U.A.M. curators, is the “first exhibition to focus on the vital role that literature played in the artist’s groundbreaking explorations of the print medium.”

Four diverse texts provide rich fodder for Stella’s gestural and geometric forms: an illustrated publication of “Had Gadya,” the traditional Passover song; a collection of Italian folktales transcribed by Italo Calvino; the American epic novel Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville; and the illustrated encyclopedia The Dictionary of Imaginary Places. Stella interprets the soul of the texts in works “of an unprecedented scale and complexity” that represent “an active cross-pollination [among] his practices in painting, sculpture, and printmaking that transformed his visual language and working processes in all media.”

GILLETT G. GRIFFIN
Small Objects, Big Impact

Mummy Sized

Mummy portrait of a bearded young man, ca. 130–160 a.d. Princeton University Art Museum.
Bequest of Gillett G. Griffin in honor of Allen Rosenbaum.

Gillett G. Griffin (1928–2016) used his extraordinary eye to see value where others did not. A 38-year faculty curator at Princeton University Art Museum, Griffin began collecting art of the Ancient Americas in the 1960s, a time when few were, eventually shaping for Princeton University “what is widely regarded as one of the world’s greatest collections of the Art of the Ancient Americas,” according to museum director James Steward. Adds curator Bryan R. Just: “Griffin collected while the market under-appreciated the material, so his relatively modest means could afford objects of the highest quality.” Amassing an incredible personal collection in this way, Griffin has now bequeathed thousands of objects to Princeton University, many small in scale but big in historical impact. Although the curators are hard at work processing, cataloging, and photographing Griffin’s superb bequest, they’ve been kind enough to share a sneak peek at one of the collection’s standout pieces.

Other remarkable gifts include Griffin’s collection of children’s books that predate 1846, now housed at New York’s Morgan Library & Museum; contributions to Princeton University Library Graphic Arts Collection; and a collection of Albert Einstein memorabilia, including 50 photographs, that was donated to the Historical Society of Princeton (to wit, Gillett and Einstein were personal friends). But perhaps his most lasting legacy is the way he inspired and excited his students about art. His generosity,
incredible knowledge, and spirited personality made him a great mentor to many, including Just, who says, “There is no doubt that the knowledge and enthusiasm that Griffin imparted will continue to teach visitors to appreciate the subtle aesthetic aspects of art as they engage with those objects he has brought to the Museum for that very reason.” —Rae Padulo (photographs provided by the Princeton University Art Museum)

The Princeton University Art Museum, Elm Drive, Princeton; 609.258.3788 or artmuseum.princeton.edu. Museum hours: Sunday, 12–5 p.m.; Monday, closed; Tuesday and Wednesday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m.–9 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.– 5 p.m.

 

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SMALL TOWNS, BIG HAPPENINGS: MEMORIAL DAY PARADES 2018

Screen Shot 2018-05-22 at 12.00.53 PMThere’s nothing quite like a holiday weekend, the (almost) start of summer, first BBQ’s, and – BEST of all – honoring those who live a life of service.  Here are some special spots to pull up a chair or blanket and wave the flag.

SPIRIT OF PRINCETON, N.J. PARADE: Saturday, May 26, 2018 at 10 a.m. Followed by a ceremony at 11 a.m:

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Photo from PlanetPrinceton.com

LAWRENCE TOWNSHIP, N.J. PARADE:  Saturday, May 26th, 2018, starts at 10 a.m. and will end with a service and celebration in Berwyn Park:

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Photo from CentralJersey.com

HOPEWELL BOROUGH, N.J. PARADE: Sunday, May 27th, 2018, from 1-2p.m.  Watch along Broad Street and then ceremony to follow at the Elementary School:

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Photo from MercerMe.com

CRANBURY, N.J. PARADE:  Monday, May 28th, 2018, at 1p.m.:

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PENNINGTON, N.J. PARADE:  Monday, May 28th, 2018, at 11 am. The Kids Bike Brigade begins 10:15 am at Toll Gate Grammar School – no sign up necessary!

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Photo from MercerMe.com

A wonderful Memorial Day Weekend to all!

 

 

A-LIST PROPERTY: SCENIC RETREAT DESIGNED BY JIM HAMILTON

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Ask anyone where to dine in the darling river town of Lambertville, New Jersey, and they are bound to mention Hamilton’s Grill Room. Known for its unique flair, creative dishes, and vibrant atmosphere, it’s the perfect reflection of its founder, the late Jim Hamilton. What might not be as well-known, is how colorful and accomplished was the life of Mr. Hamilton, and the legacy he left in the art, culinary, and design world.

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Armed with both a Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design education, and an advanced degree in Fine Arts from Yale University, Jim Hamilton designed everything from showrooms for Oleg Cassini and windows for Tiffany and Co., to stage, film sets, and scenery for Hollywood, Broadway, and musicians.  His firm, Design Associates in Lambertville, created scenery for the original productions of Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar, and built sets for David Bowie, Tina Turner, The Rolling Stones, as well as the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

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In the 1980’s he opened Jim Hamilton & Company, an architecture firm that designed restaurants, homes, and commercial projects, including this A-LIST property, 120 Province Line Road in Skillman, New Jersey 08558.  A visionary architect, Jim Hamilton designed this scenic hillside retreat with a range of spaces from a grand hall to quaint hideaways. As one of his few from-the-ground-up designs, the Hopewell Township house eschews rules, embraces whimsy and showcases the talents of many local artisans.

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Double hung windows and native stone bring tradition to a modern exterior with stained glass entry. Antique barn wood in the living room is immediately striking, while cleverly repurposed vintage fixtures and hand-painted moldings quietly reveal themselves. Natural illumination is a vital feature of every room and, thanks to a light well serving as the interior’s nexus, it pervades every corner. With a double range, sinks and Sub Zeros, the kitchen is for serious cooking surrounded by company in the open office and family room. Upstairs, 6 bedrooms offer window seats looking out over 15 scenic acres. Hand-painted tiles decorate baths, including that of the master floor with sundeck, office alcove and stairs to a reading loft.

Tucked between the area’s finest country clubs and nearby schools, his legacy lives on in this extraordinary property, just 5.5 miles to downtown Princeton and two miles to Hopewell Borough. Property available for preview this Sunday, May 20th, from 12-2pm. Click here for more listing information. 

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GET OSCAR READY with DINNER and a MOVIE at HOME!

Screen Shot 2018-03-02 at 3.51.41 PMHere at the A-LIST we LOVE a movie night – and are huge fans of the Princeton Garden Theater, Montgomery Cinema, and the MarketFair. But as the snow falls and it’s time to hunker down, sometimes the perfect way to catch up on all things Oscar before the big night is a cozy night at home with a movie…and take-out, of course!

So when we started our search for A-LIST take-out spots in our area, we didn’t need to look very far.  We posed the question to our fabulous network of local experts, and conducted our first ever #AgentFaves poll.

We asked our agents, “What are your favorite spots for Take-Out?” and some even added their favorite order.  Here are the top 25 spots in no particular order, grouped geographically. It certainly is a delicious list – and chock full! Just one more reason why we love where we live.

PS – Not sure what movie to rent? Check out this fab list for some Oscar inspiration. And now for same A-LIST Take-Out:

PRINCETON

Chucks (try the wings and cheese steaks)

Contes (try the Roasted Red Peppers and Onions Pizza)

Local Greek (try their Soups and Salads, Spanikopita, and amazing Greek Yogurt)

Mamoun’s (try the Chicken and Rice Platters, Falafel, and off-the chart Humus!)

Olives

Nino’s Pizza Star (try their Pizza, Pasta, Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad, and the Pasta Fagioli)

Tortuga’s Mexican Village (try the Grilled Chipotle Chicken)

Trattoria Procaccini (try the Papardelle Procaccini)

Tiger Noodles (try the Shrimp in Black Bean Sauce and the Stir Fried String Beans)

Witherspoon Grill (try the Pan Seared Scallops)

Whole Earth Center (try the Whole Earth Salad)

MONTGOMERY

Alfonso’s (try the Eggplant Parmigiana – comes with Salad and choice of Pasta too – or the Shrimp and Scallop with Sauteed Spinach over Linguine in a Pink Sauce – a secret special and less than $20!)

Blawenburg Cafe (try anything on the menu!)

Lucy’s Kitchen (try the Lemon Chicken and the Greek Cherry Tomato Salad)

Midori Sushi (try the AMAZING roll, it is amazing!)

Sahara (try their Veggie Dish with choice of Spreads/Dips, and add a Chicken Kebab)

Ya Ya Noodles (try the Fried Dumplings and Pad Thai with Shrimp)

PENNINGTON

Cugino’s Italian Market

Mizuki Asian Bistro (try their Dinner Bento Boxes)

Pru Thai (try the Veggie Dishes)

Vito’s (try the Chicken Mediterranean Sandwich)

HOPEWELL

Antimo’s (try the House Made Ravioli and Spaghetti with Meatballs)

LAWRENCEVILLE

TJ’s (try the Brooklyn Pie)

FLEMINGTON

Two Brothers Ravioli 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Food, Family, and the Holidays with @FreckledFoodie

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We had such fun chatting with Cammie Linville (a.k.a. the fab instagrammer and blogger @FreckledFoodie) for an A-LIST feature in our Fall/Winter issue of Bricks & Mortar, we had to share more gems from our interview. For some serious foodie inspiration from this Princeton native, listen to Cammie’s take on food, family, holiday memories, and the influences that led her to open her own apartment doors in New York City to cook for the ones she loves:

“My earliest memories around food and cooking are not what you may expect. While the standard idea of a “family meal” consists of all the family members sitting around a dinner table and discussing their day, my childhood was a tad different. As one of three girls who all played competitive soccer and lacrosse, my parents were constantly shuttling us from one field to the next. Because of that, the majority of our meals were eaten in the car. I don’t say this with any regret or negativity towards the experience; in fact, I loved it. From an extremely young age I learned multiple lessons that would remain consistent throughout the rest of my life: prepping food is the only way to remain well-fed on a busy schedule, if you are enjoying a meal with people you love then it does not matter where you physically are, and just because you are on the go does not mean you cannot enjoy a home cooked meal.

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While a majority of my weeknight dinners were spent in the car rushing off to practice, my weekends revolved around family meals and time at home. Whether it was grilling out on Saturdays or devouring Hoagie Haven while watching football on Sundays, eating always played a large role in our family time and became a main focus of our plans.

As I grew older and moved to NYC, my memories of food and cooking with my family now mainly encompass our holiday meals spent together. Whether it be Easter, Thanksgiving, or Christmas, my family is guaranteed to enjoy a massive meal all together that includes a spread large enough to feed us for the week. These memories of sitting at a table while celebrating and enjoying a great meal with all of the people I love exude so much happiness and warmth in my belly and exemplify the main reason I enjoy food so much: it is a social activity that brings people together.

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My mother taught me how inclusive the act of eating can be from an extremely young age. No matter the occasion, whether it be a team dinner or a Christmas caroling party, my parents always opened the doors to our house and welcomed everyone with a bountiful amount of food.

Especially around the holidays, my childhood memories are centered around these parties and the smile on everyone’s face as they approached the massive serving dish of Olive’s chili or plate of Bent Spoon cupcakes. These traditions that we began at such a young age, and that we still carry on to this day, have inspired me to open my own apartment doors in New York City and cook for the ones I love.”

Her cooking 101: “My mom was never one to use a cookbook, timer, or follow a step-by-step process. She taught me basic cooking skills and to trust my instinct and be creative when making a meal with what’s left in the fridge.”

Her best advice: “Leave it all on the field.” And: “If it was easy, everyone would do it.”

To hear more from Cammie, and to find out how to plan an A-LIST worthy tailgate, check out our A-LIST magazine feature in Bricks & Mortar Fall/Winter Vol. 2.

Follow Cammie’s culinary adventures on Instagram at @freckledfoodie and on freckledfoodie.com.

BRICKS & MORTAR: THE LITTLE VILLAGE OF SMALL WORLD

 

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Experience the full article with the Bricks & Mortar digital edition available now at callawayhenderson.com.

Each and every day, scholars and students, professors and parents; waiters and Wall Streeters; townies and tourists; new mothers and old hats all make their pilgrimage—whether for the third time in a single day or for the first time ever—to a bustling, brilliant place where coffee reigns supreme tucked along a picturesque tree-lined street in the heart of Princeton. If the full-bodied aroma of perfectly ground and brewed coffee doesn’t immediately entice you upon entering, the hum of activity and energy will. Because when you enter into the universe that is Small World Coffee, you become engulfed in the sense of electricity, of excitement, of limitless possibility.

A modern-day salon in the heart of Princeton, Small World Coffee revolves on a swiftly tilting axis of music, the arts, politics, and well-conceived puns (see the full article here to find out). The mathematician John Forbes Nash Jr. often sat at a table with number-lined papers and a double latte. Author Jean Hanff Korelitz wrote a portion of her best-selling book, Admissions, fueled by the café’s signature java. Indeed, if good old Albert Einstein were alive today you could certainly imagine him holding court at the high-top table in the corner, surrounded by his protégées, his white hair ecstatic over his cup of perfectly roasted Grumpy Monkey. And on any given Saturday (and most days in between), you’ll find the virtuoso responsible for conducting the inner workings of the place is behind the counter, doling out steaming double Milky Joes to go, tough-chai lattes, and iced green teas, while chatting up every customer in line without missing a beat.

“I often use the phrase, ‘We build community from the inside out,’” says Small World Coffee co-founder and co-owner Jessica Durrie. “I believe if we are able to create an authentic community of support and camaraderie amongst the staff, we are much more capable of amplifying that [sensibility] out in the community of Princeton.”

Small World Coffee is a village that runs like a well-oiled machine thanks to the collaborative partnership at its heart: master roaster Jon March, the creator of Small World’s superior taste profiles and brews; co-founder Brant Cosaboom, coffee connoisseur, tech geek, and back-of-the-house guru; and Durrie, the doyenne of the retail-operations arm and the somewhat reluctant face of the S.W.C. brand.

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Small World Coffee’s 14 Witherspoon Street café.

“I think that there’s an authenticity to our company. We’ve been able to take some of our personal beliefs and integrate them into the way we run the business,” Durrie says. “I tell my employees that once they get their feet on the ground in the shop, I want them to authentically be themselves behind the counter. Inclusivity is one of the tenets of what a place like a coffee shop is supposed to be. And not just Small World—it’s what our place is in society. That’s why the whole notion of a café resonated with me from the get-go.”

The concept of inclusion is one that can be traced back to Durrie’s globetrotting childhood: Born in the San Francisco Bay Area, Durrie was raised primarily overseas. Her father, an employee of General Motors, and her mother both had a “risk-taking” approach to life: they lived in Rome, São Paulo (twice), and then Melbourne, Australia, before returning to a suburb of Detroit when Durrie was 16. Although it wasn’t as fabulous as her youth abroad, Durrie made the most of it, heading into Detroit’s famed Cass Corridor to see art shows and listen to punk-music bands—acquiring a rock-and-roll edge that is palpable today at the Small World Coffee cafés. She went to (and dropped out of) the University of Michigan, then headed back to California to live with her sister, where she was first introduced to the ways of the food-service industry. One of the chefs she worked for became a sounding board for an inspired Durrie, and encouraged her to look into the Cornell School of Hotel Administration. She applied and was accepted. That’s when the notion of opening her own restaurant took hold. And then, in her last semester, she went on a trip to Vienna.

“I was walking around and thinking, ‘Wow, these cafés are so cool,’” she says. “And then I thought, ‘I am going to do coffee.’ I was reacting to the environment and the feeling of a café. And so for me that was it.”

After graduating from Cornell and a brief stint in Chicago, she headed back to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to work for a company called Espresso Royale, with the intention of learning the business from the grounds (pun intended) up. When the opportunity to open a California location for the company presented itself, she headed west all the while working on a business plan with her S.W.C. partner-to-be, Brant Cosaboom, a fellow General Motors expat. Soon, Durrie began crisscrossing the country in search of a charming college town with a population of at least 100,000 residents in which to open their café. They found Princeton.

“We hadn’t even considered Princeton when we were doing the research because the population was 30,000,” Durrie says, laughing. “But when we came out here to visit family at Thanksgiving, I knew this was the town—and moved here a month later.”

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Brant Cosaboom and Jon March (right), Durrie’s partners in Small World and the company’s “coffee connoisseurs.”

Divine intervention aside, Durrie and Cosaboom had their work cut out for them. They scoured town for the perfect space to rent, all the while refining their business plan right down to the last box of coffee stirrers and endlessly convincing naysayers they didn’t need to entice customers by selling pizza and cigarettes along with their coffee.

“We knew that if we didn’t get it right,” Durrie says, “we were going to be screwed for a very long time.

But then it all came together—quickly: They found a location, at 14 Witherspoon Street, and signed the lease at the beginning of August; they began construction at the end of that same month, and opened Small World Coffee’s doors on December 23, 1993.

“[The name] Small World was Brant’s idea,” Durrie says. “The minute it came out of his mouth, we both knew that was it. He had an expat upbringing also, and we both knew while there are many different places [in the world], basically everybody has the same needs—and coffee’s one of them. It just resonates. We’re all in it together.”

The rest, as they say, is history: The 1993 opening was followed, in 1997, by the creation of Small World Roasters, with friend and employee Jon March, when Durrie and Cosaboom decided they wanted more control over the quality of the beans that made the whole Small World sing. Since then, a wholesale business has flourished, with clients near (Princeton University, Rutgers University, Whole Foods) and far (an off-the-grid bird-watching bed-and-breakfast in Mexico). The Witherspoon Street locale underwent a significant renovation and expansion, in 2001; and then, in 2006, the 254 Nassau Street outpost was added to the S.W.C. realm. The trio has been presented with additional opportunities to grow the brand, but they’re content with the carefully managed success they’re currently enjoying, a practice of refinement and improvement that aligns with the “lifestyle approach” they take to their business.

“We’ve been able to consistently deliver great coffee,” Durrie says. “So much of it goes back to running a business professionally, no matter how small you are. We have systems in place that many small businesses don’t spend the time developing, but because we have, every time customers open the door, they can predict what’s going to happen. They can rely on us.”

But as everyone who frequents the café knows, the magic of Small World is in more than just the coffee. The good juju, Durrie insists, is in the people who support the enterprise day in and day out. From general manager Vincent Jule, who’s been with the company for 16 years; to head trainer Tuc Sargentini, perhaps the most-recognized face behind the counter; to the cheerful baristas, Durrie trains all employees in the ways of the “Worldling,” giving them a full understanding of how the café operates and then empowering them to be their creative, authentic selves—even if that means dressing up as a unicorn (true story).

“In the 24 years we’ve been open, I’ve probably interviewed well over 10,000 people,” she says. “It’s not a perfect science, but somehow we always manage to have the right number of individuals who are curious, creative, quirky, and fun. It’s kept me younger being around them.”

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From left: General manager Vincent Jule and head trainer and “the Buddha of Small World,” Tuc Sargentini.

Together, these ambassadors of Small World Coffee create a sense of belonging that extends behind the café’s walls and into the community, whether it’s through the rotating exhibitions of work by area artists and the weekly lineup of live entertainment, or the cadre of local entrepreneurs that have become part of a cooperative support network. Durrie, Cosaboom, and March work with local vendors including Lillipies and The Gingered Peach bakeries, Terhune Orchards, Tico’s Juice Bar, and Griggstown Farm; and also engage in open and ongoing dialogues with fellow business owners like those behind Jazams, The Bent Spoon, Labyrinth Books, and the Princeton Corkscrew Wine Shop. Most importantly, however, Small World is a place that creates a sense of familiarity and trust, where people can come together, to interact and connect.

“Small World’s personality is the culture of the company: We are here to serve and take care of the public. To be a gathering spot for celebrations, for crises. To take in the wayward person and give them shelter,” Durrie says. “One of the first tenets I talk about with our staff is, ‘We are inclusive.’”

In December, Small World Coffee will turn 25, an anniversary Durrie acknowledges with a disbelieving shake of her head. S.W.C. aficionados, she says, can look forward to a slate of special events including an anniversary show, along with the unveiling of new S.W.C. packaging, a redesigned website, and a few other surprises.

“Princeton’s a little city, yet it’s cosmopolitan,” Durrie says, describing the town that has become home for not only her business but her family, as well. “You’ll hear so many languages in the café on any given day. And I love that. I love that Princeton has an international community. It’s a very brainy place.” She smiles and adds, “We picked the right town, man. We really did.” —Jennifer P. Henderson (photographs by Jess Blackwell)

 

 

 

BRICKS & MORTAR: GROWING UP PRINCETON WITH BLUES TRAVELER

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Experience the full article with the Bricks & Mortar digital edition available now at callawayhenderson.com.

Skitching on snowy Nassau Street. Scaling the old fire slide inside McCarter Theatre. Navigating the tunnels below Princeton University. That’s about as rock-and-roll as you can get when you’re 12 and living in a small college town 50 miles outside of New York City. So it stands to reason that these kinds of experiences (and so many more) make up the formative years of members of the rock-jam band Blues Traveler. Established in Princeton in 1987, Blues Traveler was born when four aspiring musicians gathered in a room at Princeton High School to just play some music. Twelve studio albums and more than 2,000 live shows later, the Grammy Award–winning Blues Traveler has embarked on a U.S. tour to mark its 30th anniversary and is about to record its latest offering. Bricks & Mortar sat down with three of Traveler’s five troubadours—guitarist Chan Kinchla, drummer Brendan Hill, and bassist Tad Kinchla—to talk about their auspicious musical beginnings playing churches and how the memories of growing up in Princeton have never left them. —Jennifer P. Henderson (photographs provided by Bill Filipiak, Denise Truscello, Dominique Callan, and Tad Kinchla)

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The original four: John Popper, Bobby Sheehan, Chan Kinchla, and Brendan Hill.

First things first: What was it like growing up in Princeton?
Brendan Hill: Idyllic. It was the ’70s and ’80s, a different world. I remember the big piles of leaves along the roads, the smell of mowed grass, skating on a frozen Lake Carnegie, winter concerts at the University Chapel. I loved going to Community Park Pool in the summers. I had friends all over town and would ride my bike everywhere. The shopping center, Nassau Street, Hoagie Haven, Victor’s Pizza, the public library—it was the perfect little college town.

Chan Kinchla: We used to roam far and wide, to school and back. Town was within walking distance. We’d skitch (i.e., grab a bumper and slide behind a car when the roads are covered in snow) across town to friends’ houses. The whole town was our playground.

Tad Kinchla: Everything was so close. My best memories are of sledding at the Springdale Golf Course, playing stickball in the rain with Billy Byrne, the then-governor’s son, at Morven Museum & Garden, where we totally wrecked the lawn. Sneaking up the old fire escape at McCarter Theatre and taking the circular slide down 12 stories …

C.K.: The ride back down the spiral slide, in the dark, was like the grand finale. I wonder if the slide is still there? You really can’t stop a townie from going everywhere.

When did music first leave its mark?
B.H.: I started playing the violin at age three. By nine, I realized the violin wasn’t for me and I picked up drumsticks. I drummed and sang through high school and after graduating went to the music program at The New School, in N.Y.C. My dad is a big music fan and introduced me at an early age to everything from Jimmy Reed to 10cc to the Beatles. My music teachers in Princeton—Stephen Bussey, Joe Parella, William Trego, and Dr. Tony Biancossino—all gave me the encouragement and skill to pursue music professionally.

C.K.: I was 12 years old. My friend John Cogan, who lived across the street, got a guitar. I went to his house every day to play it. He finally just gave it to me. So he’s my inspiration and still a good friend to this day.

T.K.: In fourth grade, I joined the Trinity Church Choir because my buddy Milo Cogan was a member and sang there. It was an amazing education in classical-music training by a world-renowned choirmaster. Then I played the upright bass in the John Witherspoon School orchestra. I gravitated toward the bass because that year my brother got an electric guitar and I was jealous, so my parents got me a bass.

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Tad Kinchla (far right) at his live band audition with Blues Traveler, at N.Y.C.’s Bar Bat, in 1999.

The story goes that the first, official Blues Traveler meet-up occurred at Princeton High School.
B.H.: I had a basement band in middle school; when I started in Studio Band at P.H.S. I met John [Popper] and invited him to come jam with us. We changed our name from The Establishment to Blues Band, and switched from playing Police and Bowie covers to George Thorogood and Jimi Hendrix.

C.K.: John and Bren were in the award-winning Studio Band and I was skipping class and practicing my scales in the little rehearsal rooms. I brought my friend, Bobby [Sheehan, the original bassist, who passed away in 1999], into the band. Our first gig was at the Christ Congregation Church, across from the high school.

B.H.: We played the Hightstown “Battle of the Bands” in 1983, and came in second place. Y.M.C.A. dances, churches, high-school spring flings, John & Peter’s (in New Hope), house parties, and a show in 1987 in front of the Nassau Inn, all before moving up to N.Y.C.

C.K.: Our senior year, we played every house party in town till the cops shut us down. Which happened a lot.

T.K.: Joining Blues Traveler was definitely surreal for all of us. I’d had a front seat to the band’s trials and tribulations leading to its eventual radio success. I actually attended the church gig; the sound was horrible but the energy and attitude was off the hook. At the John and Peter’s gig, I was escorted out of the bar before the first song because I was only 15, but I made up for it by frequenting shows at the Wetlands Preserve, in Manhattan, and then taking the train home at 4 a.m. to go to school. My parents were pretty awesome.

Most who grew up here, at one time or another, have tried to sneak into Princeton Reunions. I’m going to assume you all did, too.
C.K.: Being a university brat, I knew the ways the proctors didn’t. We would wander through the tents at dawn, collecting the commemorative cups, which we would use for years.

B.H.: I learned the ways from Chan. It was always a fun time of year and the fifth reunion was the Valhalla: the best bands, the most fun, but the hardest to get into. The 55th, on the other hand, was much simpler. You just had to move quickly and not draw attention to yourself. I had a collection of buttons and cups in my bedroom displayed like trophies.

T.K.: Reunions were a rite of passage for all Princeton kids. Our dad got us faculty passes that were the equivalent of “super V.I.P.” Sometimes we would sneak in just because it was more fun. Having grown up next to campus, we knew the elaborate cellar system that connected the dorms. I think we knew how to get around better than most campus proctors.

C.K.: In 2009, we returned to play the 20th as Blues Traveler. Afterwards, we were denied entry into the fifth reunion, so Tad and I proceeded to sneak in through a dorm room. You just couldn’t stop us.

Aside from campus, where else did you guys run rampant?
C.K.: Marquand Park. We would climb to the top of those magnificent trees and see the whole town.

B.H.: I love the grounds around the Institute for Advanced Study. My family and I would take walks there on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Herrontown Woods is another great trail.

T.K.: There’s a spot on Carnegie Lake where my family used to picnic, right below where Broadmead hits Lake Street. I’ve also always enjoyed the Battlefield. I used to fly kites and hike there. It’s pretty epic to have such an iconic part of our country’s history to play around in and it’s quite possibly the chillest space in Princeton.

There seems to be “something in the water” in Princeton: a lot of really amazing musical talent has come out of this area. Why do you think that is?
C.K.: Everywhere you look, there is great access to the arts. And really interesting parents.

B.H.: I think the middle and high school music programs were and still are exceptional. It’s a testament to a well-thought-out curriculum to include art and music. Some students just need that outlet; there are so many different types of kids and ways to learn. I feel very fortunate to have had such a great environment to learn and develop my own identity.

T.K.: Princeton is the perfect mix of old, new, and different. My experience here was always one of acceptance and inclusion. The university attracted a lot of intelligent and progressively thinking people from all over the world and I think that influenced the town insofar as it treated the arts. Creative types were accepted and bolstered by a community that not only enjoyed it but also encouraged it.

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From left: Ben Wilson, Brendan Hill, and Tad Kinchla in the studio.

So when can we expect you back in town?
B.H.: Blues Traveler is starting the first of a two-part 30th anniversary tour next week and we have a new album coming out in the early spring. We’ll be close to Princeton several times, but it won’t be until 2018 for an actual Princeton show.

T.K.: We’re all pretty stoked and appreciative to still be doing what we love. We’ll probably do it as long as we can because it’s still fun and we still like each other.

B.H.: I’d love to come back and play our real hometown again soon. It’s been years since we played McCarter Theatre.

C.K.: Hopefully we’ll be back in town soon. As our dear, departed dad Ron “The Prof” Kinchla used to say, “Princeton is Brigadoon—the city on the hill that never changes.”

Blues Traveler featuring John Popper (lead vocals, harmonica), Chan Kinchla (guitar), Tad Kinchla (bass), Brendan Hill (drums), and Ben Wilson (keyboard) can be seen on the first leg of its 30th Anniversary U.S. Tour now through November 19, and then again in January through February 2018.