New Faces, New Places
This past weekend, we ran into a young couple on their honeymoon, experiencing Cape May for the first time. We like to think we don’t ever take our town for granted, but it never hurts to see it anew through the eyes of thrilled first-timers. We’re looking especially forward to this summer, because there are a few changes — new stores, new restuarants, and old favorites in new locations — that will have us all feeling just a little like those first-time visitors.
The first is Cape Atlantic Books, opening hopefully the first week of May on the second floor of the City Center Mall (in the middle section of the mall proper). A town needs books (and we’re not just saying that because we’re in the book business). It’s not just the joy of reading we’re talking about… it’s the joy of browsing the shelves, flipping through their pages, and… smelling them. Owner/manager Tony Herr knows what we’re talking about. “When I was in high school,” he said, “we had lineograph machines that would run off photo copies. It sounds ridiculous, but the big thing was to smell the dittos when they came out of the machine, getting that blue streak on your nose. Books have that smell, too… I love the smell of a bookstore.”
And that’s something you’re not going to get from a Kindle. (Tony told us he has one — he got it as a Christmas gift — and he likes the novelty of it… but “there’s just something about books…”)
As you think about stocking up on your summer reading, Tony recommends Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, it’s his all-time-favorite book. We recommend The First Resort, but we’re biased.
Near the new bookstore, owner/operator of George’s Place, John Karapanagiotis, and his brother, Pete, chef at the YB, are launching a new place called Pano, meaning “up” in Greek. It’s also on the second-floor of the mall, and the brothers are working with the bookstore on a way to create some second-floor synergy. “We’ll have leather couches and wi-fi,” John told us, “and counter-service… all healthy and fresh.”
We called Pete for the details of the menu. “Salads, sandwiches, paninis, drinks, coffees, and maybe pastries,” he told us. “It’s still under development.” The brothers just decided they were opening two months ago. “It will be an interesting summer to say the least,” Pete said.
And that’s not all this family has up its sleeve for this season. John’s brother-in-law, Mikey Tsiartsionis, is opening a smoothie and crepe place next door to George’s, where Blue Moon Pizza used to be. (Blue Moon has moved down the street, between Carney’s and Cabanas, and they’re only take-out and delivery right now… until they get an eat-in permit from the city around mid-summer). Mikey’s place doesn’t yet have a name. “Regretfully, I have less than a week to come up with a name and submit for a mercantile licence,” he said. “We’re working around the clock on the details.” Despite the stress, Mikey is excited. “I have quite a sweet tooth.. I made all the cheesecakes for George’s… so I figured why not?” Why not, indeed.
Speaking of sweet things, we caught up with Bonnie Offfit, owner of Bonnie’s Toppings, who’s taking a leave of absence from pediatrics (she’s been a docotor for 22 years) in order to operate her mini-chain of “self-surf” frozen yogurt shops. There was one in Avalon last year, and this season, there will be one in Stone Harbor and, starting May 3, one in Washington Commons. “It feels good to serve a treat that’s healthy,” she says. “It’s nutritious, with all the active cultures of yogurt, meaning it’s good for the digestive system. Plus, it’s a really fun shop.”
That it is. The idea is that the customers do it all here — pull the level for the flavor they’d like, then top it however… with “any number of chocolate things,” gummy bears, sprinkles, a variety of syrups, Heath bar crunch, granola, coconut flakes, even fresh fruit from Tony’s produce.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the Cape May Organic Market in a discussion of healthy food options. Tai Menz, the Inn of Cape May chef, and his wife Julie, of Victorious Antiques and Pink, opened the shop on February 17… you know, in all of their spare time. In addition to their other jobs, the couple is raising Piper, a beautiful 16-month-old baby girl. “It’s a lot right now,” Julie told us when we called, laughing at the same time because baby Piper was busy trying on jewelry at Pink. But the response has been “tremendous.” We can’t imagine why it wouldn’t be; the market carries a great variety, including free-range meat, bread baked in West Cape May, eggs from the Menzs’ backyard, vegan bath products, organic cleaning supplies, all-natural baby food (and diapers!), essential oils for both aromatherapy and eating (who knew?), and — our favorite — biodegradable bags for your puppy’s poop. (We go through a lot of enviornmentally un-friendly plastic while walking the Exit Zero family dogs.)
But the coolest thing? If you have a recommendation for something you don’t see, go ahead and let the girl or guy behind the counter know. They’ll put it on a list and Tai will try and make sure it’s there in the future. “He gets a new delivery every week,” Julie told us.
We heard a giggling child in the background when we called Mike Boschen also. He and his wife, Nicole Pense, have three kids, ranging in age from just over a month to not-quite five. And yet, kind of like Tai and Julie, they’ve got an enviable amount of energy. They opened Bliss ice cream in the Carpenter’s Square Mall last summer (it’s the only homemade, entirely organic ice cream on the island), and this year, they’re moving that shop to Park Boulevard. “There’s more exposure on Park Boulevard,” Mike told us, “great natural light, and most importantly, we’re in the same strip as some really quality businesses.” (Like the Organic Market we just told you about!)
Mike and Nicole will be sharing their new space with another young couple, Hilary Keever and Contrano Rosettano, who recently moved to town from Italy. They’ll be running The Good Earth Organic Eatery, which is technically a macrobiotic café. And Hilary assured us that’s a lot less scary than it sounds. “It’s simply about eating in a balanced way,” she told us, “which improves the immune system.” The cafe will offer organic vegetarian and fish options.
Mike and Nicole’s other venture is Ella’s Good To Go, opening the last weekend in May. It’s an eatery next to Gecko’s that will serve breakfast, lunch and dessert items made with as many local ingredients as possible. Think handmade sandwiches made with fresh bread delivered daily, 100 percent juice smoothies, and their own blend of coffee and espresso brewed by the local Harry and Bean. “We’ll be open until 11pm,” Mike told us, “because we realize that some people look forward to their coffee after dessert.”
So how is the couple managing with three kids and two businesses? “It’s not so bad,” Mike said. “Being a musician helps, because my daughters have gotten on the same schedule as me. If we go to bed at ten, everyone sleeps until eight easily.” Oh, did we not mention that Mike also makes time to pursue music? When we spoke with him, he had just returned from a gig in New York. He plays trombome, and you should look for him at the Mad Batter this summer.
Then there’s the Red Store at Cape May Point, AKA the General Store and restaurant. We stopped in for breakfast on Easter, and our meal was… awesome. (We don’t use that word lightly.) The owners — Deanna Ebner of Quahog’s Seafood Shack in Stone Harbor, and Lucas Manteca, Executive Chef of The Ebbitt Room — obviously know their way around a kitchen, so there’s no surprise there. But the view at this place never ceases to surprise us, no matter how many times we’ve been. Quaint churches… beautiful Pavilion Park… there’s something magical about the Point.
While we’re on the subject of views, there’s quite an entertaining one in development across the street from EZ Global Headquarters, in the space where Vanthia’s restaurant used to be. We’re talking about Sunset Liquors, which has a “rustic” theme, according to owner Tom O’Hara of Uncle Bill’s Pancake House. Or a “wild, wild west” theme, according to passersby. Have you seen the railings that make it look like an old saloon? They were shipped in from Colorado. And the barrels on the roof? They came from Hawk Haven winery. “People want to know when the cowboys and indians are coming,” Tom told us, “but they like it. And hey, it is the wild, wild West Cape May, after all.”
In all seriousness, we like the corrugated metal and reclaimed wood siding a great deal… the planks are old mushroom boards — used on mushroom farms — and they’re more than 30 years old. We took a tour of the inside, and the lights there are very cool (designed by Tom), and the adobe beige paint gives the place a nice, warm feel. So what’s Tom’s first celebratory drink going to be when construction is completed next month? (It’s been a tough process… Tom had to rip up three floors, two levels of walls and three roofs when he began construction.) “Oh, I don’t know,” he told us. “Probably Champagne.” Bottoms up, Tom.
And we can’t forget about Stewart’s Root Beer on the mall, opening where Atlantic Books used to be on Mother’s Day Weekend. Patrick Rosenello is one of three partners, and he told us how excited he is to offer something different. “We are family-friendly, a very causal dining experience, no alcohol,” he said, “and I think we will fill a nice gap in that regard. The restaurant will serve primarily hot dogs, hamburgers, root beer floats, salads, wraps, cheesesteaks and ice cream, with a complete breakfast menu as well, in a setting that is very 1920s. “The first Stewart’s was originally constructed in 1920, the brand was conceieved in 1924, and our restaurant architect has stuck with that… with some modern touches.”
Another favorite casual dining spot — Cappelleti & Sons Pizza & Steaks — will be opening across from Key West Taco, where Carli’s used to be. Does that name sound familiar? That’s because there’s also a Cappelleti Pizza next to Wawa, and one on the promenade. We called owner Dan Cappelleti, or Cappy, as he’s affectionately called by his fanatical locals, to find out if he’s planning an empire here in Cape May. “That’s what eveyrone is saying,” he told us. “But if I hadn’t taken the space, someone else would have, and I figure, there might as well be pizza.” Fair enough.
Contrary to the way this column is making it sound, there are also some pretty cool new businesses in town who will offer things other than food and drink this summer. Rowehouse Tile is one. They opened in June of last year on Carpenter’s Lane, but they’ve been flying under the radar since then. Donna Rowe and her husband, Wayne, do decorative art and tiling for everything from stair raisers to swimming pools along with custom address plaques. “We stumbled into it,” Donna told us. “We’re self-taught. My husband is a teacher for Crest Memorial School and I am a barber by trade, but we started making this art as gifts and people loved it.” Our favorite thing? The paw prints from animals at the Cape May County Zoo. They’re actual molds taken of the lions and tigers and bears (oh, my) — and even the ostriches — while the animals are under anesthesia, getting necessary medical work done.
Last but absolutely far from least, there’s White on Ocean Street, owned by interior designer of 13 years Viviane Rowan. She moved here permanently from Princeton in April (though she’s been coming to Cape May regularly for 19 years). We popped over last Sunday during what could only be considered a monsoon, and this reporter would have felt bad looking like a drowned rat in this beautiful space (one that sells “jewelry, table-top, clothes, body products, mirrors, lamps, and chandeliers,” all in various shades of white), if Viviane hadn’t been so darn welcoming. She told us about her recent buying trip in Paris, how important it is to her that caliber of shopping in Cape May match the caliber of dining and accommodation, and how inspiring it is to be so close to the beach (you can see it from her shop). “What’s most important to me is to keep my eyes open for things that are different,” Viviane said, “things you’re not going to find anywhere elese.”
So there you have it, folks. An outline of big things happening in our litle town. Oh, and if you’re wondering about Jackson Mountain Café being closed, fear not. We got in touch with manager Jeff Conrad, who told us that “there will be no changes this summer.” They’ve simply been redoing the kitchen floors and hooking up their plumbing to the city’s lines.
City’s Revival Comes Alive
WHEN you hear “history museum,” it’s easy to think… dinosaurs. Fossils of animals who died eons ago. Artifacts from wars long over. Photographs of people long gone.
This is what makes the island’s newest history exhibit — Cape May’s 20th Century Renaissance: From the Pages of the First Resort — so special. This time, the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts and Humanities is highlighting the recent past — the years before, during, and after Cape May’s urban renewal movement. (For those desperately in need of a historical crash course, that’s the sixties through the eighties.)
“The story of the Victorian period has been told in any number of ways,” says Michael Zuckerman, Director of MAC. “But urban renewal jumped out at us a story that hasn’t been told. And the community we see today was very much forged during this period.”
We called Ben Miller — author of The First Resort, the book upon which the exhibit is based, and the man who’s done the “lion’s share” of the work, according to Zuckerman — to find out why these years were so important… and so contentious.
“In the middle of the 20th century,” Ben told us, “Cape May was just another middle American place. While locals were spirited and proud of their town, the tourism industry was a shell of what it is today.” Wanting to revive their community, people began formulating plans for the future of Cape May, and two camps developed.
Those impressed by our recently overhauled neighbor to the north — Wildwood — thought the way to improve Cape May was to demolish the number of neglected, boarded-up Victorian buildings serving as eyesores around town and start from scratch, incorporating modern designs with modern conveniences. The other group advocated for historic preservation, citing the town’s Victorian roots as key to its revival.
The battles were many. Today, it’s hard to believe some ensued at all… like the heated debate over whether a Washington Street Mall would benefit the city. Others feel very close to home… we’re thinking of the squabbling over the 1964 Convention Hall. “In the end,” Ben said, “the answer was found somewhere in between. At the exhibit, you will get to walk through Cape May’s renaissance, through the changes that took place.”
For us, this is exciting, but we wanted to know how Ben is feeling, now that the April 27 opening — an opening that’s been two years in the making — is upon is. “Oh, God, there’s a lot of pressure,” he said, “particularly because we’re talking about a piece of history that people remember.”
This week, we caught up with one of these people — Tom Carroll who, along with his wife, Sue, helped launch the bed and breakfast industry in Cape May. “In 1971,” he told us, “I was in the Coast Guard, but I was going off of active duty. We purchased 28 Jackson Street — now the Windward House — for $38,000, and ran a rooming house.” (Your reporter wasn’t clear on the distinction between a rooming house and a B&B, so Tom explained that it’s the cheaper of the two options, with no private bath and “no beautiful décor.”) But on a trip to Europe, Tom and Sue fell in love with B&Bs.“We loved the idea of a place where you make friends and exchange ideas, have afternoon tea as a nice social hour, and use the foreign hosts as your guide to the community — we were convinced there had to be a market for this in America. ” Upon returning to Cape May, Tom and Sue purchased the Mainstay Inn, and brought these traditions to Cape May — just one of many big changes you’ll learn about in the Renaissance exhibit.
What else you can expect to see? Video and never before seen pictures (“I didn’t want people to see the same photos they’ve been seeing in The First Resort for the last three years,” says Ben), and pieces of Cape May memorabilia (like a “very special” piece of stained glass from the Christian Admiral, and the original copper kettle from the Original Fudge Kitchen).
“We’re going to show people a side of Cape May they haven’t seen since the ’60s,” Ben said, “and it’s going to blow them away.”
Admission to the exhibit, which runs through November 4, is free, as is admission to Friday night’s reception, which begins at 7pm. For more information, call 609-884-5404.
A New View Of The Stage
We’ve seen a number of impressive shows at Cape May Stage, but none of them from 13 feet in the air, and we’re looking forward to it. As the theater prepares to open its 2012 season, it’s also preparing to reveal a former choir loft turned mezzanine (along with a state-of-the-art technical booth). “It’s beautiful,” said Nancy Mansfield, the theater company’s Executive Director. “There’s no center aisle, so you can sit center stage, and the view is just wonderful.”
But it’s the increase in seating (the mezzanine has a row of 12 and a row of 14, meaning the theater now seats 136) that is most significant. “In the past, we’ve had to turn people away… sometimes 30, 40 people a night,” Artistic Director Roy Steinberg told us. “For one show starring Michael Tucker, we had a waiting list of 100 people.”
And the demand for tickets is only going to grow, as the theater will continue bringing big-name actors to Cape May. “This is the only venue in southern New Jersey that brings this caliber of people to the community… Tony award-winning people,” Roy told us. “Christine Ebersole is coming this summer, for instance. When she performs at the Café Carlyle [in New York City] it’s $90 just to sit down, with a $50 drink minimum. And Cape May Stage is a far more intimate venue.”
And a far cooler venue, we’re willing to bet, once you know its history.
For a crash course, we called Dave Clemans, local preservationist and “the church’s angel,” according to both Nancy and Roy, because “he’s a man of enormous depth” who is “largely responsible for the way the theater looks today.” Dave was a key player in transforming the building from “nearly derelict” to “prime condition” about seven years ago, and he was most important for this recent renovation.
“I’m not certain why anyone would call me an angel,” Dave told us. “A devil, perhaps.” But we know better; Dave’s the contractor who’s frequently done work for Cape May stage pro-bono (as is the case with the new information booth he’s currently working on for the theater), or at “bare-bones cost” (as was the case with the technical booth and mezzanine).
“It gives me a sense of purpose,” he told us, “which is important as you get older, because you can’t keep carousing around the bars.” Funny, but we know the reasons behind Dave’s generosity run deeper. “I love architectural history,” he said, “and this church is remarkable.” It was built in 1850, but with a technique — heavy timber framing — that would have been used even 150 years earlier. It’s done in the Victorian exotica nomenclature (notice the Middle Eastern elements which the Victorians loved to borrow… who knew?). “There’s no other building even remotely like it in Cape May,” Dave told us.
To check out the mezzanine yourself, you’ll want to purchase tickets for the first show of the season, Uncle Jacques’ Symphony, running May 11 to June 15. Or stop by the free Meet the Mezzanine event happening at Cape May Stage on May 20, from 12-2pm. It will be a good chance to pat Dave Clemans on the back, although we can’t guarantee he’ll like it. “I’ll be there, but I don’t know how much I’ll like the attention,” he said. “Every effort has already been returned to me in people’s appreciation for the theater. It’s been a pleasure and a thrill.”
Bloom Where You’re Planted
Cape Island citizens are a flora and fauna-friendly bunch — consider that an island of this size can support two thriving flower shops, after all.
We popped into Cape Winds on Broadway for a look around, where owner Debbie Downes told us they are heading into their busiest season right now. “Between Mother’s Day, weddings and proms, May is just really, really busy.” Mother’s Day, apparently, is the biggest barn-burner of all flower days. “Last year, the day before Mother’s Day,” Debbie says, “we had our busiest single delivery day, with 159 local deliveries alone.” The cool thing about Cape Winds is that there is also a full gift shop here, with everything from CDs to food items (perfect for the picnic baskets they sell) to bridal accessories, ornaments and photo albums. “We love having the extra space for the shop. It’s nice for people to be able to send a gift along with their flowers.”
Kate’s Flowers, over on Park Boulevard, is a quintessential small-town shop, where everybody knows your name. Nothing says you’re shopping in a small town like a full bookcase and a sign inviting you to help yourself to whichever book appeals to you.
Owner Kate Papale and her crew have been running this busy little enclave for nearly 30 years, and she says that she’s done flowers for baby showers and then flowers for that same baby’s prom — or even wedding. She knows her regulars well enough to know what people want.
“Flower-buying is kind of cyclical,” she told us. “Hydrangeas are big this year, and Gerber daisies. And carnations seem to be back, even in weddings. I remember a couple of years ago, I couldn’t give them away.”
Knowing your customers is key when you’ve been in business this long. “He’s since passed away, but we used to have a customer we called Wednesday Don. He was here every week, buying cut flowers for himself. People buy flowers here because they’re important to them. And they’re important to us.”