Culinary grads talk about relocating business

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:16

    WEST MILFORD-Relocating a successful business isn't easy, just ask April Stearns and her husband Michael. Then, there's always the danger the new location could fail to be as successful as the old. However, the two Oak Ridge chefs are optimistic about the future of their Country Gourmet deli and catering business at 2038 Route 23 Westbound, just west of Germantown Road here. Both she and husband Michael are graduates of Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. "He graduated pastry arts and I graduated culinary arts," said April. It was the long, late night commute that convinced the culinary couple to relocate their 30-year-old catering business from Montclair. It was on the way home slightly more than a year ago that April spotted the "for lease" sign on what had previously been a go-go bar. She phoned the listed number and arranged to see the property the next day. It was a year Monday, Labor day, that I signed a check for the lease," April recalls. Although they've just celebrated the anniversary of the lease-signing, they didn't open the doors until April 12. "It was the usual nightmares" in conjunction with permits and compliances, while still trying to run the Montclair catering operation, known as Chef Michael Caterers. "Even with all the hard work and back and forth, it was worth it. The kitchen is bigger than anything we've ever had," she noted. Their location results in massive traffic flow of homeward bound commuters streaming out of Manhattan and Bergen and lower Passaic Counties. "Here the main focus is prepared dinners to go. Everyone's coming home and coming home late. Everyday on the menu there are 20-30 different items; 10 different proteins, 10 sides, etc. You can build a nice homemade, pretty healthy dinner for $9-12 per person. It's all cold, but we can heat it for them," she explains. Even now, Country Gourmet is a work in progress. About a third of the building has yet to be used, and will be devoted to a small wineshop/restaurant area with a counter and a few seats. "We'll have people able to have dinner and a glass of wine. Catered on-site wine parties also are planned. While still waiting to be "discovered" by harried commuters, the Chef Michael side of things continues to prosper despite increasing competition when they were in Montclair. That area still provides much of their catering business based on an established 30-year reputation, says April. "I and Michael work every party. He's the head chef at every party and I'm the maitre d'. "Now (at Country Gourmet deli) we have a chance to do excellent quality food that people can have for dinner without spending $5,000 for a party." While they both work each party, they draw on a sizeable part-time support staff. "For Chef Michael we have 25 part-time waiters, bartenders. We're the two chefs, that's it. I and he are the only ones who touch the food." For the deli, there are 10 people "Eight counter girls that work various shifts and two people that clean up at night. Most are West Milford residents. The culinary chef sees minimal area competition: "The Market Basket in Bergen County is competition "on a much larger scale. We've a lot more personalized service, and I think our food is better," she claims. Now that short-term goals are being realized, the couple refuses to mark time. "For the immediate future I'd like to see the wine shop get off the ground. Then either a tent or a catering facility, a hall, for catering events," where part of the parking lot currently is located." But that's not all, April stresses. "There're already locations in Vernon and Warwick that I'd love to see as Country Gourmet II and III."