Tag Archives: Josh Dehonney

Home is Where the Barn is


A retrofitted bank barn in Solebury illustrates that intimacy and wide-open spaces can coexist quite well, thank you.

By Scott Edwards · Photography by Josh DeHonney

Kristin Duthie and Scott Minnucci moved into their spanking-new home in January 2015. And then again, this time for real, a few months later. Such is the real-life experience of filming an unscripted home design show.

The construction of their retrofitted barn home was featured on “Barn Hunters,” the host of which, Sean Tracy, is the owner of the Bedminster-based Bucks County TimberCraft and an old friend of Minnucci’s. They worked together on a few prior occasions, Minnucci drafting renderings for Tracy’s clients, but the familiarity of their relationship couldn’t smooth over every awkward bend in what verged, constantly, on becoming an unsustainable pace.

On one occasion, the producers suggested they build a man cave, because it’s what their audience wanted to see. “So I was like, ‘I’m going to do it, but not right now,’ ” Minnucci says. But they pressed, so he, perhaps as much out of fatigue as accommodation, relented. What they ended up with, Minnucci is telling me as we descend a spiral staircase into the basement—and suddenly we’re upon it. “We call it The Implement Wall,” he says.

The custom-crafted, first-floor bar and living room, highlighted by the impossible-to-miss “Implement Wall” (below)

Duthie and Minnucci have adorned their home with tasteful, relatively conservative elements. That said, they’re not beyond making a statement. The Implement Wall, however, is more of a threat, or at least it would be in almost any other home. A floor-to-ceiling installation of rusted (and some free-swinging) tools, it borders one side of their bar, which also fits within the unique context: once mighty barn-turned artifact-turned modern home.

They didn’t have to make it themselves, at least. When Duthie and Minnucci think back now on the filming, the moments that still sit within reach are the late nights—midnight, 1 a.m.— when they were staining and painting, staining and painting. For much of it, it was just the two of them. They managed to lure their most compassionate (and thirsty) family and friends over on the weekends. Toward the end, they started to wonder, How much beer does it take to build a house?

Come January, the home was hardly finished, but the producers needed their gratifying conclusion. So they filled it with furniture, filmed, emptied it just as quickly and finally left Duthie and Minnucci in peace.

A most impressive hay loft
Old Bunker Hill, as Duthie and Minnucci named their home after the Revolutionary War holdout in Solebury Township atop which it sits, is constantly shifting shapes before your eyes. Turning off of Phillips Mill Road, just north of New Hope, onto a gravel driveway that meanders through dense woods, the home presents itself as a majestic estate embedded in a cliff, only to shrink down to a modest suburban home once you land at its entrance. A few steps inside the front door, the tongue-and-groove ceiling vaults 24 feet up, and the walls—hand-plastered and tinted to jibe with the dark beams—reach for it, like outstretched arms. Yet we settle into a corner that’s been cordoned off as a living room and it immediately feels intimate. And that experience repeats itself all over the home.

Occasionally, you find yourself in a position where it’s impossible to not appreciate the largeness of the perspective—the second-floor landing, the back porch that stretches across most of the rear of the home and looks down on a steep, grassy slope—but far more often, you’re wrapped in a warmth that’s missing from homes with 10 times as many walls and accessories. Duthie and Minnucci moved here from Village 2, a former resort colony in New Hope where the townhomes are notoriously cramped. Still, they barely added any furniture in the transition.

The iron-and-cable staircase at the center of the home is the lone modern accent in an otherwise rustic design scheme.

They spent a year shopping for fixer-uppers or property when they came upon this lot, just separated from the home at the base of the hill. They’re prolific DIY-ers, so they were open to starting from scratch. Minnucci already designed and built a timber-frame home in Bedminster. They had a friend who bought three-bay hay barn back then but never did anything with it. The natural slope of the land suited the barn’s bank style. Mason John Lanzetta recreated an aged stone wall that mimics a portion of the livestock pen that resided behind the barn’s original iteration and a walk-out basement was built in the area where the animals were once fed.

Tracy and his crew erected the 900-square foot barn—atypical because they generally run rectangular, not square—in a few days. The rest of the house, which Minnucci designed himself, took about a year to complete. He added extensions to the north and south sides, so the barn comprises the home’s core, which makes the large cupola its literal center. The kitchen, a dining area and a living room fill the main floor, along with an iron-and-cable spiral staircase, the home’s only real modern fixture, which winds up to a landing that provides access to a guest bedroom and bathroom and an office. Beyond the kitchen, on the other side of the barn, there’s a walk-in pantry, a powder room, a mudroom and the home’s only hallway.

“I like a lot of flow in a house,” Minnucci says. “I don’t like to interrupt it with a lot of hallways and stairways.”

Any idea how many pieces there are to the barn, I ask. “We didn’t even put them all in,” Minnucci says. “You’ll see a lot of open holes where there were probably a lot more cross-braces.” I visually measure the vertical beam right in front of me and then peer into one of those holes, and just like that, the barn expands and contracts.

Blooming Glen designer Roger S. Wright is responsible for the kitchen cabinetry and much of the home’s furniture.

Simple luxuries
Strangely, the space that feels the most expansive in the home is one of the few rooms with four walls. A dressing room segues from the main-floor master bedroom to the en suite bathroom, where a massive soaking tub anchors a far corner. There’s also a sizable shower with a stream-bed floor, which Duthie and Minnucci installed themselves. Actually, they laid all of the tile in here. The dual-sink vanity was custom-crafted by Blooming Glen furniture designer Roger S. Wright, as was the kitchen cabinetry and much of the furniture throughout the home. For now, a framed, rectangular opening stretches the length of the vanity near the ceiling. I think it’s by design—maintaining the flow—until Minnucci says that it’ll eventually be filled with a hand-blown stained glass window that’s being made by David Duthie, who operates a nearby studio called Bucks County Hot Glass.

They installed a window in the shower because Minnucci really wanted an outdoor shower, and they’re still going to add one, but the window’s a satisfying compromise for the meantime. It is the only compromise, though. The Implement Wall aside, the home’s few obvious indulgences—the spa-like bathroom, the commercial-grade cooking range, the obscenely engineered kitchen faucet—can all be credited as corrections to their former arrangement, which afforded them one full bathroom and a galley kitchen. If they want to soak and cook with room to breathe, it’s understandable.

Duthie and Minnucci laid all of the tile in their master bedroom themselves.

What hooks my attention, however, is a network of old-looking, plantation-style fans that runs across the barn ceiling, connected by belts to an exposed motor on the wall. They were made by Woolen Mill Fan Company, in York County. They seem like such a seamless fit, as do so many of the other details that almost go unnoticed. The flooring is quarter-sawed, reclaimed, re-milled pine, the grain of which is noticeably tighter than what you’ll find in today’s pine boards. And in the kitchen, they’ve hung an old wooden ladder over the island and strung a few pendant lights from it. Turns out, their electrician, Fred Vocke, gave it to them. I expected it to be part of the barn. Nah, Minnucci says. They saw a similar look somewhere else and liked it.

“The neat thing with the barn is you can’t really mess it up,” he says. “You can do just about anything and get away with it, like throw a ladder up like this.”

The heart wants what it wants
Even if they hadn’t endured the onslaught of decisions that come with crafting a home from the foundation on up under the ever-present surveillance of a camera crew, Duthie and Minnucci would be perfectly settled now. A space of their own design, nestled in the woods, all to themselves. Thing is, though, they’re not a couple who ever really wanted it all to themselves.

You must not miss Village 2, I suggest. “Well, we do, because we had such great neighbors,” Duthie says. “And I, particularly, had lived there for a long time. And Maggie [their dog] grew up there, three, four walks a day, barking at all her friends going by. So I miss that part of it. Up here, it’s so nice and private. We have space, and she doesn’t have to be on a leash. But you also miss, when you’re snowed in, I used to bake cookies all day and deliver them. Now I bake cookies and eat them.”

That’s not to imply that they have any regrets or don’t fully appreciate every grain of wood. It’s just to say that there are only so many things you can account for, the home being more than a simple structure where we seek shelter.


Several Pots Simmering


Kristin Donnelly is a mom, an author, a photographer, a chef and an entrepreneur. And with her first cookbook just out, a household name-in-the-making.

By Kendra Lee Thatcher · Photography by Josh DeHonney

If you don’t already know Kristin Donnelly, you will shortly. She’s seemingly everywhere at once, the way a small flame suddenly catches the kindling.

A regular contributor to the likes of Food & Wine, epicurious, EveryDay with Rachael Ray, Women’s Health and Prevention magazines, Donnelly dropped her first cookbook this summer, Modern Potluck: Beautiful Food to Share (Clarkson Potter), and already has another one in development. She also writes an online journal, Eat Better Drink Better, that’s gripping in its intimacy. An excerpt from the day after the election:

It’s 3 pm on a Wednesday. I’ve finally showered. I lit a candle and I burned sage. I walked to the mailbox and to the new bakery in town and cried with a new friend and ate the quiche she made. I’ve also received tone-deaf PR emails with titles like “Politics suck. This ladle doesn’t.” and resisted the urge to respond with vitriol.

When she’s not writing, or shooting or developing a recipe, Donnelly’s tending to her organic lip balm line, Stewart & Claire, which she developed with her husband, Philip, and to her daughter, also developed with Philip. It all seems too much to be true, so we visited her at home in New Hope and asked her to walk us through a day in her life.

7 a.m. | She’s up. And making coffee straightaway. One Up One Down Coffee brewed in a Chemex Pour-over. “I love the ritual of it,” Donnelly says. “I also love the fact that it’s delivered every other week, so it’s one less thing I have to think about adding to the grocery list.”

7:20 a.m. | As her husband and daughter, Elsa, begin to stir, she makes Elsa’s lunch. “I like to make a big pot of lentils on Sunday to use for lunches during the week. But that doesn’t always happen.” This is one of those instances, so Elsa’s ending up with her favorite lunch: a cream cheese and jam sandwich, a side of broccoli and a couple of apples they picked over the weekend.

7:50 a.m. | Breakfast varies from day to day, but Donnelly’s recent go-tos are muesli with kefir or whole grain toast slathered with jam.

8:25 a.m. | With Elsa off to school, Donnelly dresses.

8:55 a.m. | “I’m really very systematized,” she says, reaching for a leather-bound notebook that’s filled with pages of neatly written notes. “At the beginning of each month, I write a list of goals. Then on Sundays, I write my weekly to-dos. And at the start of each day, I put together my tasks and schedule.”

The window by her desk is filled with a grid of yellow and green Post-its. More lists? “Those? No. No, that’s my daughter’s ‘artwork,’ leftover from a sick day,” she says, laughing.

9:15 a.m. | “I like to start my day with the most brain-taxing tasks first because I simply have the most energy in the morning.” They range from packing Stewart & Claire orders to pitching new accounts to writing.

10:55 a.m. | Herbal tea break.

11 a.m. | “I need mental time to transition from one task to the other,” Donnelly says. Right now, that means scanning her inbox and updating social media.

11:20 a.m. | Writing. Her approach is simple, but strict: Don’t wait for the deadline. And don’t stare at a blinking cursor. She sets aside an hour each day to write. No more, no less.

12:25 p.m. | “On my best days, I have lunch planned out—a hearty salad with lentils,” she says. “I love an energizing lunch.” Today, however, leftovers will suffice.

1 p.m. | Donnelly’s afternoons are reserved for testing recipes, photo shoots, producing podcasts and exercising. What that often means is that work and dinner are knocked out in one act.

3:35 p.m. | Coffee break. Donnelly walks over to Factory Girl Bake Shop to meet a friend over an ancient grain scone.

4:15 p.m. | “I sometimes choose between working out and straightening up,” she says. “Working out has been winning.” Yoga is her go-to exercise, but, when the weather was kinder, she also liked to ride the towpath.

5:30 p.m. | Donnelly picks up Elsa from school and heads home to make (or polish off) dinner. Inevitably, a dance party breaks out. Anything by Taylor Swift and Bob Dylan’s kids station are their tracks of choice. All the while, Elsa’s helping to stir, peel and set the table.

6:30 p.m. | “We sit down to dinner as a family every night,” Donnelly says, glancing into the dining room. Here, being present is sacred.

8:30 p.m. | The dishes are done and Elsa’s tucked in, which leaves a small, fleeting window. “I’ll either do something luxurious, like read my favorite food magazines or cookbooks, or something real,” Donnelly says, “like watch ‘Gilmore Girls’ and fold laundry.”

10:30 p.m. | Lights out.


Drink Like You Know


A rash of craft distillers is now freckling our region, all of them making some truly elevated hooch. Reforms passed in Pennsylvania in 2011 and in Jersey in 2013 ignited a small-batch spirits boom, the likes of which our region hasn’t seen since the halcyon days before Prohibition, or even much further back in some areas.

You’ve likely heard of (and probably tried) the first to bear fruit—Dad’s Hat, in Bristol; HEWN, in Pipersville; Manatawny, in Pottstown—now the established guard of the movement. But the landscape’s filled in around them over the last year or two. Whiskey, vodka, rum, even if you’ve been a lifelong drinker of one or the other, this latest generation of artisans is finding its niche in nuance, crafting variations that are, in equal shares, truer to form and far more exotic than anything you’ve tasted before.

With some long, gray months ahead of us, the time’s come to meet the most appetizing of these new makers. After all, their spirits may become our sole salvation.

By Scott Edwards

Eight Oaks Craft Distillers | New Tripoli

After a 25-year career in the military and far too many nights spent away from his family, Chad Butters’ retirement plan was purely personal in its inception: Run a family business. Nearly a year in, Eight Oaks is, above all else, just that. His daughter oversees the tasting room, where his son tends bar. Her husband is the master distiller. His sister is the distillery’s attorney. And her husband, Jesse Tyahla, is Butters’ partner. (It took me a few passes, too.)

In the waning months of his service, Butters and Tyahla attended distilling workshops at Michigan State and Cornell universities and toured about 25 distilleries. Then, they interned at another in Spokane, Washington. When they returned home, full of confidence, Butters and his wife promptly sold their home and bought a farm, where, in short order, they began growing grain—wheat, rye and barley, along with corn—and constructed the distillery.


WHAT THEY MAKE Vodka, gin, rum and applejack (In the works: rye whiskey, bourbon, aged applejack and spiced and aged rums.)

THE LOWDOWN What you get in Eight Oaks is a self-contained process steeped in tradition. “Really, for us, it’s back to that whole concept of grain to glass,” Butters says. “That sounds simple. And it sounds a little bit like a marketing term. In reality, the application is exceptionally difficult.”

With so many variables at play in the distillation, not to mention the farming, Butters defers to the historical precedent as often as it’s appropriate. And science when it’s not. In fact, the very first spirit that came out of Eight Oaks’ still was a nod to the craft’s history.

As rum grew scarce during the Revolutionary War, farmers stumbled upon applejack, which Butters describes as “the original American spirit.” It’s basically fermented cider—that grew more potent as the winter wore on and the farmers removed the ice. When we talked, Butters was favoring a far more subdued version, an applejack hot toddy, as a cold remedy.


Skunktown Distillery | Flemington, NJ

Like so many other great ideas, Skunktown Distillery was born during a liquor-fueled night around a bonfire. “I said, ‘We’re smart guys. Let’s figure out how to make this.’ We both kind of laughed it off,” Caine Fowler says, referring to himself and longtime friend Paul Hyatt. “The next morning, he called me up and said, ‘You know, you had a really good idea last night.’ I said, ‘No. That was a stupid idea.’ ”

Fowler (pictured, left) is an IT project manager in the pharmaceutical industry. He’s traveled all over the world for his work and drank just about everything there is to drink in the course of it. But Hyatt (pictured, right), a tile-setter, has the far more sophisticated palate between them. He comes from a long line of drinkers. Not happy-hour mainstays. Drinkers.

“He can say, ‘This is what’s good. This what’s pretty good,’ ” Fowler says, “Everything does the right thing to me but tastes kind of harsh.”

Once they began to realize just how well they complement each other, the idea of a distillery started to sound a lot less, well, drunken. They founded Skunktown in September 2015 but only received the last of their licensing this month. When you’re the first distillery to launch in the county in 200 years, the scrutiny’s relentless, apparently.


WHAT THEY MAKE Vodka, whiskey and rum. (They’re expecting the first bottles to be available by Christmas.)

THE LOWDOWN The official line: Fowler and Hyatt are aiming for simple and pure, just as they regard the town in which they both live and after which they named their distillery. That would be Sergeantsville, NJ, formerly known as—I kid you not—Skunktown. No one’s entirely sure why. The obvious answer seems to be the most plausible: Lots of skunks at an unfortunate time, when naming rights were still up for grabs. But I digress. They’re using basic, local ingredients, doing little to them and distilling in a copper still, which is the oldest way, and still the truest.

The unofficial line: These are two old drinking buddies basically egging each other on. (Read: This could get fun fast.) They’re already working through the recipe for a scorching pepper vodka. Fowler, a lover of all things spicy, grows the Carolina Reaper, the hottest variety there is. “But that’s not the recipe that’s going to be bottled,” he says. “Don’t worry.”


Boardroom Spirits | Lansdale

Boardroom launched 10 months ago as an escape plan from corporate life, fueled by a renewed appreciation in heritage. Brothers Marat and Vlad Mamedov are Armenian. Zsuzsa, Marat’s wife, is Hungarian. Both are strong brandy cultures. Trouble is, ours isn’t. Another obstacle: Distilling brandy isn’t as forgiving as distilling the likes of vodka, gin and whiskey.

“If you mess up picking the wrong fruit, if you mess up fermentation, if you mess up distilling, you’re pretty much done,” Marat says.

So they opted to build their brand with the basics and revisit the brandy in the near future, being the experienced strategists that they are. With the help of a distiller in Europe, they spent a year working through recipes—85 in all. Once they settled on a line, they hired a master distiller here. Marat, Vlad and Zsuzsa stick to their strong suit: managing the operation. If a single, prevailing thought came out of the recipe trials, Marat says, it’s this: What I like doesn’t really matter.


WHAT THEY MAKE Vodka (straight and infused), gin, rum and a beet spirit. (In the works: whiskey and brandy.)

THE LOWDOWN Precision-crafted. No eyeballing here. The Lansdale distillery is the North American showroom for Hagyo Distilling, a Hungarian manufacturer with a reputation for state-of-the-art innovation. Where most small-batch makers will build their brand around the handcrafting, not here; everything’s fully automated.

Boardroom’s aim is to cherry-pick spirits from all over the world and turn them into household names here. “But at the same time, we want to make sure that we’re very precise in our distillation process”—it came up more than once—”so that they ring true to the category,” Marat says.

Example A: Their beet spirit, which was introduced this fall. They hauled in 2,000 pounds of beets, ground them down, then fermented and distilled them like a brandy. It’s the first installment in their periodical table-themed series. Thus, the capital B on the label. Next up: apple (A) and carrot (C).

“We want to keep things simple and let pure, natural flavors shine through,” Marat says. “When it comes to crafting our spirits, it’s all about, how do we derive the flavor naturally?”


Thistle Finch Distillery | Lancaster

Curiosity compelled Andrew Martin to follow his friends into home-brewing. Soon after, he happened upon distilling, and he immediately understood why they were all so entranced. He dropped brewing then and there and started reading everything he could find on distilling.

Martin grew up in Lancaster County and moved back to Lancaster proper 16 years ago. Every distiller in this portfolio carries a profound appreciation for the craft’s roots and their regions, but only Martin’s built his own still from scratch. And he named his distillery after a bird that’s become synonymous with Lancaster. Among the countless hex signs that appear in Pennsylvania Dutch folk art, known as fraktur, you’ll often find a bird. That bird is a thistle finch, and it’s meant to represent happiness and good luck.


WHAT THEY MAKE White rye whiskey; black pepper rye whiskey; black coffee rye whiskey; straight, two-year-old rye whiskey; gin and vodka

THE LOWDOWN In case it wasn’t already obvious, Thistle Finch specializes in rye whiskey. The white rye whiskey, an unaged whiskey that Martin describes as “kind of like a high-class moonshine,” was the first spirit he bottled three years ago. Cut to present day, Thistle Finch just bottled a two-year-old, straight rye whiskey, becoming only the third distillery in Pennsylvania to offer it. “That’s definitely the biggest milestone since we opened,” Martin says.

“We’re doing rye whiskey because that would have been the historic spirit made here in eastern Pennsylvania,” he says.

Typically, farmers around here planted rye in the winter to help preserve the soil. As such, back in the day, it was the cheapest grain that distillers could get their hands on and why rye whiskey was so prolific. But those distillers fell off the map with prohibition. This latest boom has brought a new wave of them, but few are like Thistle Finch.

Martin may be a traditionalist at heart, but he’s not making a traditional rye whiskey. The standard recipe calls for 100 percent rye or two-thirds rye mixed with a third of corn. Thistle Finch is making its from 60 percent rye, 30 percent wheat and 10 percent malted barley, which is what’s referred to as a “high-wheat rye” by those in the know. The thinking behind the move is that, where rye possesses a dry, spicy flavor profile and corn is sweet, the wheat will introduce a smoother, more robust taste. Basically, your grandfather’s rye whiskey, this is not.


Photos (from the top): courtesy Eight Oaks Craft Distillers (2); Josh DeHonney; courtesy Boardroom Spirits; courtesy Thistle Finch Distillery


Thirsty Yet?


We figured you would be, so we asked our favorite new hangout, The Dinky Bar & Kitchen in Princeton, to mix us up a stern cocktail that could hold up to a bitter chill and was low-maintenance enough that we couldn’t screw it up when we went to replicate it at home later on. This is what they offered up. The Coffee Cocktail looks like a latté and tastes like one, too. But you’ll notice the total lack of coffee. Magic. At least, it was in 1887, when this recipe was published in the reprint of Jerry Thomas’ seminal tome, How to Mix Drinks.

And that’s what we love about The Dinky: Everything old is new again. Which seems to be the predominant theme among this set of pages. The bar sits across the street from the McCarter in a 1918 stone building that housed a Dinky train station for the better part of a century. There’s still plenty of the original character there to encourage a deeper exploration of an impressively wide-ranging drinks menu that reaches from sake and hard-to-find ciders to smartly crafted cocktails like this one. Basically, there’s no going wrong. Here, either.

The Dinky’s Coffee Cocktail

1½ ounces port
1 ounce brandy
½ ounce simple syrup
1 whole egg
1 dash Angostura bitters
Freshly ground nutmeg, for garnish

Combine the ingredients, shake hard, then strain into a wine glass. Garnish with nutmeg.


Photography by Josh DeHonney


Built to Last


Tracey and Rod Berkowitz specialize in marrying centuries-old features with the vestiges of modern industry, creating a niche of the contemporary-farmhouse aesthetic that’s all their own. In their own home, it carries the added benefit of holding up to their young family.

By Scott Edwards
Photography by Josh DeHonney

Just inside the front door sits a small, square room—10 feet by 10 feet, maybe a bit more. It’s part of the home’s original, 1,200-square foot footprint, which dates back to 1794. To the left, there’s a considerable fireplace. The rear opens to the wide-open addition Tracey and Rod Berkowitz added seven years ago. But the eye settles on the circle of four low-slung lounge chairs in the center of the room. It’s here where Tracey and Rod will settle in at the end of another relentless day, the kids in bed, the only light coming from the crackling fire in front of them. It’s also where their guests, during parties, will play a discreet game of musical chairs.

In a home filled with interesting nooks and features, this little room is Tracey’s favorite place to be, as much for its intimate nature as its unexpected presence. This is what they do. They reimagine the home. They source unusual furniture and accessories from all over the world—crank tables from England, large Moroccan pillows, a quilted-linen wing chair, huge oil paintings on reclaimed metal—that make little sense until they’re seen through the filter of their Lambertville, New Jersey, shop, Zinc Home. There, a raw, urban energy amplifies the familiar modern-farmhouse aesthetic, sharpening splintered, worn-down corners to a precise edge. And they approach their home with the same audacity.

It still needs to be practical

Over the course of a single month late in the summer of 2002, Tracey and Rod moved into their home in Sergeantsville, NJ, a few miles north of Lambertville, got married and opened their store (in New Hope, originally). It was owned by a realtor who, at least, restored the original, wide-plank pine floors that were painted blue by the previous owner.

“We loved the charm of it, but it was a beater,” Tracey says. “The outside needed so much work. It was a hideous mint green. It was peeling. But, I don’t know, as soon as we walked in, we knew this was the house that we had to live in.”

Tracey became pregnant with their first child, Noah, the following summer, and once he grew into a toddler, they finally started to feel the pinch of their precious little house on the prairie. When Tracey became pregnant with their second, Piper, in 2007, it was either move or grow the house. Piper was born in June 2008. They broke ground on an 1,800-square foot addition—about a third larger than the home itself—that November. And it was completed by her first birthday.

The two-story addition extends from the rear of the original home. On the outside, a porch wraps around the front of the home and its south side, erasing any noticeable division between old and new. Inside, two large, open rooms comprise the new space, the living room downstairs and the master bedroom upstairs, which is separated from the en suite bathroom by a partial wall, the only interior wall, really, in the entire addition.

Tracey and Rod knew exactly what they wanted it to look like before a blueprint was even rendered. “And then we worked with our contractor to tweak some things that we thought would be one way and ended up being another,” Tracey says. “But, overall, it’s pretty much like a rectangle.”

They needed the space. But they also seized the opportunity to mold the home into their own shape. The reclaimed wood beams and exposed, raw-side pine that form the ceiling grid (and tie the old in with the new) juxtapose the concrete floor in the living room. The rear walls of the entry and dining rooms in the original home were removed, turning those spaces into extensions of the addition and, in turn, creating the illusion that they’re a bit larger than they actually are. Basically, all of the old was preserved and made practical again, while the addition afforded them new leeway, physically and aesthetically.

“We love industrial,” Tracey says. “But, we wanted to make sure that we could keep that [farmhouse] vibe and not have it look too country—even though we do live in that kind of house.”

With the store as a fallback and a couple whose tastes are constantly evolving, it’s easy to envision a high turnover rate for the furnishings, but the opposite is closer to the truth. Relatively little has changed from the initial installation.

“We spent more money and more time to find just the right pieces, instead of just trying to decorate because we had the space to decorate,” Tracey says. “I get bored with how things are merchandized,” so the accessories are shuffled often. But the furniture—“actually, we’ve had three couches so far,” she says and then laughs at the realization.

The newest couch was found at the Brimfield Antique Flea Market. It’s a French frame upholstered in Japanese denim.

“I just love it. But the cushions are all down and it’s super-uncomfortable,” Tracey says. “But I love the couch so much that I’m willing to suffer.”

She is not willing to suffer for it, or any other piece of furniture, for that matter.

“It’s on my to-do list, to make sure I get those stuffed, because then it’ll be super-comfortable and we can go back to where I sit here and Rod sits over there,” on the other sofa, which faces the French one from the other side of the coffee table. “I’m infringing on Rod’s sofa. He’s like, ‘This is my space. But because you had to have this uncomfortable sofa, you have to watch TV with me over here.’ And the kids don’t care. They love it over here,” on the French sofa.

How much, I ask, do two young kids, now 12 and 8, influence what you bring into the house?

“They don’t influence it at all. Like, I don’t care what they think,” Tracey says, laughing with me at her bluntness. Sarcasm tends to not be read as well as it’s heard, so I feel obligated to note that she’s kidding. “Our house is not a museum. The kids are allowed to lay all over everything. The dogs”—there are two of them, both around 85 pounds each—“lay all over the sofas. It’s a totally livable space, which is why I think the kids like it. We don’t put restrictions on them at all.

“However,” she adds, “they do know that, I don’t know if it’s because we’re in the business, they do know that they have to be respectful of the stuff that we have, that stuff costs money, that we look for stuff that’s really special that we may never be able to replace if it was ruined. As with anything, I don’t let them sit on the back of the sofa because they shouldn’t be doing that with anybody’s sofa.”

Later, Noah comes downstairs to alert Tracey that he’s due at soccer practice soon. He’s polite and personable. He stays with us for the next half-hour or so, while we finish talking and Tracey shows me around upstairs. Throughout, he’s wearing his neon-green Nike soccer spikes. Tracey never flinches.

The thrill of the hunt

When you work long hours, six days a week, in an industry as finicky and aloof as theirs, inspiration dries up fast. So it’s not unremarkable that Tracey and Rod’s home remains a wellspring of it for them. There are two reasons for that, Tracey says. One, it took them a long time to arrive here. And two, the home, in her eyes, is still very much a work in progress. The kitchen, an addition somewhere around the middle of the last century, appears next in line. They recently covered the north wall, floor to ceiling, in white subway tile with dark gray grout. Changed the complexion of the room entirely, Tracey says. She fantasizes openly now about replacing the cabinets with a sleek, modern kind.

This is not a couple, though, that loses itself every weekend in renovation projects. The home, after all, isn’t going anywhere. And Tracey feels that in order for them to remain relevant (and feed their insatiable addiction to design), they need to be closer to the action. So, they make regular trips to New York for two, three days at a time—kids in tow.

“I just want them to appreciate what we do,” she says. “A lot of people, their parents leave for work, they don’t know what they do. But my kids have to live with what we do. At times, it stinks for them. I want them to understand that it’s hard. Like, the things that we bring into the store and the things that we bring into the house, we don’t just go to a store, normally, and buy them. We found it somewhere. It has a story.”

Sitting in one of those low-slung lounge chairs in the entry room, Tracey smiles at the memory of the late-night bidding war on eBay that played out before they finally secured them.

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” she says. “Then we were like, ‘Oh, shit. I hope they’re nice.’ ”

Tracey insists that of their two kids, their daughter, Piper, is the clear favorite to follow in their footsteps, or at least, walk nearby. She’s creative and she’s already helping with the merchandizing in the store. But, “Noah won’t, for sure,” she says. “He wants nothing to do with it. He wants a nice house. He wants us to do it.”

My tour of the upstairs finishes in his bedroom. It’s the largest upstairs room in the original part of the house, but it’s modest by modern expectations. Still there’s room for a queen-size bed and a leather loveseat and a small table. The walls, up to about waist-high, are covered in square metal diamond plates, the kind you’d find on the floor of an exotic mechanic’s garage. But Noah’s grown out of them, and much of the rest of the motif—he’s 12, remember—so they’ll be coming down soon, likely with a lot of aggravation and cursing from Rod, who’ll be doing the prying. The bed was the first part of the makeover. Noah is filled with ideas for the rest of it.

“We’re gonna do a butcher-block desk. And we’re gonna mount my TV to the wall,” he says. “And we’re thinking of getting a—what’s that called?”

“An end table?” Tracey answers. “We’ll talk about that.”

“I could definitely design, like, boys’ rooms my age,” he says.

“Oh, really?” Tracey says with mock surprise. This is hardly the first time she’s heard this.

“Yeah. I’ll pay people. I’ll have people pay me. And I’ll design their rooms.”

Some of it appears to be sinking in, at least.




Weeds of Change


At the forefront of the wild food movement, lawyer turned forager Tama Matsuoka Wong is turning weeds into a thriving business and a way of life.

By Jessica Downey • Photography by Josh DeHonney


Tama Matsuoka Wong was an international financial services lawyer for decades, working in major urban centers like New York City and Hong Kong for 25 years, but when she and her husband Wil decided to move to New Jersey in 2002, near where she grew up in Princeton, Wong was prepared for her life to change course. She wanted lots of land and big sky, so they bought a house on 28 acres in Flemington.


With all that open space, for first time in her adult life, Wong tried to grow a vegetable garden. What she got instead was a tangle of uninvited weeds and roots, which ended up being her ultimate good fortune. “Friends tried to show us how to grow tomatoes and vegetables, and everything died. I had a black thumb. We eventually found out we lived on a clay flood plain and all we could grow was weeds,” Wong says. “I tried to get rid of them, but I found that it was a losing battle.”


When she enlisted her Japanese father for help removing the weeds, she was surprised at his reaction—he couldn’t believe her luck. One of the weeds she wanted removed was chickweed, one of Japan’s “seven treasures,” known as hakobera, which can be delicious when prepared properly. Wong started scouring the Web and bookstores for recipes, but most books and blogs she found suggested boiling them three times to get out the bitterness, so she went in search of a more refined understanding.


One night, in 2009, she brought some of her chickweed and other “twigs” with her to Daniel, the four-star Michelin-rated restaurant in New York City known for its inventive vegetarian cuisine. The head chef, Eddy Leroux, was delighted by her offerings and asked her to return with more, as well as roots and any other wild plants she found on her land.


These weeds were valuable, she soon learned, a discovery that coincided with the early days of the foraging movement, which was quickly gaining speed and momentum. These kinds of ingredients were gaining prominence on the menus of fine dining restaurants from New York to Copenhagen, and her 28 acres of twigs, roots and leaves provided her with an opportunity to be on the forefront. Later in 2009, Wong started her own company, Meadows and More, with the primary goal of helping people turn their yards into more natural landscapes.


While the concept of foraging brings to mind images of scavengers or anthropological ancestors scouring the earth for food, a more culinary interpretation has led to a movement described by the iconic chef and restaurateur Daniel Boulud as “harvesting the wild, ephemeral and rare flavors found in nature.” The movement has blossomed around the idea that we’ve been selecting plants for many generations that are increasingly high in sugar and starch and consistently lower in vitamins, fiber and minerals. Wild foods, foragers contend, are more nutritious and easy enough to find when you know what to look for.


A quick Google search will turn up plenty of resources and food blogs with ideas on cooking with foraged and wild foods, but when Wong made her discovery in 2009, books and sites to turn to for inspiration and advice were sparse.


“Publishers were looking for an American book,” Wong says. She obliged by writing a field guide/cookbook with Daniel’s Leroux called Foraged Flavor: Finding Fabulous Ingredients in Your Backyard or Farmer’s Market, which was published in 2012.


The book garnered plenty of attention and was nominated for a James Beard Award in 2013, which, of course, was a boost for her budding business. Today, she grows and cultivates weeds and wild plants on her land and land she leases from local farmers. Then she partners with restaurateurs and chefs, including Brick Farm Tavern partner/executive chef Greg Vassos, supplying them with the likes of garlic mustard and nettles and helping them develop flavor profiles for each plant.


It takes consistent trial and error to figure out what will grow, sell and taste good, but Wong says the experimental nature of her work is a thrill. “For every failure there’s this new and good thing happening,” Wong says. “I have relationships with conservation groups where I take things they don’t want, and I work with organic farmers. And it’s completely invigorating.”


[divider]Walk on the Wild Side— But Watch Where You Step[/divider]

If eating your weeds is more tempting than constantly battling them in your garden,  Wong offers some advice on how to start foraging. —JD


Look down. If you have a backyard or a vegetable garden, instead of throwing out something you don’t recognize or didn’t plant, take a closer look and try to appreciate it. I have a forum on my Web site (meadowsandmore.com) that lets you upload a picture, and we’ll identify it for you.


Start small. Try something you’re already familiar with, like a dandelion, and be patient.  Find out when its tenderness and sweetness peak. (Those initial leaves can be bitter and harsh.)


Get to know it. Engage with the plant and get to know it—it’s behavior and what you can do with it.


Don’t rule anything out. I came across some hickory bark. It looked like a house shingle, and I was like, Oh, great, bark. But to my surprise, my client came back and said it was amazing. He used it in shag bark/hickory bark ice cream, which tasted like smoky caramel.

The New Innovators


We know you’re eyeing up a whole lot of nothing, whether it be by the pool or the ocean, but there’s a lot that’s about to go down. We’re not saying that you need to be there for all of it (for now), but you should at least get to know the major players so that you can hit the ground running once you return your lounge chair to its upright position.
Portfolio by Scott Edwards

Ashley Smalley | Owner | The Selvedge Yard | New Hope

The brimming displays of the N3rd Collective.

The Selvedge Yard is distinctly cooler than I am, but I still felt a kinship with every inch of its 600 square feet from the first time I lingered within its walls—the Conrad Leach iconography prints, the midcentury blueprints doubling as wallpaper, the Silver Piston Indian Head pendant and chain, the red button-down made from shop-rag fabric that Ash pulls down and holds up close so I can appreciate the stitching, which is done by a 1930s Merrow sewing machine—and the $175 price tag.
The shop opened last summer, but it was an illustrated lifestyle before that. Ash’s husband, JP, has worked in all facets of fashion. Seven years back, looking for a creative outlet beyond his work, JP started The Selvedge Yard, the blog, with the intent to become the Internet’s denim aficionado. “And I got bored shitless within like three weeks,” he says. So he grew his scope and latched onto something more intimate—“All the things,” he says, “that have turned me on throughout my life, that make me who I am.” Which, of course, distinguishes him from none of the countless other bloggers. What does: “I grew up in a house with Harleys, and pot and dobermans. And a lot of the icons for me, growing up, were Evil Knievel, and Jungle Pam and Linda Vaughn. Even Fonzie.” Straightaway, there was a connection.
JP and Ash are big on community. They live in New Hope, too, and like to refer their customers to their favorite spots around town. When they opened the shop, they called upon their massive online community, as they refer to it, filled with artisan designers, to help them stock it.
“I look around and I don’t see just product,” JP says. “I see people’s faces, I see relationships.”
And just as JP’s life has grown to encompass Ash, they’ve begun to incorporate women’s clothing into The Selvedge Yard. Now that they’re both getting what they need out of the shop, you and your other half can too.


Michael (pictured) and Dino Kelly-Cataldi | Owners | Dino’s Backstage & The Celebrity Room | Glenside

Beneath the charcoal and chocolate surfaces, the red wallpaper that looks like tufted leather, the shimmering chandeliers and the larger-than-life portraits of Jane Russell and Jean Harlow, beneath the $1.5 million-, yearlong-renovation, Dino’s Backstage & The Celebrity Room comes down to pure devotion.
When Michael and Dino got together 18 years ago, both were scraping bottom. Michael had just closed his shop and Dino lost his restaurant. Slowly, they began to lift each other up. Dino got a corporate job. But Michael was never going to abandon his singing. In time, Dino came to realize that his love of Michael would lead him back to the unthinkable. This won’t be his restaurant, though. It’ll be theirs.
“We’re taking a leap of faith here,” Dino says. “If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t really matter because we still have each other.”
“I love the sentiment of that,” Michael counters. “But I’ve never been so sure of something.”
When it opens in early June, Dino’s will be an entirely unique breed, a midcentury-era supper club, complete with a decadent dining room and a seductive cabaret lounge. “I’m sort of thinking, like, 1948,” Michael says. “Why, in my mind, 1948, I’m not quite sure.” Either way, it’s meant to invoke a day when going out was an indulgent affair, when all involved, right down to the hosts, could exit the grind and slip into a virtual reality where anything felt possible for a few hours. And usually was.


Elizabeth Cassel | Owner | Baby Scout and Scout Salvage & Vintage Rescue

Cassel’s been picking for several years now. She knows where to look and when. And on a typical haul, she figures that 20 percent is exceptional. The rest is passable. She was selling the exceptional stuff before she could unload it from the truck and move it into her Old City shop, Scout Salvage & Vintage Rescue. Granted, it was a good problem to have, but it was still a problem. Sometimes it wouldn’t even make it that far. She’d snap a pic of her find onsite and post it to Instagram, where it was almost always snatched up before she made it back.
So Cassel grew her ranks. She rounded up some friends from The Clover Market, where she also sold, and together, last October, they opened the N3rd Collective in her old storefront. She describes it as “part-boutique co-op, part-small business incubator.”
As the collective took off, Cassel, five months pregnant when it launched, had her first child. And she happened upon her next frontier in the process: Baby Scout. We talked in early May, while her son napped. The concept was just taking root then. She’d decorated his nursery, floor to ceiling, in vintage Sesame Street, and a new world exposed itself: kid-friendly vintage. “He has some really funny vintage T-shirts that are waiting for him to grow a little bit bigger,” she says, with a laugh.
Cassel envisions everything from clothing to bedroom furniture, functional as it is fashionable, as has become Scout’s reputation, comprising the collection, which she’ll sell online. That’s likely the direction for Scout too. By the time you read this, Scout will likely be gone from the collective. It’ll live on, fear not. But she’s a mom now, and time is fleeting.


Sarah R. Bloom | Visual Artist | Narberth

The last 18 months have been a rollercoaster for Bloom. On the breakneck descents, she screams to get off. But once she’s safely stowed back in the bay, she steels herself to go again. And again.
“The last year has been a great year for me as far as attention goes with work,” Bloom says. “It’s also been, like, emotionally, the worst year of my life. It’s a very interesting dynamic.”
The onslaught of attention started with a two-minute profile in a documentary series called Wastelands. It posted on a Thursday night in January 2015, and by midday the next day, The Huffington Post and The Daily Mail had requested interviews. Before the year was out, Bloom was named Philadelphia magazine’s favorite visual artist and one of the “28 Badass Women You Should Be Following On Instagram.”
What drew them to her: Self-portraits that are, at turns, vulnerable, dark, funny, combative, gripping. In 2006, she was invited to join a Flickr group called “365 Days,” where its members took and posted self-portraits every day for a year. Bloom figured she’d last a week. But she fed off the support and started to look at herself differently. Midway through Year Two, she began shooting herself amid the ruins of old buildings, as she’s pictured here.
“I was thinking a lot about aging at that point, or starting to, and starting to notice things about my own body that were changing,” she says. “It felt like an apt metaphor to use the abandoned spaces as, like, a reflection of my inner state, and then, eventually, my physical state.”
A couple years back, Bloom, still shooting daily, began framing her years with themes, for added purpose. This year’s: “Feminist Manifesto,” she says with a knowing laugh. She’s pairing black-and-white portraits with quotes from legendary feminists and, conversely, absurd comments made along the campaign trail. Should be no shortage of inspiration this summer.


David Jansen (fifth from left) | Owner/Chef | Jansen | Mt. Airy

Grilled Norwegian salmon, potato and oyster fondue.

When Jansen left The Fountain at The Four Seasons after more than two decades there, his mind was on his three kids, not another restaurant. He spent the next five years being a full-time dad, coaching his youngest daughter’s soccer and softball teams, making them dinner, describing it, in the end, as “the best decision I made.”
But a chef with Jansen’s pedigree—he entered the professional kitchen 35 years ago, at 14—was always going to return cooking. That time came last October, when he toured a rundown, 300-year-old stone building along Germantown Avenue, the latest in a long list of potential restaurant sites. But this one held his attention. It’s close enough to his Chestnut Hill home that his daughter comes around most days to do her homework upstairs, at the charcuterie, cheese and raw bar. And his son works there. (His oldest daughter’s a college sophomore.)
Jansen always claimed ownership of The Fountain, but he was never able to make it truly his own, not like this. But it’s still hard to tell, naturally, where The Fountain ends and Jansen, the restaurant, begins—the perfectionist, French-based cooking techniques, the hyper-attentive service. The white tablecloths are still pronounced, too, but the formality’s been shed. And the menu’s more agile, though hardly cutting-edge. Jansen may have been away for a while, but he hasn’t forgotten who he is. “I don’t do foams,” he says. “I do good sauces, good soups. I cook fish properly.”

Photos: (Ashley Smalley/The Selvedge Yard) Josh Dehonney; (Michael Kelly-Cataldi/Dino’s Backstage & The Celebrity Room; Elizabeth Cassel/N3rd Collective; David Jansen/Jansen) Matthew J. Rhein; (Sarah R. Bloom) courtesy Sarah R. Bloom

The (Almost) Closed Loop


First there was a small farm, which became a bigger farm. And then came a market. And now, a restaurant. It’s taken 10 long years, but Double Brook Farm and Brick Farm Market and Tavern finally appear poised to change the way we eat. For real this time.
By Scott Edwards  ·  Photography by Josh DeHonney

Brick Farm Tavern chef Greg Vassos, right, with Robin and Jon McConaughy—and some of Double Brook’s newest residents. Top: The fashionable Brick Farm Market.

When fine dining meets farm-fresh at Vassos’ inspired hands.

This all started with a modest enough ambition. Robin and Jon McConaughy wanted to close the gap some between their young family and its food sources. The Omnivore’s Dilemma was just about to be published, and they’d read an excerpt in The New York Times Magazine, which drew the same disgusted reaction from both of them. Soon after, they started looking for a little more property on which they could spread out.

“The original idea,” Robin says, “was to find a piece of land where we could have a couple of animals and show our kids where their food is coming from, and they could have some chickens that they would presumably feed. Which has never happened. Ever.”

Beyond a backyard garden, neither Robin nor Jon had any experience with farming—Jon worked in finance on Wall Street and Robin owned a sports media company—but what they were imagining was less a farm than it was an elaborate hobby. They landed on 60 acres in Hopewell Township, New Jersey, and built their home—a turn-of-the-century farmhouse on the outside, a model of modern energy efficiency on the inside. Then they were connected with an Angus calf that had been rejected by its mother. They named her Elsie and nurtured her to a robust 1,400 pounds. When the time came to slaughter Elsie, everyone they asked wanted a share. More cows followed. Robin and Jon started staging farm stand-style sales in their barn. The hobby was hurtling toward something much bigger.

“It just mushroomed out of control,” Robin says.
“But I think that somewhere along the way, we looked at, if we truly are going to be farmers, what makes the most sense,” Jon says. “So, it was in those early years that we decided, well, if we’re going to do all this, we probably should connect all the pieces, and we should have the restaurant and the market and the farm.”

Jon refers to it now, 10 years later, as a “vertical model” or a “closed-loop, sustainable food system.” In theory, it’s pretty basic. There’s a market and a restaurant. Both are stocked almost entirely by the farm, from the microgreens to the merguez. That cuts way down on the marketing and distribution concerns that plague the modern farmer. In practice, however, it’s rife with challenges—challenges that plague the other farmers, too. In other words, it’s an improvement, but it’s far from ideal. More on that in a bit, though.
Once Robin and Jon began acquiring more land, they turned their sights toward the market and the restaurant. They bought both properties, which sit about a mile apart from each other, around the same time, six years ago.

“The plan was—and for various reasons, it’s good that it didn’t work out this way—,” Jon says.
“—our sanity,” Robin interjects and laughs.
“—the market and the restaurant would open together.”

Brick Farm Market opened three years ago in a fashionably retrofitted 1930s Chevy dealership located in the heart of Hopewell Borough. The restaurant, Brick Farm Tavern, opened in a meticulously renovated 1822 farmhouse just outside of the borough in November. Sustaining both at the same a few years ago, when there was still so much to figure out with the farm, likely would have sunk them. They see that now. Opening the market alone enabled them to get a better foothold, which included establishing an audience for the restaurant. Two weeks before it opened, Friday and Saturday nights were booked solid a month out, and that remains the case.
During those three years between openings, another critical piece fell into place. After months of detours, the McConaughys constructed the second USDA-inspected, on-farm slaughtering facility in the entire country. It’s significantly streamlined their operation. It’s also satisfied a concern that has roots in the farm’s impetus. They could humanely raise their animals, but, with so few options available to them, they could not ensure that they’d be slaughtered that way.

The Double Brook Farm slaughterhouse is designed according to the recommendations of Temple Grandin, the famed animal science scholar, every aspect of which is aimed at calming the animal right up to the end.

“To us, it is the most important thing about our farming operation, being able to humanely take these animals to the final destination, basically,” Robin says. “Even if you’re squeamish, which I am—I made myself watch the slaughter one day—I just couldn’t have been prouder of our guys and the way they do it. It’s totally quiet. It’s totally calm.”

The microgreens are grown hydroponically, then transplanted to a greenhouse behind the restaurant so they can be picked fresh.

What sustaining looks like
Double Brook Farm, today, encompasses roughly 850 acres, 500 of which the McConaughys own (they lease the rest), spread across several parcels, all but one of them in Mercer County. Their staff measures about a hundred strong, the great majority of it divided between the market and the restaurant. The mission statement, though, remains relatively unfazed by the staggering growth: Provide tasty, nutritious food in the most sustainable and humane ways available.

With each year, they inch a little closer to that ideal of a completely closed-loop operation. It’s an admirable aspiration, but it’s not that realistic.

“People want salt, as it turns out,” Robin says. “And vanilla. And pepper.
To remain true to their cause, they’ve learned to prioritize their decisions once they move beyond their immediate reach. Sourcing locally is second-best. If they need to look further, they’ll evaluate based upon the practices. The flowchart establishes an order, but the decisions it produces rarely come so easily.

A more glaring opening in their loop than the salt is the beef. Raising cattle, they realized a couple years back, was not sustainable, not for them. They had over 300 head of cattle then divided among seven herds that were rotated daily. The farmers who tended to them were logging about 150 miles a day because the herds grazed between three to 10 miles apart from each other, and the farmers were visiting each one at least twice a day.

“You’re basically doing it all day,” Robin says. “And then, whenever a farmer would get hurt or something would happen, it would be because we were moving cattle in a trailer from this 30-acre lot to that 150-acre lot. It just consumed us.”

So even though they got their start with Elsie, the McConaughys were learning, gradually, not to marry themselves to any preconceived perceptions. They moved all of their calves and cows down to Lakota Ranch, in Virginia, which adheres to the same all-natural and humane treatment. The only difference is that its several hundred acres are continuous. The beef that’s sold at the butcher counter at Brick Farm Market and featured on the tavern’s menu comes from Thistle Creek Farms, in Central Pennsylvania, which has been cultivating pasture-raised steers, including those from Lakota, for more than 25 years.

“Now we drive about 150 miles a week, instead of seven days a week, to meet halfway at the slaughterhouse,” Robin says. “That is the one piece that we don’t slaughter ourselves, is the cows. That does give us pause, but it is really the best-possible and way more-sustainable solution for us.”

A decade in, there is one amendment to the mission statement: and do so in an economically viable manner.

“We made the realization probably two or three years ago that that needed to be part of the equation,” Jon says. “As we listed our pillars of sustainability, economic sustainability wasn’t initially on there. Everything was a fun experiment, but not necessarily thought out in the way of, OK, how is it eventually going to make money? A model isn’t a model if it can’t be an economic model as well.”

For the better part of the last hour, we’ve been sitting around a table set for four in the dining room furthest from the tavern’s kitchen. The walls are adorned with paintings by the Pennsylvania Impressionist John Fulton Folinsbee, who is Robin’s great-grandfather. The next room over is decorated with a series of prints that she brags she picked up for 50 bucks at the Golden Nugget.

Later, as Jon and I pull up to the slaughterhouse, we’re discussing how realistic the concept of a profitable, sustainable-minded farm is. Before the tavern opened, they were supplying a number of New York restaurants.

“If we weren’t within an hour’s drive of 20 million people [between New York and Philadelphia], would it work? I’m skeptical that it would,” he says. “I think proximity makes a big difference.”

As do resources, of course. Jon and Robin, thanks in large part to their lucrative, former careers, were uniquely positioned to venture down this path and weather the onslaught of obstacles they’ve encountered along the way. Still, it’s been 10 hard years just developing the infrastructure so that they could arrive here, the farm, the market and the tavern driving each other. Without one, none of it really works. But it’s still too early to tell if it works all that well with all three.

Robin, Jon and I leave the restaurant and head for the market, Robin climbing into her Tesla, Jon and I into his Audi SUV. Just along the horizon, Jon motions toward a large barn that contains towering walls of hydroponic heads of lettuce and tables loaded with bok choy. In the surrounding 25-acre field is where the vegetables are grown. On the other side of the restaurant, there’s a fenced-in plot that’s been handed over to Tama Matsuoka Wong, the co-author of Foraged Flavor. “She’s cultivating some weeds,” as Jon puts it, that’ll be used at the tavern. With so much so close, what could go wrong?

Logistics first, cooking later
Our notions of farm-to-table eating, and even farming itself, are deeply romanticized. Once we started catching on to how bad the conventional set-up was (and still very much is)—the sugar-laden processed foods, the factory farming—it was a natural reaction to get as far away from all of that as we could, to get back to the land, to start eating pure again (or, really, for the first time). But we’re not that much better informed now about how our food is created or where it comes from. For someone so recently burned, we were quick to throw our trust behind a bunch of marketing terms—organic! grass-fed! free-range!—and picturesque magazine spreads. (Thank you.)

The reality: “Farming is relentless,” Robin says.

“Even for these two outlets, the market and the restaurant, we go through a lot of animals. And vegetables,” Jon says. “Yeah, it’s rotational grazing, but there’s 2,000 chickens that have to supply the 300 a week we need to keep this operation going.”

More numbers: two Berkshire pigs, two whole lambs and 35 chickens. That’s what the tavern went through in a week in May, according to its executive chef and partner, Greg Vassos, who describes the synchronicity that’s needed to pull off farm-to-table dining night in and night out as “very chaotic.”

On any given day, the tavern’s susceptible to a freak storm, a broken-down truck, an ill farmer. And then consider this: Brick Farm Tavern is the only restaurant in the country with its own slaughterhouse.

“It’s a juggling act because we’re getting whole pigs, whole lambs, whole chickens,” Greg says. “There are a lot of different parts to the animal, so it’s a lot to figure out.”
And that constant planning, between Greg and his chefs, between Greg and the farmers, between Greg and Double Brook’s butcher, encompasses that night, the upcoming weekend, the following week, the following month even. Killing an animal will never be taken lightly when all involved feel a personal and professional responsibility to see that every viable part is utilized.

“The farm-to-table movement, I think the hardest part is having the chef fully understand what that means, using the full animal,” Jon says.

The slaughterhouse is located at the end of a long, potholed, dirt driveway behind a sprawling field where chickens strut in all directions, near and far, under the close watch of a big, white sheepdog that sits atop a prominent outcropping toward the front of the field. Near the entrance, there’s a muddy pigpen. Most of the lambs, once they’re weaned, are raised nearby too. The idea is to foster a sense of familiarity right up until the end.

From the outside, the building looks like any other generic farm structure. Just as we’re about to go in, Jon acknowledges a bucket at the foot of the door that I overlooked. Inside, there are two lambs’ heads. “The USDA comes and collects the heads,” he says. That would be the most dramatic thing I’d see. Inside, it’s empty. And spare.

Before this was built, they were spending about $100,000 a year to slaughter their animals. That’s down to about $20,000. The building’s solar-powered, so almost all of that cost is labor. What that means, basically, is that they can match and usually even improve upon the price of conventionally farmed chicken, turkey, lamb and pork.

If Greg’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he owned a short-lived restaurant in Pottstown called Racine, which was a critical darling. Racine was farm-to-table—Greg himself sourced the ingredients from the neighboring farms. But, he says, there’s a big difference between that and this. His learning curve, even with that experience, was steep. “Very, very steep” is actually what he said. On one hand, you’re cherry-picking all the best veg and parts of the pig and cow. And with the other, you’re being told there won’t be enough tomatoes to go around an hour or two before dinner service, and you’re figuring out what to do with short ribs. And ground beef. So much ground beef.

“I feel my duty as a chef is using what’s available, and making something special out of it, rather than me telling them, ‘I need this. I need that,’ ” Greg says. “This job, I think, is the ultimate dream. If you’re going to do farm-to-table, this is the way to do it.”


Shifting the paradigm
After we leave the market, sitting at a stoplight, I ask Jon what he’d be doing if he wasn’t driving me around.

“The average day is still sort of connecting the pieces, probably more from an infrastructure side,” he says. “I’ve been the general contractor for the entire project, and it’s been a lot of construction over the last four or five years. But the real reason I got into this is farming. So my days are slowly starting to shift from manager conversations and construction to being out on the farm.”

In piecing together his own operation, he’s visited countless other farms. In the beginning, it was just the likeminded ones, but then he grew curious and needed to see how the other half, the conventional farms, lived.

“I wanted to see why they’re doing it. And, just how bad is the situation,” Jon says. “I think it’s easy to blame people and point fingers. But I think you really have to see it first before you make those assumptions.”

We drive past one of their fields where ewes are paired up with their lambs, all of them nestled in the grass around a pair of giant, brown donkeys. Are those donkeys? I ask. “Yeah,” he says. “They protect them.” Really? “I think, actually, the donkeys are just protecting themselves.”

I know you said that you were moved to undertake all of this, or maybe a smaller version of it, but to make even that kind of commitment, it seems as though the seed was planted long before. Was there a part of you always kind of pining for this lifestyle?

“I think if you were to ask Robin, she would say no. I’ve always sort of had the desire to get into farming,” Jon says. “When I got into finance, I always sort of perceived it to be a means to an end.

“Now, a different question would be, after being in farming for 10 years, is it what I anticipated? Not yet, so far. We asked ourselves, especially a year or two ago, could we have done anything differently? I don’t think we could have. If you don’t connect [the farm, market and restaurant], it’s not profitable enough. And there’s no easy way to connect them without trying to get them up and running at the same time.”

For all their effort, their kids, now 13 and 16, only seem interested in the farm when they’re friends are over. But even though Robin and Jon may have started out wanting this for them, it’s their eventual grandkids they’re doing the heavy lifting for now. Jon was right when he said that a conscientious farm alone was never going to shift the paradigm. But a self-sustaining market and restaurant could show us the way.