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Contents Issue No. 1 | 2021

On The Cover


40 From Great Heights New Jersey photographer Christopher Smith uses the unique perspective imparted by his drone camera to capture the Garden State’s most striking, dream-like landscapes.

Style 12 Mastering the Art of Adaptability Edgewater designer Camille Codorniu strikes a balance between fashion and innovation with her eponymous brand, Camille Jewelry. 18 Billykirk: Made in America It started in Memphis, Tennessee with a crafty father who liked to work with leather. Now, brothers Chris and Kirk Bray are the founders of the bespoke Jersey City-based brand, Billykirk.


Culture 26 New Jersey’s Borders Are Changing As evidenced by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, New Jersey’s coasts are subject to rapid and drastic change. Dr. Diane Bates, a professor at The College of New Jersey, weighs in. 30 Rooted in Community Two longtime friends overcome the odds to introduce deVINE Plantery, a boutique plant shop in Maplewood, NJ. 34 A Kingdom Rises Graffiti artist DISTORT reflects on the creation of his gigantic masterpiece displayed on the 100-year-old Mecca and Sons Trucking Co. building in Jersey City.









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Contents Issue No. 1 | 2021

Food + Drink 50 What’s Old is New Again At Corto in Jersey City, they’re paying homage to the traditions of cucina povera, Italy’s most humble and resourceful cuisine. 60 A New Jerseyan’s Guide to Birria Tacos Part stew. Part street food. We’ll tell you where in NJ to find the latest taco craze. 64 A Lifetime in the Making SLA brings Northern Thai cooking to Montclair, NJ and with it, a deeper understanding of the popular cuisine’s misconceptions.



Home 72 The Madison Passive House This recent build from Hoboken design team, Mowery Marsh Architects, proves that you don’t have to swap taste for sustainable living. 78 Salt of the Earth How Sarah Brady and her team at Salt Design Company bring cool, effortless and transitional style to New Jersey.

Explore 84 Inside The Catskills’ Eastwind Hotel Combining the comforts of home with sleek elements of Scandinavian design, this Windham, NY property is everything–and nothing–like the country cabins you are used to. 90 New Jersey Staycations Guide From quiet seaside escapes to epic city breaks, look to these 13 spots for a close-tohome getaway.




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LET ME BE straight with you: a

career in publishing is deceiving. A lot of what you see is there because someone thought it would sell, paid for it or made a barter. The system is built to succeed in transactional relationships, failing the very voices we need to lift up. I started working in publishing a decade ago. I spent years as a parttime, unpaid writing intern (some of which at The Digest) on top of my full-time job in sales. I finally found the courage to leave my comfortable day job and set off to become an editor—only it didn’t happen the way I thought it would. When I reached the big seat at a new publication, I found that in order for our business to run, we had to make deals that would effectively dictate half of our content (sometimes more). My mythical view of publishing was shattered. For years, I was unappreciated and underpaid. I was at the front of the ship, but I was just another spoke in the wheel. Every day was a struggle—a war to create something I was passionate about while ultimately creating someone else’s dream. Why did I stay so long? Routine. I was in a hole, and nothing was reaching to pull me out. When I moved on in early 2020, I found myself back in the place I started: The Digest. A few weeks later, the world gave us a global pandemic. And I’ll be honest: I thought it was over. I didn’t know if my team (or myself ) would have a job to come back to. How could I tell people I love that this was the end of the line? So we took a risk. We kept everyone and reinvented

this small, hyper-local publication as New Jersey Digest. A chance to share the voices we want to uplift. An opportunity to create our dream. Our journey is just one of many important stories we can tell. If this year has taught us anything, it’s that behind every story is a person who lost a job; lost a loved one. Someone who had to put their dream on hold. In the pages of the first-ever issue of New Jersey Digest, our writers explore all the stories of human adversity: the businesses we build, the art we create, the food we love. We trek through the journeys of our neighbors and the victories they achieve in following their vision, as my team and I follow our own in telling their stories.




CAMILLE CODORNIU has long left the corporate world behind, but her experiences working with licensed brands came with her. Today, she runs her Edgewater-based company, Camille Jewelry, with a focus on modern fashion and adaptability. BY JORDAN HUTCHINSON PHOTOS BY DEREK L. REED



amille Codorniu, owner of Camille Jewelry, is a passionate perfectionist. You can sense it in her chic Edgewater studio where inspiration photos are pinned purposefully to the wall, her papers are properly filed, and minimalist decor is tucked neatly away on the shelves. The only area with any clutter at all is her work table. Covered in multiple sets of pliers, loose pieces of chain, and an unfurled measuring tape—this is where Codorniu’s designs take shape. Her laid-back personality could almost fool you into overlooking her years of experience and expertise, but the masterful touches of her modern New Jersey-based brand certainly won’t. Ironically, Codorniu had no intention of going into the jewelry industry after graduating from FIT with a degree in fashion design. She was working as a stylist and designer when the team at Kenneth Cole’s licensed jewelry brand, owned by Liz Claiborne, came across her portfolio. They quickly recognized her unique style and offered her a chance to make the leap from garments to jewelry. Codorniu recognized how rare this chance was for her, and made the absolute most of it. “They gave me this opportunity, which I was extremely grateful for. At the time I was like, you know what, I’m gonna just keep my mouth shut, listen, and learn anything I possibly can from all of these experienced people in this industry.” After only a year, Codorniu was promoted to head designer. This is no small feat for a newcomer to

I loved having that opportunity to have two years off, part of me was craving creativity. To a point where I was thinking about it constantly, and I needed to make a decision. I love my family, but this is part of who I am. I’m a creative person and I have to have a creative outlet in some sense.” jewelry, and it certainly speaks to Codorniu’s grit and adaptability. Kenneth Cole wasn’t the only brand that recognized Codorniu’s talents. She moved on to Giorgio Armani, where she helped launch their jewelry line. Codorniu later worked for Michael Kors, which she described as an amazing, successful period in her career. During that time, Codorniu became pregnant with her second son. She had worked throughout her first pregnancy, which she expressed as being extremely demanding. Once baby number two came into the mix, Codorniu knew that she was at a turning point in her career. “Honestly, I loved corporate. I didn’t really envision myself leaving. I was so in it but when I had my second son, I had to make the decision to leave,” she explained. “It was really difficult for me to do that, but I already knew what it was going to demand from me so I had to make a choice for my kids. As you get further along in your career, your priorities change, and at that point I felt like I had to focus on family.” Codorniu’s story echoes those of many women who face the decision of family versus career, and although she enjoyed the time off with her family, she knew something was missing from her life. “After having my son, as much as



Upon turning her gaze toward her potential business, concepts for a children’s jewelry line, a fashion brand, a fine jewelry brand and a thousand other ideas were bouncing around in Codorniu’s mind. After thinking through all of her options, she landed on the concept for Camille Jewelry. “I wanted to build a brand that was full of everyday, go-to pieces. They’re modern, classic, feminine—but with a very subtle edginess to them. Just a hint of something unexpected.” Codorniu cultivates this combination of timeless, yet edgy, pieces with pops of emerald, trillion shape, and beak designs that are featured prominently throughout her work. Camille Jewelry is also meant to work as a cohesive line, allowing customers a variety of mix and match possibilities. “The brand is designed so that you can seamlessly buy the line and everything goes together,” Codorniu explained. “There’s this common thread that makes

them easy to layer. In fashion, women will purchase a Louis Vuitton handbag or a Chanel belt, but wear an H&M T-shirt, and I wanted people to be able to mix and match. You can buy a $40 ring and you can pair it with your $3,000 jewelry, there are no rules. You can wear different metals together, different stones, who’s going to tell you not to?” Codorniu’s mix and match philosophy lends well to the variety of jewelry that her shop offers. Between demi-fine jewelry, fashion jewelry, fine jewelry, and custom pieces, the brand provides a range of captivating options that all maintain the same core style. Codorniu’s most recent endeavor is much more practical than some of her other creations. After the COVID-19 pandemic hit New Jersey in March 2020, Codorniu knew that to keep her business afloat, she had to sink or swim. So, she swam.

In April 2020, Camille Jewelry began selling convertible necklaces that attach to your facemask. Codorniu explained, “You can convert it in five different ways: you can wear it with a face mask on, you can turn it into a long necklace, you can double wrap it and make it a short necklace, and then the newest feature we added in November was an eyeglass attachment. We added it for free with the necklace so customers can hook their eyewear to that.” Codorniu admitted that she actually made the piece for herself, and she credits her customers for the idea of selling convertible necklaces on her site. “I got on Instagram and asked my customers what they thought. I said ‘I made this because I couldn’t take losing my face masks anymore, what do you think of this?’ and they went bananas. And then the orders started coming in like crazy. My business survived because of that.” Camille Jewelry’s mask-holding necklace isn’t just for women. Though many of Codorniu’s other lines are targeted to a mainly female audience, the convertible necklace has been adapted for men and children as well. She explained, “I saw a lot of parents buying it for their kids, so we have a corded version for men and kids too. I had it lab tested, and they’re nickel and lead-free, so they’re super safe for kids to wear. My husband is terrible with his face mask, but once he started wearing the corded version, I didn’t have to remind him all the time. I have my kids and my whole block wearing them. They don’t leave the house without their cords because it just makes it so convenient.” One of the most brilliant features of the convertible necklace is its adaptability for many different styles and situations. Codorniu added, “It’s a game-changer. You’re gonna live in it. And after COVID, you still have a great necklace that you can wear with your eyeglasses or you can layer with other pieces from the line.” Being able to keep the convertible necklace in your gotos, even post-pandemic, makes this piece practical and long-lasting.



odorniu has made her ingenuity work for her. Her convertible face mask, mix and match options and local manufacturing represent the trends of modern brands and consumers. She also represents the broad swath of business owners who have had to adapt their most basic functions due to the pandemic. For Codorniu, this meant turning to social media to maintain her clientele, but this pivot doesn’t come naturally to everyone. “Most people who know me know that I’m not a shy person, but I do tend to get shy on camera, and I was a little bit reluctant to put my face out there pre-COVID. Now that I’ve had to get creative and be more visible, I’ve had to challenge myself.” Codorniu explains, “It could be hot topics or it could be walking people through this new concept and asking what they think. I’m trying to have that dialogue with my audience.” While Codorniu never imagined adapting her business this way, she’s been astoundingly successful despite the constant shifts and roadblocks of the pandemic. Pushing herself to create and be visible in ways that would never have occurred to her before have become the backbone of Camille Jewelry over the past year. It turns out that being forced outside of your comfort zone doesn’t mean falling flat on your back. It can just as easily mark a new way forward that you didn’t see before, or a new product that meets the needs of our changing world. If the pandemic has taught Codorniu anything, it’s that mastering the art of adaptability will always pay off down the road. 16



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MADE IN AMERICA It started in Memphis, Tennessee with a crafty father who liked to work with leather. Now, brothers Chris and Kirk Bray are the founders of the bespoke Jersey City-based brand, BILLYKIRK. BY MICHAEL SCIVOLI PHOTOGRAPHY BY TATSURO NISHIMURA @TATSURO_NISHIMURA RAY SPEARS @RAYNEUTRON WHISKEY & OXFORDS @WHISKEYANDOXFORDS



The Birth of a Brand

When Chris and Kirk Bray first picked up their father’s knife scabbard decades ago, a part of them always knew leather would fill their lives. Inside their family studio, the two captivated teens developed a mutual admiration not just for the finished product, but its journey from the cattle to a functional utilitarian tool. “We were at an impressionable age,” Chris told me, during my visit to their Jersey City studio earlier this spring. “Kirk and I fell in love with how pliable and workable leather was. When you wrap wet leather around something and hold it into place, it’s going to stay like that. Then you start to work with the leather; it darkens and takes on a patina. You begin to really see the leather and how it changes—how it ages. The simple idea of working with our hands attracted both Kirk and I.” The two brothers grew up in a creative family. Their mother was an interior designer and lover of fine arts. Their father spent years as a prop master at a local theater and would often lose himself in hobbies such as woodcarving, knifemaking and stained glass. During their adolescent years, the family uprooted from their Tennessee home to relocate to Minnesota. Later in college, Chris studied acting and Kirk received an Apparel Design degree. It wasn’t long before their career paths naturally landed them in West Los Angeles. But like many who venture to the West Coast in search of professional glory, they soon found themselves devoting their time to dead-end jobs. “I was still trying to become an actor. I had people covering for me at my nineto-five so I would have to speed out to auditions,” Chris explained. “It wasn’t conducive. I did college films, took acting classes, even did some daytime TV. Finally, I read a statistic that said that only three percent of Screen Actor Guild members made over $80,000. That certainly took the wind out of my sails. I knew it wasn’t the career path for me. My heart wasn’t in it anymore.”

Things simply felt out of place for the Brays. Despite this, the two brothers never abandoned their love of craft. On their days off, they visited thrift stores, pawn shops and began selling their vintage finds on eBay. Their affinity for “old stuff ” turned into a small collecting business. That’s also when they found their catalyst: an old leather watch strap inside a pawn shop in Santa Monica, CA. The Brays didn’t know it yet, but that piece of leather would soon be the jumping-off point for their very own brand. “Kirk was able to persuade this guy into selling us just the strap without the watch. He would wear the strap at the coffee shop he was working at. Everyone thought it was really cool. Soon we thought, ‘Hey, we can make these.’ So one day I picked up the Yellow Pages and I looked for wholesale leather. There was a place called Caldelle Leather just three miles away in Santa Monica. 20


They gave us a big tutorial on what kind of leather to buy, what cutting supplies we needed and where to get hardware. From there, we started to hand-make cuffs and watchstraps. In 1999, we started thinking about doing a tradeshow and coming up with a brand which we named after Kirk (William Kirkland)— everyone in the family would call him Billy Kirk. We just liked the name. It’s also an homage to our father and our Southern roots where you meld the first and middle names together.” By 2005, despite Billykirk’s success, the Brays had enough of California. Call it the lack of seasons. Or, maybe, call it the abundance of traffic on the 10 freeway. It was time for a change. And so they decided to pick up and move their brand (and two households) to New York—their fourth city (and now fourth accent).

A Culture of Craft

Kirk and I are standing around Billykirk’s 1930s cutting table, where he’s teaching me to stitch my own card case. I finish and head over to Chris’s station where he pulls down on a vintage heat stamp machine, embossing my initials “M.S.” into the bottom corner of my new card case while I sip on an old fashioned. It’s 2019, and there’s just something about whiskey and leather. Fast-forward to today. The Brays have moved their 150 Bay St. studio in Jersey City down a few floors to a larger space that will soon have retail and room for events and workshops. I’m back at the same wooden cutting table leaning on one of its cast-iron corners. Kick press machines from the early 1900s and old leather items from the U.S. Military are scattered along the edges of the room. Like everything Billykirk makes, these inspiration pieces were made to last by craftsmen who came before them—a true counter to mass production. Each antique ignites their passion. It’s akin to the allure of two kids holding their father’s scabbard while growing up in the South and Midwest.

“From our standpoint, most massproduced items today are simply future landfill clutter,” Chris said. “When we developed this company, we had this idea to make something that you want to pass down. You look at companies like Filson or Russell Moccasin, these weren’t fashionable brands by any stretch of the imagination in the 1990s. They were both hard-working, outdoor brands made with quality materials that our father would hunt with. These brands are both full of classic designs that are made well. There are no bells and whistles. They’re not trendy, and that’s what we want Billykirk to be. Products that are made well, that you will pass down—that you will want to use because they’re timeless and have a soul. When that happens, the item not only becomes relied upon and appreciated but also, revered. Someone will call us every so often and say, ‘My wallet was stolen. I don’t care what was inside, I had that wallet for 15 years.’ It really means something to them. There’s a lot of travel and memories behind these humble objects.”



Even with something as simple as a wallet, it’s surprising how much goes into the creation process. For Billykirk, that journey starts at the source. Sourcing is a never-ending mission to find the right domestic leather. When the brothers first began on the West Coast, they would source much of their material from a renowned tannery called Salz in Santa Cruz, CA. When the family decided to cash in on a land sale, Salz was no more. “Since Salz closed, we’ve been hunting for these recipes,” Chris explained. “A lot of companies have tried to mimic what Salz did but have not quite hit it. We’ve gone through a lot of [good] tanneries. Your belt leather is different from your bag leather. You need some continuity.



If you have a bag that’s soft leather, the strap is going to be harder or rigid. You’re always hoping these tanneries develop new samples (and thankfully they have).” Each hide of leather that arrives from a tannery has to be blocked out before it can become anything—heavyweight leather is stripped for belts, thinner leather for small accessories. Then comes the skiving, beveling, edging, and hand-stitching. The Brays don’t dye any leather they receive, preferring the natural colors that result from the tanning process. From tanneries like Horween in Chicago—who was the official supplier of the U.S. Marine Corps in the 1940s—to Billykirk’s Jersey City studio, the journey of each piece evokes a certain nostalgia.

The old-world tanner-leatherworker relationship is reminiscent of artisans from centuries past, a call back to the early 1900s when craft guilds held a prominent place in the neighborhood. “These were people that were really highly respected in the community,” Chris explained. “In New York, you just have to look up at all the beautiful mosaic work to touch on that history. Certain immigrants were skilled at certain crafts. The Italians were involved in a lot of the intricate carvings on the facades of buildings. The Irish also helped build New York. It’s said that so many Irish were killed working on the railroad that it was commonly speculated that ‘there was an Irishman buried under every tie.’”

“Crafts were an important part of living. Today, people want to get things done quicker. Unfortunately, it comes down to greed and who your shareholders are. Billykirk is not beholden to anybody. We don’t have to have our stuff made outside the country. We’re small-batch, bespoke in our own way.”

An Answer to Fast Fashion

In the 1990s, the term “fast fashion” became fierce in the industry. Droves of cheap garments marched off from the catwalks and stormed retail locations everywhere—all to stay on-trend. After the 2008 recession, professionals on Wall Street pivoted to the garment industry because they had a taste for fashion and their jobs were gone. The concept of fast fashion was exacerbated further. “A lot of companies sprang up out of [2008] that weren’t created by fashion people,” Chris said. “They had deep pockets and could afford to hire smart

people to develop a line. I believe people are now getting tired of fast fashion. They want to start buying things that, after five years, aren’t falling apart or losing their structure. If you’ve ever had a nice suit, you know immediately when you put it on—especially if it’s made to fit you. There’s nice lining, double stitching, good buttonholes—it drapes perfectly. The same goes for one of our bags or belts—it’s going to wear in and be with you for years because it’s made with good ingredients and made properly. It’s not going to fall out of trend because it isn’t trendy. You could use a Billykirk item in 20 years and you’re not going to think it’s dated.”

Billykirk’s anti-trend approach to products led to web sales becoming the bulk of their business—bags, belts, valet trays. In recent years, Chris and Kirk have expanded to offer creative design services–one that brands, hotels, restaurants and design houses can contract for interior design elements, custom gift shop items, and corporate gifting. For a brand like Billykirk, though, whether it’s a collaborator or influencer, there has to be a good connection. The brand, the DNA— everything has to fit.



“Kirk and I have been doing collaborations for brands like Vans Vault, Levi’s, Hudson’s Bay Co., Cole Haan, and J. Crew for years,” Chris explained. “We’ve had a blast working with all of these super creative development teams. In the last 10 years, we’ve also become a creative design service for a lot of industries. We’re currently making stationary wall pockets for a new Ace Hotel in Toronto and looking forward to making more leather all-access passes and band merch when all the bands we work with get back on the road. We also recently developed nauticalinspired ‘Do Not Disturb’ signs that were two-sided leather and foiled stamped for The Lake House [in Canandaigua, NY]. We’re focused on pieces that are super unique and reflect the ethos of the companies we are working with.” In an effort to stay sustainable in the



foreseeable future, Chris and Kirk are also devoted to developing some plant-based materials to work with. “There’s mushroom leather, giant leaf leather that people have been working with,” Chris told me. “We’re trying to create something for people who don’t want to use leather. My wife and I haven’t eaten meat for a number of years. We’re getting there. We recognize that’s an important thing. We’re aiming to launch a vegan leather that feels good. There have been leather-like materials over the years but they are often just petroleum-based garbage.”

If you ask Chris and Kirk where they’re from, you’ll get a few different answers. Influences of the South, Midwest, West Coast and now, the Northeast, work in unison to shape their leather goods. For the Bray brothers, their journey from their father’s workshop to their Jersey City studio is one as magnetic as the hand-sewn wallets and natural waxed totes they create. What began with a simple knife scabbard and an inchand-a-quarter-wide watch strap has become a brand they can be proud of. With each passing year, their story and the character each Billykirk piece embodies grows louder with the changing of seasons. Every time a belt is taken off, every time a tool bag is opened—it’s building the next part of the story—the soul of the leather. “These pieces become part of their owner. The journey doesn’t end when you buy it. I think we were definitely at the forefront of this ‘Made in America’ resurgence. But we were making it in the U.S. because we’ve always been here. It wasn’t because we wanted to be known for being a ‘Made in America’ company. It’s just a vital part of who we are.”


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New Jersey’s Borders Are Changing New Jersey is flanked by water on two sides and we treat those borders as stagnant boundaries. The Atlantic Ocean and the Delaware River serve as our state limits, tourist destinations, modes of transportation, and opportunities for livelihood. We’ve continued to develop our identity around these dynamic waterways even though the forces of nature that alter them remain ever-present. Our borders are changing, but one question needs to be answered: how do we adapt? BY KEVIN HURLER




Sandy battered the Jersey Shore. During the onslaught, the superstorm literally sliced through the seaside town of Mantoloking, creating a new entry into the Barnegat Bay. The Mantoloking Bridge and dozens of houses were either damaged or destroyed by the formation of the inlet. Barrier islands are always subject to the forcings of the ocean, but damage of that magnitude was truly unprecedented. While tragic, this phenomenon reminded New Jersey residents of Mother Nature’s true power, and raised a very important question: what happens when New Jersey’s borders change?

New Jersey is flanked by water on two sides. The Delaware River separates New Jersey from Pennsylvania while the Atlantic Ocean serves as the state’s Eastern boundary. But, these waterways are some of the most fickle and dynamic geologic systems. Rivers meander as their flows wrap around sharp corners and sandy banks. Coastlines, meanwhile, serve as the ocean’s punching bag when wind and waves continuously slam into their beaches. So, if populations continue to rely on water as a boundary, they’re also continuously subject to the oppressive forces therein. How populations respond to these forces is a determining factor for future development and current survival. THE LOOMING THREAT OF THE DELAWARE RIVER’S MEANDERS

Rivers have served humans as sources of water, transportation, and division for hundreds of thousands of years. Despite our reliance on them, rivers only make up approximately 0.1 percent of Earth’s surface. This water is constantly moving between two points: from the headwaters to the mouth. The headwaters (also called the drainage basin) are a series of streams that funnel rainwater into a larger channel. The headwaters flow through the channel to the mouth, flowing from higher elevations to the ocean. But what happens between the drainage basin and the mouth is what’s important. Take a look at the curvature of the Delaware River at the Delaware Water Gap. Along the Delaware River’s length, the channel wanders as speed and volume of water increases, putting pressure on natural instabilities along the river banks. The banks then begin to erode sediment into the river, where water rushes to fill this new space. The water’s speed then increases along the eroded riverbank, and decreases along the other, where sediment is deposited. While the erosion and deposition continue on each bank, a once straight river starts to meander. Over time, this process carved out the current Delaware River Valley from the Blue Ridge Highlands in North Jersey.

The headwaters of the Delaware River make up a combined 13,539 square miles across five states. The river also transports upwards of 11,700 cubic feet of water every second across its 419 miles. Since the river is constantly eroding and depositing material, it is also constantly changing shape on an incredibly large scale. It’s also worth noting that stream erosion is accelerated through massive flooding events, which the Delaware River is not immune to. Accounting for the substantial amount of people that live along the river, the magnitude of that scale grows even further. According to the Delaware River Basin Commission’s 2019 report, 8.3 million people live along the river. 1.9 million of those people live in New Jersey alone. A FUTILE BATTLE AGAINST THE JERSEY SHORE’S EROSION

Coastlines are the meeting of the sea, the wind, and the land. Given this interface, coastlines across the globe are constantly changing. Coastlines change so quickly, in fact, that it is impossible to determine the exact length of beach on the planet. As waves interact with the

beach, they deposit sand coming in, and remove it on their way out. Estimates suggest the ocean can exert 2,000 pounds per square foot of sand, and storms like Hurricane Sandy can drastically increase this number. However, the process of coastal erosion isn’t that simple. The waves that wash onto the beach make up the “swash,” and as waves retreat back to the ocean, they are known as “backwash.” Swash rarely moves perpendicular to the shoreline. When standing on the Jersey Shore looking out at the ocean, prevailing winds usually cause the swash to enter the beach laterally. The backwash, however, moves directly back into the ocean. This process, called longshore drift, gradually carries sand along the coast, and is hypothesized to be the force behind barrier island formation. Barrier islands are home to towns like Mantoloking, Seaside Heights, and Long Beach Island and they protect the mainland from longshore drift’s erosion. They are also the mainland’s first defense against storms. However, as we continue to develop New Jersey’s barrier islands, we are willingly putting ourselves in harm’s way.



The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration estimated that in 2014, 40 percent of the United States population lived in coastal communities. With that, New Jersey has an estimated 130 miles of coastlines. The Asbury Park Press further reported that in 2019, tourism to the state’s coast created $46.4 billion for New Jersey’s economy. But, as evidenced by Superstorm Sandy in 2012, New Jersey’s coasts are subject to rapid and drastic change. Local municipalities do aim to mitigate this erosion, however. Groynes made of wood or rock jut into the ocean throughout Atlantic City, Long Beach Island, and Lavallette to serve as a barrier for longshore drift. Also, coastal restoration helmed by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection seeks to replenish the eroded coast with new sand. But, in the long term, these efforts are futile, as Mother Nature will always overcome them. These natural changes have massive impacts not only on the state’s geology, but also on its population.

In the wake of flooding events, governments may purchase waterfront property from willing residents. Properties are then converted back to the floodplain—the natural area the river is expected to inundate—to prevent future destruction. “Buyouts” are common in areas where flooding occurs, but after the Delaware’s flooding events in the 2000s, they rarely happened. Dr. Bates cited high property values as one main reason.


Dr. Diane Bates is a professor at The College of New Jersey who researches environmental sociology. Her work seeks to understand the relationships between humans and the environment. “I have done some work on the three floods that came through the Delaware River,” she described. Dr. Bates is referencing three major flooding events in the river between 2004 to 2006 that caused $745 million of damage. Floods of this size in the river are supposed to be extremely rare, with frequencies of once every 50 to 100 years. But since then, towns along the Delaware River have bounced back. “There have been some major changes,” Dr. Bates explained, referring to flood mitigation efforts in towns like Trenton and Lambertville. 28


Buyouts will usually involve an entire neighborhood, not just one house, which presents challenges. “If you go up to South River and the Passaic River Valley, these are pretty densely populated areas. In order to really convert that back to a floodplain, you’d have to buy out everybody.” It’s usually cheaper for residents and the government in the longterm to conduct buyouts in flood-prone areas, but that involves getting every member of the community

to agree to sell, and paying them an appropriate price. Dr. Bates summarized: “People don’t want to leave waterfront property in New Jersey.” The human response to flooding events is not just political or economic, it’s also incredibly emotional. While it’s easy to assess property damage in terms of finance, the properties that are destroyed have their own history. “It’s property to which you have an emotional connection, it’s not just things,” Dr. Bates said. Experiencing this loss is visceral, and the trauma it creates can manifest in a surprising way. Scent, memory, and emotion are inextricably linked—the brain’s anatomy sends smells directly to its emotion center. In Hurricane Sandy’s aftermath, Dr. Bates explained that a common theme was people reporting a heightened sense of smell. “If you talk to people from Point Pleasant, they talk a lot about the smell of dog food.” As storm surge inundated Point Pleasant, dog food from homes on the island was swept into the oncoming currents. As residents evacuated their homes, the scent stayed with them. It’s not all bleak, however. Dr. Bates is optimistic that our relationship with our borders can be successful, but we have to adjust. For one, we can turn to states that are carefully fostering their relationship with water. “New York, Maryland and Delaware have done more work on retreating from waterfronts than New Jersey has,” Dr. Bates said. This retreat allows populations to give waterways the space they need to flood and change. We also need to be proactive with our response to nature, instead of reactive. She added, “We need to have those conversations, not after a disaster, we need to have them as part of the process of what we’re doing.” Dr. Bates also warned that making changes like this will always come with a price tag. But, if we want to thrive amongst our own borders, we need to understand and accept their true power.

Setting the Standard in Pediatric Care for Hoboken Families

333 15th Street, 2nd Floor, Hoboken, NJ 07030 | www.tenaflypediatrics.com | (201) 482-9770


Rooted in


Two longtime friends overcome the odds to introduce deVINE Plantery, a boutique plant shop in Maplewood, NJ. BY NATALIE TSUR PHOTOGRAPHY BY PETER BONACCI




N S I D E D E V I N E P L A N T E R Y , childhood friends and business partners Kelly Brown and Maya Haynie prepare to open for the day. It’s 10:00 a.m. and Beyoncé’s “Find Your Way Back” plays overhead as they tend to their newest arrival, the variegated peace lily. It’s with this sort of energy and devotion that this 2020-born brick-and-mortar store in Maplewood, NJ has survived. But for Brown and Haynie, they’re simply doing what they love. In 2018, the duo wouldn’t have imagined returning to their hometown of Maplewood as owners of deVINE Plantery. The two were college students then, living in Philadelphia, where they were introduced to the active plant industry. The city alone is home to 400 community gardens. “At first, window shopping for plants was a way for me to de-stress after a long day,” Haynie told me. “I would go to a plant shop after work and peruse.” It wasn’t long before Brown started coming along, and the two began investing their time and money. It felt good to take care of something, Haynie said, explaining the purview of the pitch for deVINE in late March 2020, notably at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It was a spontaneous decision,” Brown indicated. “My sister and I were going for a quarantine walk back in late March [2020] and I came across an empty building that had such great windows. I thought, ‘this could be a super nice plant shop.’” Brown decided to take a chance and ask her friends what they thought. Haynie, of course, jumped at the opportunity. The two sustained enough income (and grit) throughout the pandemic from their full-time jobs and set money aside to successfully launch deVINE Plantery in late July 2020. Cashloading was a leap of faith for this project, but the two friends insisted on fulfilling their goal, particularly in a community that knows them best. They set out to help others reach the euphoric plant-tending experience they’ve found solace in, especially during a time of such crisis. In turn, they have gained tremendous support from their hometown. When coronavirus cases were at their peak in New Jersey, it created a barrier between the two women and their customers, effectively disjointing the intimate service their business was intended to thrive on. Haynie and Brown considered the obstacles ahead of them when opening, but were able to persevere nonetheless as they enforced precautions. “We have so many amazing ideas for events because plant-shopping is an intimate

and personal experience, but it’s not feasible. We want our customers to be safe,” both women emphasized, after explaining the shop’s contactless delivery, proper sanitation methods and overall compliance with recommended safety guidelines. “We were very aware of the restrictions we had when we started,” Haynie clarified. “We created our business around the pandemic versus having to adapt retroactively.” Although deVINE Plantery currently operates out of Maplewood Mercantile, the women hope to one day open a storefront of their own and look forward to eventually hosting more in-person events and popup shops. Nevertheless, they find that they are still able to offer personalized customer service and teach proper plant-care under the current circumstances. “We’re from Maplewood, so we have customers who we grew up with. We’ve had kids come in and ask, ‘Did you go to Clinton School? I go to Clinton School.’ It’s the cutest thing,” Haynie said. “It feels as though people in town are proud of us. We’ve received a lot of support from the Maplewood and South Orange communities.” Both women stress that this location has also allowed them to introduce Essex County to the growing plant community, which has long been oversaturated in neighboring cities such as Philadelphia and New York. The area is otherwise devoid of plant shops and plant-accessibility aside from larger corporations such as Ikea or Home Depot. “There really aren’t any small shops around here where you can buy plants that are engaging and fun,” Haynie continued. “Maplewood is perfect.” Apart from gaining the attention of members of their community, their store has also extended its demographic to regular homeowners or those refurbishing their living spaces. “Our space in Maplewood Mercantile helped us grow because Amy, the property owner, has a lot of clients and she sells furniture so it kind of goes hand-in-hand [with the plant shop]. A lot of our clients are coming in and furnishing their homes or updating their spaces and they say ‘you know, that really big plant would look nice in the corner of my renovations project,’” Haynie noted.



Brown indicates that 90 percent of their customers are “new pandemic-plant-parents,” whereas the remaining 10 percent are seasoned owners who tend to their personal gardens. This detail has been quintessential to the business, emphasizing the importance of customers leaving the store with knowledge of how to treat the plant. Brown explains that the process is more meticulous than it is arbitrary: “When we speak to customers, we like to gauge the level of care they’re willing to provide. We want to get a feel for where they’re at right now; if their environment is a suitable space for [the plant] and what their lighting situation is like as well,” she said. “The main plant we always recommend as a safe option is the snake plant. It’s the most neutral plant.” The gardening community has seen an incline in the sale of seeds, flowers and potted plants since 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. This has been a trend amongst 32


younger generations, as concluded by a 2017 National Garden Survey. Since the industry has gained more traction, houseplants are even considered a new mode for relieving anxiety. Taking care of plants allows owners to build a healthy routine, which can mitigate the possibility of falling into destructive patterns and coping mechanisms. The service provided at deVINE Plantery is therefore underpinned by an effort to contribute to the broader conversation of mental health. “Mental health has been an underscored theme of the business. We want you to feel good about the decision that you’re making here and be intentional with your purchase. You make yourself feel good by having something that you’re able to keep alive and watch nurture and grow,” Brown explained. “We’re all going through a lot. We want to give people the tools to make an empowered decision that they feel good about and have that trickle down into their routine.”

Owners Maya Haynie and Kelly Brown

Although plant-caring may be a way to escape common stressors, Brown expressed concern for the mainstream route it’s shifted toward. She explained that its consequences are debilitating for the owner and, on a larger scale, the growers. “The more people that are interested in plants, the more plants that they need,” she said, explaining the possibility of a plant shortage. “There are a lot more plant shops opening as well, which means we need more growers.” As Brown and Haynie continue to grow, their future goals will depend on the communication they’re able to share with their customers. They hope to expand shipping nationwide, introduce gifting to their sales and partner with other companies for more ambitious collaborations. The pandemic may have limited certain branding opportunities, but they aspire to broaden the scope of engagement with their consumers and restore the sense of community. Especially at a time when it has been otherwise lost and most necessary.






OM RISES Graffiti artist DISTORT reflects on the creation of his gigantic masterpiece displayed on the 100-year-old Mecca and Sons Trucking Co. building in Jersey City. BY LUKE GARCIA | PHOTOGRAPHY BY GREG PALLANTE




T BEGAN THE USUAL WAY, 80 feet in the air on top of scaffolding with an aerosol can. For Jersey City artist DISTORT, who seldom reveals his true identity, this is nothing out of the ordinary. Located just outside of the Holland Tunnel, DISTORT’s “Kingdom” is the largest mural painted by a single artist in New Jersey. This staggering piece took hundreds of hours to complete, spanning the course of about six weeks, which even for him, is an eternity for one project. It’s also the largest of the renowned graffiti artist’s young career—featuring jaw-dropping dimensions of 80 feet by 200 feet. DISTORT, who began tagging at 13, has focused much of his professional portfolio in the Northeast. Though mural painting has also sent him to Miami, Los Angeles and far-flung cities such as Istanbul, DISTORT’s true canvas is the Garden State. Even with his catalog of almost 100 murals along with several other accomplishments as an artist, “Kingdom’’ may be his most impactful project—mainly because of its location and sheer size. As of 2016 when the mural was finished, over 15 million cars passed by the building per year, making it an ideal placement for “Kingdom.” Speaking with pride, DISTORT gives an inside perspective of what it was like to make such a massive piece of public art, along with the story behind its meaning.

DISTORT | Jersey City Artist



How do you define success as a graffiti artist? Did you ever envision this career? It’s hard to define success as a graffiti artist. Graffiti is kind of a medium that you can be good at or always work on. To me, success as an artist, that’s like changing people’s perception. I think there’s a lot of people from the graffiti world that have achieved that. As far as envisioning this as a career, I’ve always wanted to be an artist and really respected the history of art. To be a part of its legacy is a goal of mine to always aspire towards. Tell me about the creation of “Kingdom.” How did you come up with the idea for the design? I tried to capture Jersey City as a labyrinth. I always try and think about where I’m painting in terms of what the mural should look like. Jersey City is not a grid at all,

it has all these levels and kind of passageways and that’s something I’ve always loved about it. So I was thinking about the mythology of the labyrinth and especially the fact that it’s located at the entrance to a tunnel. Is there a story behind the human-like figures? What about the tunnel? The story of the minotaur from Greek mythology. In it, there’s a hero named Theseus and he slays a minotaur—it’s like a man with the head of a bull. In our times, the bull is a symbol for the financial markets and to me, that became the minotaur that’s on the other side of the Holland Tunnel. The mural itself is kind of this passageway for our hero to enter into. In the story, it’s King Minos from Crete who demanded seven young girls be sacrificed to the minotaur and this cannibalism that is being fought, that’s the explanation for some of the figures.

What was it like to create something this large? How different was it from your usual works? It was actually really fun. I like painting big. I was kind of surprised by how sometimes really subtle marks read from down below. So I could be really high up and just touch pretty lightly with the paint and it would do the trick from down below. It also made it so that I could put a lot of imagery in. There are tons of little pictures within pictures that go through the entire mural and all of them have little meanings to them. “Kingdom” took you hundreds of hours to complete. What was the biggest challenge with creating it? It took about six weeks. I kind of just lost track of time but the biggest challenge was actually some of the constraints on the physical location because there’s a lot of traffic. We were blocking traffic to use the biggest boom lift which would get me up high so I could only do the high-up stuff at night. We’d have the police come to block off the traffic. Also, the building itself is a trucking company so the trucks had to be able to go in and out. So just a lot of logistics, but the Jersey City Mural Program really helped coordinate everything. What does it mean for you to have such a large and vibrant mural of yours not only in New Jersey’s second-most populous city, but just outside of an entrance to the nation’s most populated city? It’s awesome. I forget about it a lot and then I remember that it’s there and it makes me feel very happy. I go to that Home Depot sometimes and I’ll just be driving up the ramp and you see it in the rearview mirror, it’s cool. If it’s a rainy day and I don’t feel good sometimes I’ll go check it out cause I don’t see it all the time so I don’t really get sick of it.



What does creativity mean to you? Creativity is a manifestation of the forces in the universe that cause matter to organize itself in ways that can host or help sustain life. Just as the physical world is imbued with these forces, the conscious mind is a vehicle for the same energy. As people, we organize and bring our ideas to life within the world. It is important that we do so because the subjective experiences that we all have are destined to be united and artistic expression is the best accelerator. Are there any cities or specific locations that you want to get the chance to create a mural for in the future? All over the world. I have something coming up in Philly soon, hopefully, and they’ve got a great mural program. I’m really fond of that city because I lived there for a while. But I really want to travel. I want to go to Montreal and 38



paint a mural in Europe and Asia and the Middle East and kind of everywhere when all of this quarantining is over. I don’t know if anyone has ever asked you this but I’m interested to hear from a professional artist, what’s your favorite color? I feel like it’s like asking a musician what their favorite note is, it doesn’t really work like that. You can say what’s your favorite chord, as in, what colors do you like together with each other. Colors are a lot like music, each combination of colors and even each individual color kind of helps set a mood. Like if you were maybe directing a film, there’s no right or favorite way to shoot a scene, it’s what does that scene mean? I think the more I really get into color, I see that there are infinite variations and they all can be used for very specific expressions. But I like green, for the short answer.

n! te s li to e r e h n a c S italianamericanpodcast.com





photography by CHRISTOPHER SMITH



he first publicly available photograph of New Jersey was taken in Newark and published in 1870. Since then, it would be fair to assume that our state’s best sites have been thoroughly combed over. Aerial photographer Christopher Smith, however, sees New Jersey a little differently than most. Smith has a particular talent to show just how beautiful, albeit mysterious, our landscapes can be from an overhead perspective. He’s mathematical in his approach, using fractal theory and his background in marine science to capture the nuances of riverbeds, rock formations, fault lines and ocean waves. For him, it isn’t just about achieving originality—Smith wants to challenge you to view New Jersey like you’ve never seen it before. At first glance, Smith’s photos resemble that of a distant planet—and that’s no accident. Smith often uses Google Maps to pinpoint photographic hotspots, taking note of curves or patterns that lead him to explore sites that are rarely seen from above. In that way, he’s able to capture incredible New Jersey landscapes that are uniquely his own, honing in on details that one wouldn’t necessarily notice from the ground. “The longer I’ve been doing this, the more I’m finding interesting places that aren’t so obvious,” Smith says. Whether he’s soaring over the Jersey Shore or traversing the Pine Barrens, Smith admits to spending anywhere from 20 minutes to two weeks getting the very shot he’s envisioned in his head. Typically, he’s working not only in accordance with the season but within the brief window right before and after the sun sets, when the light is very flat and he can see his subject the most clearly. Although Smith frequently finds himself wondering if there’s anything new left to discover, the answer is always the same. “We have so many beautiful places in New Jersey. It’s a small state but for our size, I think it’s fantastic to photograph—one of the best. I want people to look at my photography and say, ‘I can’t believe this is New Jersey.’ I want to do this state extreme justice.”























At Corto in Jersey City, they’re paying homage to the traditions of cucina povera, Italy’s most humble and resourceful cuisine. In 2021, this style of conscious, pantry-heavy cookery has never mattered more. by ABBY MONTANEZ



photography by PETER BONACCI


H R O U G H O U T H I S T O R Y , times of hardship and strife were often the genesis of a shift in culinary habits. After all, necessity has long been the mother of invention. During the pandemic, while we were at home digging through our pantries with a “make-more-with-less” mentality, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the ethos sparked by another crisis. Cucina povera, translating to poor kitchen, refers to the approach to cooking that emerged from a post-World War II Italy. It’s not so much a style of cuisine as it is a philosophy—one where natives had to essentially “make do” with what was in the cupboard, what they grew and what they could afford. No scrap left unused. No ingredient too humble. Meats were cured in order to sustain the winter, and the bones, used for soups. Stale, leftover loaves were turned into breadcrumbs. Potatoes and flour, combined to form gnocchi. Cucina povera is a great example of how constraint can incite creativity. Perhaps that’s why, at least to me, it feels more relevant today than ever. Before I ever heard the term or knew its origin, I had slipped my fork into dishes with its underpinnings. Not in Italy, but in the rather unsuspecting Heights neighborhood of Jersey City. I arrived at Corto on the Tuesday after Valentine’s Day weekend. Any other year, the aftermath would’ve been impossible to conceal. In 2021, chef-partner Matt Moschella is apologizing for the holiday’s remnants, referencing the scattered tables on the restaurant’s backyard patio—a set-up that’s become crucial to Corto’s business. Maybe it’s all the time I’ve spent indoors, but I admittedly couldn’t envision the chaos. This wasn’t my first time sitting down at a table at Corto, but it was my first time getting to speak with Moschella, who is usually hunched over the counter that separates the restaurant’s dining area and kitchen. He’s just pulled a leg of lamb out of the oven, and it takes everything in me to keep my focus. I’ve had this dish before, but I’ve never seen it in its whole form. Enormous, simply roasted, laying on a bed of rosemary and rough-cut vegetables. A showstopper you’d place at the center of a table on a special occasion. Precisely what Moschella and his partners, Marc Magliozzi and Drew Buzzio, envisioned when opening Corto in 2018.

Matt Moschella | Chef-Partner



“The decision to go with the cucina povera concept was because that’s the food we grew up eating, the humble foods that our parents made or that we would look forward to at family gatherings,” Moschella explained. “Those sort of foods felt underrepresented, especially right here outside of New York City where haute cuisine reigned supreme up until the pandemic.” To Moschella’s point, Corto couldn’t fall further from the frou-frou of fine dining. However, that’s not to say the work they’re doing is any less inspired. As a chef, Moschella is often able to get his point of view across using only five ingredients, none of which have been contorted or manipulated far from their original form. He transforms humble mushrooms into a filling for light as air agnolotti with porcini brodo. He drapes thinly sliced lardo over beetroot with red pesto, almonds and mint. The ruffled edges of mafaldine, long ribbons of perfectly-made pasta, hold just Grana Padano, black pepper and speck. As a restaurant, Corto inhabits the bones of an old bodega on Palisade Ave., a space chosen to deliberately resemble the likes of your grandmother’s house. Filled with custom wood tables, chairs and tin walls painted over in a creamy white color, you can literally see the generations that influenced Corto’s concept. Photos of the trio’s ancestry are on display in perfectly crooked, mismatched frames and self-portraits of Moschella, Magliozzi and Buzzio hang near the kitchen. It’s that kind of homey aesthetic and sense of community that the partners set out to cultivate—a celebratory ambiance. “We’ve experienced great support from The Heights. I live in this community, and so do both of my partners. I’m raising my family here. Our intention wasn’t to open a run-of-the-mill restaurant that caters to a larger population, but to focus on really providing for our neighborhood,” said Moschella.



Up until March 2020, Corto did just that. Their interactive chef ’s counter offered a tight bond between staff and restaurant regulars. Their communal tables forged relationships between friendly-faced strangers. And the food, sourced locally whenever possible. Fresh seafood was (and is still) provided daily by Local 130 based out of Asbury Park. The cured meats come directly from Salumeria Biellese in Hackensack, owned and operated by Buzzio’s family. The aforementioned lamb, out of a nearby farm in Pennsylvania. Although cucina povera is defined as a poor kitchen or “peasant cooking,” that doesn’t mean Corto is cutting any corners. They’re using high-end ingredients and allowing what’s in season to dictate their menu. “The idea is in line with the philosophy of utilizing everything that you have and being able to reach to the pantry, rather than selecting overabundant items or having something provided that’s out of season. We’d prefer to see

what’s available first and create from there, similar to a weeknight meal,” explained Moschella. When he says reach to the pantry, he actually means it. Look around, and you’ll notice Bianco DiNapoli tomatoes and other canned goods on Corto’s dining room shelves. These are the actual ingredients Moschella uses in his dishes, and the few exceptions that they import. “Sometimes, if you read about cucina povera, it might require or reference an ingredient that’s indigenous to Italy. So whenever possible, we find that there are comparable options here in New Jersey, the tri-state area and Pennsylvania. We have a preparation of a whole sea bream, similar to a branzino, and instead of having it shipped frozen from the Mediterranean, we’re able to support local fisherman while simultaneously offering customers something that’s been out of the water for 24 to 36 hours.”





Corto’s menu is also beloved for sentimental reasons. The ricotta toast, flecked with pink peppercorns and dressed with wildflower honey and olive oil, has evolved from customer favorite to permanent fixture. Spaghetti, Moschella’s favorite, carries with it anchovy, garlic, capers, peperoncino, colatura and breadcrumbs. A hearty slice of crusty bread serves as the vehicle for the signature Angry Chicken, a piece of poultry so falloff-the-bone tender, you’ll wonder why more restaurants aren’t preparing it this way. Cue the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, and Corto was presented with a dilemma unlike any other they’ve encountered. Their chef ’s counter was no longer. Communal seating was out of the question. No more indoor dining, period. Moschella remembers getting the call to shut down on a Sunday, and by Tuesday, they were offering an abbreviated to-go menu. As if times weren’t hard enough, a tougher pill to swallow for Moschella was picturing first-time customers having their initial introduction to Corto be through carryout or delivery. “We had never really emphasized to-go. Off the radar, we had

allowed phone calls for carryout but we never promoted it. When we transitioned to a to-go business model only, we didn’t offer any of our ready-to-eat pastas. We didn’t want them to become mushy or something other than what we strive to provide. That’s when the pasta kits became an idea. Another aspect of that decision was the experience. We’re a sit-down restaurant, so I knew that part of our business was being cut out. We were only able to offer food, so we wanted to be able to reintroduce an activity and get the customers involved by cooking at home.” Call it a silver lining, but pasta kits and an online marketplace forced Moschella and his partners to discover an entirely new aspect to their businesses—one that catered to customers during lockdown and has remained available to those who aren’t quite comfortable returning to the restaurant just yet. “Once outdoor dining came back in June [2020], we stopped the to-go business but the pasta kits and market still live on. As I mentioned, this community has really been supportive of us, so I definitely felt a responsibility to maintain a level of accessibility for everyone, despite their health concerns.”



Corto’s outdoor space is one Moschella acknowledges they’re fortunate to have, and without it, it no doubt would’ve been a very different year. However, he admits it was previously viewed more so as an amenity during the summertime. In the past, Corto hosted pig roasts out there and used the patio for an on-site garden, with the exception of a few dining tables. For the better part of 2020, and up until the foreseeable future, it’s become their livelihood. “Now we’re actually facing a new challenge, but a very good one. As the restrictions for indoor dining start to lift, and people gradually feel more comfortable coming out, we’ve essentially created twice as many seats and our kitchen currently isn’t capable of doubling its output. We’re already pretty busy as it is, so we’re going to have to learn and understand what our limitations are, but I think we’ve come out of this pandemic stronger.” After speaking with Moschella, I would have to agree. Embracing constraint, a cornerstone of cucina povera, is what this year has been all about. And for a restaurant like Corto, it’s a seed that was planted before the coronavirus arrived. The ability to adapt, look inward and reinterpret, it seems, could be the way forward. 56







One of the hottest trends over the past few years is the ready-to-drink cocktail. This category has exploded in the past 12 months, partly because they remove the need for an in-house bar (or bartender). The quality of these drinks meets the consumer’s desire for well-crafted cocktails.


Made with USDAcertified organic super grain as its base, this canned cocktail is naturally sweetened, gluten-free, kosher and vegan. From the folks who make Bai, this margarita is created with real lime juice, blue agave, and is filled with classic, tangy margarita flavor. An eight-pack sells for $16.99.


Crafthouse is our new favorite discovery. Made by Chicago restaurateur and bar owner Matt Lindner, and Global Bartending Champion Charles Joy, Crafthouse creates tremendous premade cocktails with all-natural ingredients and no artificial colors, sweeteners or preservatives. Their offerings include classics like the Moscow Mule, Smoky Margarita, Pineapple Daiquiri, Palomas, as well as new cocktails like the Gold Rush (honey and bourbon), the Southside (a Tom Collins with a touch of mint) or the Rum Old Fashioned. They also have multiple sizes available from 200ml at $5.99, to the 750ml bottle with a ceramic swing top for $18.99, and a 1.5L box that goes for $27.99.

Big California Reds The past few years have been very good to California and their big, bold reds— the 2018 vintage is no exception. Almost all areas growing Cabernet had a spectacular season with excellent weather and a superb harvest. Their complexity of flavor is unmatched, as are the new wineries that we have recently discovered. Here are two new finds, as well as a modern classic Cab, that will show off the superb 2018 vintage.


On the Rocks is among our top sellers simply because of the cocktails’ quality. Working with major distillers like Knob Creek, Tres Generaciones, and Cruzan, these 200ml bottles include the Old Fashioned made with Knob Creek Bourbon, The Aviator with grapefruit and dry gin, a cosmopolitan made with Effen vodka, a tropical fruit and Cruzan rum Mai Tai or your choice of two margaritas! One classic, with Hornitos Plata tequila, and the other a jalapeno pineapple variety with Tres Generaciones. 200ml bottle/$5.99!




The wines made by Napa Valley’s Faust get better with each release. If you are looking for classic California Cabernet flavors of cassis wrapped in velvet and oak, this is your wine. It also gets great reviews every year! On sale for $49.99 (normally $65.99).

Very attractive aromas of blackcurrants, black olives and dark leather with some cedar. It’s full-bodied with firm, silky tannins and a refined, polished finish.” JAMES SUCKLING, 94/100


Porter and Plot is a custom producer focusing on small lots of grapes. This organically-farmed singlevineyard Cabernet Sauvignon showcases the nuanced individuality of California’s most exceptional vineyards and appellations. When grown in the cool, foggy mountains, layers of complexity unfold, ranging from black cherry and currant to secondary flavors of violet, cocoa, licorice and vanilla. Harvested from the CCOF-certified (California Certified Organic Farmers) Cox Vineyard, this wine is bursting with dark fruits and spice. This is simply the best deal at $19.99 per bottle. BOOKER VINEYARDS “MY FAVORITE NEIGHBOR” RED 2018

A Cab-dominant red blend made of 77 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and small percentages of: Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Syrah. This blend is then aged in 70 percent new French Oak. Booker is yet another stunner from California’s Paso Robles region. The vintage has received favorable reviews of 94 from Vinous and 96 from Jeb Dunnuck. On sale at $49.99 (normally $57.99).

Deep ruby-black in color, it gives up luscious crème de cassis, blackberry pie, kirsch, mint chocolate, vanilla bean, coffee and grilled meats scents with touches of tobacco and sweet spices. Medium to full-bodied, it offers intense, expertly managed, ripe fruits and loads of spices with a firm, finely grained frame and great freshness, finishing long and spicy.” THE WINE ADVOCATE, 95/100

Early Spring Rosé

Spring is one of our favorite times of the year for new wines. As the colder months begin to fade, everything begins to bloom and new rosés start to arrive—as do the spring wine requests from our customers. Here are three wines we tasted recently that offer a great start to rosé season.


Eric Louis named this estate after his great, great grandmother, who was an uncompromising and rare female vigneron in the 1860s. She established the family estate and built their reputation in the Loire on quality. This 100 percent Pinot Noir Rosé is simply stunning. Made from 25-year-old vines that are sustainably farmed, it has brilliant color and even better flavor. $19.99 per bottle (normally $24.99).


Ripe strawberry, white peach and floral aromas are sharpened by a frisson of chalky minerality. Chewy and focused on the palate, showing good depth to the vibrant red berry and pit fruit flavors. Closes minerally and long, displaying strong, red-fruit-driven persistence.” VINOUS, 90/100


This wine is so unique, a Sangiovese, here called Niellucio, grown on the French island of Corsica. $9.99 per bottle.

NBA superstar Dwayne Wade paired up with Jayson Pahlmeyer from the famous California wine estate in Napa to create this rosé. This 100 percent Pinot Noir Rosé is vibrant pink in color, with flavors of cherries and ripe raspberries. It is mediumbodied but very lively and expressive. It comes in at only $14.99 on sale, a great value for the quality.

Bright onion skin color. Incisive, mineralaccented strawberry, peach and orange zest scents are complemented by a suave lavender flourish. Silky, seamless and focused on the palate, offering vibrant red berry and citrus fruit flavors and a sweetening touch of honey. Finishes impressively long and seamless, with a lingering pit fruit quality and strong mineral cut.” VINOUS, 92/100




Viral foods don’t always taste as good as they look. In the case of birria tacos, watching these beefy, cheesy tortillas plunge into a steaming cup of consommé is just as much a feast for the eyes as it is the stomach. While social media may have been the fuel to ignite this street food’s success across the country, don’t give the Internet all the credit. BY ABBY MONTANEZ



Birria is a Mexican meat stew that traditionally uses goat and is said to have originated in Jalisco. To make the dish more palatable, locals would cook the goat slowly over the fire with a combination of adobo, fragrant spices and chili peppers until impossibly tender and serve it in its own juices. The birria taco, however, became a popular style of eating this dish, developed later on in Tijuana. In this preparation, the tortillas are first dipped in the crimson red adobo broth and then tossed on the flat top where they’re griddled and filled with the shredded meat. This time, it’s stewed beef instead of goat—which you’ll see most often in the U.S. Stateside, birria tacos first found success in the Los Angeles food scene. However, variations of the traditional Mexican street food were inevitable. This includes the actual dipping of the taco in a side of consommé to quesabirria offerings, a cheesy version of birria de res, and different proteins for the filling.

El Jardin Restaurante Passaic El Jardin in Passaic was my first introduction to birria tacos and let me just tell you, the experience was borderline life-changing. From shredded beef and pork to chicken, cheese and even shrimp, there’s almost no limit to their birriastyle offerings. (I recommended trying them all.) Each of their taco varieties boasts a signature crimson color on the outside and come with gooey cheese on the inside and a traditional garnish of fresh cilantro and onions. Taco Loco East Rutherford Often referred to as the K.O.B. (King of Birria), Taco Loco won’t let you forget that they are the OGs of birria in Bergen County. With each order, you’ll receive three of their crispy tacos loaded with gooey cheese, stewed beef, cilantro and diced onions.

Chofi Taco Union City This Union City spot managed to fly under the radar but has recently caught the eye of major outlets. The owners of Chofi Taco opened their brick-and-mortar restaurant in Hudson County this summer, however, you might notice their creations from their stand at Smorgasburg in Brooklyn. Today, Chofi specializes in all things birria from tacos to bowls and pambazo—a Mexicanstyle sandwich. Julio’s on Main Vineland It’s borderline birria overload at this South Jersey restaurant. Julio’s on Main has birria empanadas, quesadillas, tortas, ramen and even pizza. The tacos, however, are the real standout and are stuffed with marinated shredded beef, cheese, cilantro and onions.



Jalapeños Mexican Grill Wayne Jalapeños Mexican Grill opened its doors in Wayne in September and the addition of their birria tacos came shortly after. Picture double-stacked tortillas frying up on the grill in their own fat. Then, they’re sprinkled with melty cheese and filled with shredded beef before being finished with a garnish of cilantro and onions. Irma’s Cafe Jersey City Irma’s Cafe in Jersey City is the place to get birria tacos in The Heights neighborhood. Irma’s offers a birria de res or “red taco” in addition to quesabirria. The latter includes griddled tortillas stuffed with beef and cheese before later being folded up quesadilla style. Both options, however, are still served with broth on the side for dipping. Carlitos Paramus and Lyndhurst Birria tacos weren’t always on the menu at this eatery and food truck. Carlitos introduced birria to their menu in December 2020, a tasty combo of beef shank, brisket and chuck round. Each taco comes with two ounces of meat that have been marinated and braised in adobo, served with a side of sweet, sour and spicy consommé. Paellas Cafe Harrison Specializing in both Spanish and Mexican cuisine, Paellas Cafe is also home to traditional, Tijuana-style birria tacos. Although relatively new to the restaurant’s menu, these owners are said to have been making birria tacos for the past 25 years, mostly as a special occasion dish around 62


the holidays. Paellas offers two variations—birria de res and quesabirria. Torta Truck Union City and Jersey City If you’re having a spur-of-themoment craving, you’ll have to check Torta Truck’s Instagram to find out where you can score their birria tacos that day. This Hudson County food truck sports the title of the first birria “vendor” in New Jersey and while their signature item is tacos, they’ve ventured into the worlds of ramen and even vegan birria. Taqueria Sabor Mixteca Jersey City Located on Communipaw Ave in Jersey City’s BergenLafayette district, you can find birria tacos every weekend at Taqueria Sabor Mixteca. They top their tacos with a handful of cilantro and diced onions after the tortillas have been griddled and filled with shredded beef. Mi Pequeño Mexico Newark If you live around Newark’s Ironbound neighborhood, consider Mi Pequeño Mexico your go-to. This restaurant offers local pickup and delivery of their beefy, cheesy birria tacos. With every order, you’ll receive a consommé for dipping along with a side of cilantro, onions and salsa verde. La Santa Birria Woodland Park At La Santa Birria, you can get your hands on their birria tacos every Friday by preordering via Instagram DM. Here, they’re giving both chicken and beef the birria treatment. In addition to tacos, they’re also serving up birria tostadas and ramen.

La Coqueta Jersey City This woman-owned food truck in Jersey City only came onto the food scene a few months ago. However, you’ll want to be first in line for their traditional Mexican recipes and authentic birria tacos. Each taco starts with handmade corn tortillas and is finished with a filling of braised beef and Oaxaca cheese. Pico Taco Hoboken This Hoboken restaurant added birria de res tacos to their menu in November and they’re nothing short of perfection. At Pico Taco, they’re using housemade tortillas as the base before filling them with shredded, slow-cooked beef and melty cheese. Sombrero Tacoria Totowa and Ridgewood Sombrero Tacoria originated as a food truck but now has two locations throughout North Jersey. Like others on this list, they quickly jumped on the birria bandwagon and added a taco variety to their menu. The birria tacos at Sombrero are stuffed with beef and cheese and feature a charred, crispy exterior. Locos Tacos Birria Factory & Bakery North Bergen The birria at Locos Tacos Birria Factory & Bakery is something to behold. They’re slow-cooking their beef for four hours with an abundance of spices and guajillo, ancho and pasilla chilis. And the consommé on the side is made with a tomato salsa base. They offer birria varieties ranging from egg rolls, tamales and flautas to, of course, tacos. Each

comes topped with cilantro, onions and radishes. Edison Tex Mex Deli Edison At Edison Tex Mex Deli, you’ll find everything from fajitas and burritos and tacos of all flavors. The main attraction here, however, is the birria. Their tacos are of the less cheesy variety and come stuffed with shredded beef, cilantro, raw white onions with consommé on the side. De Martino Latin Somerville This Cuban-style restaurant in Somerville has been cranking out some of the juiciest birria tacos I’ve seen. De Martino is frying up their corn tortillas on the flattop and then filling them with Mexican cheese and shredded beef that’s been braised with dry chiles and spices. De Puebla Veracruz Passaic At De Puebla Veracruz in Passaic, you can get your birria fix in more ways than one. They’re offering up crunchy and cheesy tacos, in addition to tortas, quesadillas, sopes and nachos—because birria obviously makes everything better. La Brujeria Jersey City La Brujeria is the only spot on this list dishing out lamb birria, and they’re doing it 24/7. Here, they’re leaving out the cheese and using slow-cooked lamb stew as the filling for their tacos. The tortillas themselves are also not dipped or griddled. Instead, you can choose what style of tortilla you want from corn to flour in both the soft and crunchy variety.

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A Lifetime in the Making SLA brings Northern Thai cooking to Montclair, NJ and with it, a deeper understanding of the popular cuisine’s misconceptions. BY PETER CANDIA | PHOTOGRAPHY BY ARIELLE FIGUEREDO



’ll be honest with you, Thai food never used to be my cuisine of choice. And so, the first time I decided to eat at SLA Thai Restaurant in Montclair, it was a shot in the dark. That was five years ago, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Thai is a deeply misunderstood cuisine in the United States. When thinking of Thai fare, many Americans imagine Pad Thai, or maybe a green curry, but not much past that. I was certainly guilty of this same mindset. So, when Kamonthip Pattamasingchai, who simply goes by Meiji, opened SLA Thai in 2015, she decided to do anything other than what was expected of the average Thai restaurant in New Jersey. It was a risky move, but one that paid off better than anyone could have ever imagined. To understand what SLA brings to the table, I took a closer look at Meiji’s life leading up to this point. Meiji was born and raised in a small town in the north of Thailand called Nan. At just seven years old, Meiji began cooking with her mother, who worked as a caterer for the local temple. This is where she began to master her craft of Northern Thai cuisine. Meiji never forgets what she is taught, and upon a deeper dive into how SLA came to be, this becomes abundantly clear. “I came to New York to sort of run away from my mom. She did catering, and I didn’t really want [to do] that. I wanted to be a fashion designer,” Meiji told me. “I applied to school, but I could not speak English. I didn’t get in. I needed to learn how to read and write first.” Meiji found herself in a difficult situation— incredibly inspired, but with no way to convey it. So, she turned back to cooking. Meiji began working at a Thai restaurant on 10th Avenue

in Manhattan. Starting as a dishwasher, Meiji insisted on offering a hand when the restaurant was in need of more prep-work. Her masterful knife-work piqued the chef ’s interest. Not long after, they asked Meiji if she knew how to cook; “Of course I can cook,” she replied, and thus a career began to emerge. When Meiji felt well-versed in the kitchen, she came to Montclair to work front of house and build a better understanding of management—honing her abilities as a well-rounded restaurateur. That was a decade ago, and with SLA already in the midst of its fifth year and now operating from a recently upgraded location, it is incredibly apparent that the last thing Meiji does is waste time. SLA’s fare is the culmination of the careers that helped to build it. Meiji is not alone in this operation. Her brother, Yanin, and her husband, Wanat, both share the role of chef along with Meiji; all three coming from the North of Thailand. Yanin spent years working in Manhattan for the universally admired chef, Joël Robuchon. Wanat attended The Institute of Culinary Education before starting his illustrious career—working with legends such as Daniel Boulud, and even brushing shoulders with chefs who worked for the Thai Royal Family (also known as The Chakri Dynasty). While three individual’s stories like these may seem unlikely to coexist within one small space in northern New Jersey, it is anything but surprising when you experience SLA firsthand. All three coming from Northern Thailand help to shape what SLA’s cuisine is at its core, but their individual experiences combine to definitively set SLA apart from the others.



er passion for design comes through in SLA’s decor. Whether talking about the food, or something as small as the layout of the coffee bar, Meiji’s eyes light up. Every ounce of her being is poured into this restaurant, and it shows. A colorful and bold aesthetic encompasses the walls of the dining room. Everything from the plates and silverware, to the dozens of books that decorate the main floor, create something that feels different than any dining room you have ever eaten in—all while remaining extremely welcoming and familiar. Meiji has an aptitude for bringing otherwise odd pieces of artwork together in a way that is robust and cohesive. This is difficult to do, being that one misplaced idea can throw off an entire space. It is no surprise at all that the carefully curated atmosphere of SLA is equally as fascinating as the food.





Dishes and flavors that are available at SLA are sometimes hard to come by in New Jersey, and it can oftentimes be difficult to make something so foreign appear enticing to the average diner in this area. “People around here get used to ‘Americanized’ Thai food. It is hard for them to separate between Thai, Chinese, and Vietnamese cuisine. Many think that all Asian people cook the same food. I knew it was going to be hard from the beginning but we did it with a lot of passion and a lot of heart,” she explained. A refreshing papaya salad is always part of the equation when eating at SLA. Thinly sliced young papaya is packed with both sour flavors and a desirable crunch. Crushed garlic cloves are left raw to introduce a pungent and spicy note to the dish. Oftentimes, raw garlic can be overpowering, but when combined with another intense flavor such as the young papaya, they exist in harmony to create what just might be the perfect side dish. The braised short rib in Massaman curry is what turns heads, though. Meiji described this dish to me as “The Royal Family’s short ribs,” which were conjured up during Wanat’s time working with a previous chef for the Thai Royal Family. This new bit of information turned something I was already in love with into an obsession of the highest intensity. Cardamom, cinnamon, star anise, cumin, coriander and peppercorns are roasted before being violently pounded into a smooth paste with the help



of raw garlic, chili pepper, galangal (also known as “Thai ginger”), lemongrass, tamarind and palm sugar. This aromatic curry paste becomes the basis of the dish. This paste is stir-fried until aromatic before being combined with coconut milk to create the braising liquid for the short ribs. After six hours of cooking, the dish is finished with a seasoning of fish sauce, a common umami-forward ingredient found in Thai and other Southeast Asian cooking. Something as comforting and recognizable as braised short ribs are set apart by flavors that are anything but common to find in New Jersey. The Gang Hung Ley, a braised pork belly dish, follows a similar route as the short ribs. Another curry paste is made with dried chili, lemongrass, galangal, shrimp paste, garlic and shallot. After stir-frying for aroma, fresh ginger is added along with pork belly before being set aside for a five-hour braise. Once again, fish sauce and palm sugar are added as a seasoning to individualize this from any pork belly I’ve had in the past. What makes the Gang Hung Ley so desirable is not just the complex flavor that is being compacted into one small bowl, but it is the bewildering simplicity that comes along with it. Rib bones are left on pieces of the pork belly, requiring you to use your hands as you gnaw away. This is pure indulgence. At that very moment, your only concern is to get everything you can out of this dish before it’s gone, not caring an iota of what you might look like in the process of doing it. A blessing in disguise, my close-minded view of what I thought comfort food was turned on its head. Meiji made sure I knew that this recipe was specific to Northern Thailand. It is a recipe that she has cherished since she learned how to cook it 30 years ago.





erhaps what sticks out the most, in terms of both presentation and flavors, is the Nam Thok Pla Tod—a whole fried snapper dressed with Issan herbs and flavors. The entire fish is dried and lightly seasoned before being deep-fried to cook through. What happens next is a culinary phenomenon. The skin and bones of the fish help to protect the flesh from overcooking and otherwise drying out. However, simultaneously, the exposed skin releases all of its moisture when introduced to the hot oil, creating a tooth-shatteringly crisp exterior. You are left with two layers: one being the salty and mindnumbingly crisp fish skin, and the other being the ever-so-delicately cooked flesh—still jammed with moisture. Meiji then places the fish atop a fresh salad, and the entire plate is dressed with a generous amount of mint, cilantro, shallot, and fish sauce. An easy entreé choice to share, or indulge in yourself, the Nam Thok Pla Tod is the epitome of what it means to eat at SLA. It has been several years since SLA’s opening, and they’re still operating with the same passion and heart that Meiji began with. And if you’re wondering what the name SLA actually means, it’s an acronym standing for “Simple. Love. Authentic.” That moniker could not describe the experience Meiji and her team have created more accurately. ISSUE NO. 1



Smart Living Reaches New Heights:

The Madison Passive House This recent build from Hoboken design team, Mowery Marsh Architects, proves that you don’t have to swap taste for sustainable living. BY JULIA VALENTI | PHOTOGRAPHY BY HARIS KENJAR



n a quiet street in Madison, this New Jersey house appears to be the idyllic suburban dwelling. Lean, black-framed windows flood the home with natural light, adding a touch of depth to the home’s immaculate white exterior. Its porch extends from the first floor, bringing a traditional farmhouse-style charm to the property’s otherwise minimalist features. Both timeless and welcoming, its simplicity blends effortlessly with the neighborhood’s lush green surroundings. However, do not let this amiable image mislead you. A deeper look inside this Morris County marvel reveals a power beyond that of your typical cul-de-sac residence–or any other that has come before it. Turns out, it is just one of the latest to join the Passive House phenomenon, a trailblazing design process that allows for self-regulating, energy-efficient homes. Completed in 2017, this project was brought to life by Brian and Jen Marsh, the husband-and-wife team behind Mowery Marsh Architects. Though the duo also employs conventional building methods, their true passion lies in cultivating homes that are both visually pleasing and ecofriendly. The Passive style is encapsulated by its ability to integrate architectural design and materials to maintain a balanced environment—no matter the conditions outside. ISSUE NO. 1


“When there are opportunities to connect stories together, the house feels more connected and cohesive, not only on a floor plane but three-dimensionally throughout the space.”

“This is just a house that’s built so well that it feels like a thermos, where you’re able to have these consistent temperatures inside that feel comfortable,” Jen shares. This method incorporates light-efficient windows, continuous insulation, and energy recovery ventilation, as well as strategic placement of the new home’s layout. No longer having to rely on an energy-consuming HVAC system, these innovative methods create a sealed, thermally-effective setting capable of mediating external conditions for its inhabitants. In situations when you can’t rely on utilities in your home, whether in a power outage or other natural event, the Passive House’s dependability can be of the utmost importance. The project’s Belgium-born homeowners already had high regards for light, airy design on par with the Mowery Marsh architect’s Passive approach. In addition, the clients sought a residence that was neither traditional nor contemporary in style. Mowery Marsh’s mission was to ensure that the envisioned home still felt contextual within its neighborhood, surveying the site’s constraints to determine how to put the client’s image together. The group also needed to find a builder familiar with the concept, requiring Passive House tradesmen to be brought onto the construction team. Through their emphasis on collaboration, the Mowery Marsh group was able to satisfy all the diverse requirements for the property’s vision. 74


A first look into the completed Madison home opens to a view of the structural staircase, whose floating steps provide a glimpse of the two-story slot window lining the back wall. Incorporating sprawling triple-glazed, airtight European windows, this impressive installation trails views of the backyard all the way to the open sky above. One of Jen’s favorite inclusions in the home, the almost ethereal piece helps the interior of the house and outside world to feel united, without sacrificing thermal comfort or energy use to do so. “When there are opportunities to connect stories together, the house feels more connected and cohesive, not only on a floor plane but three-dimensionally throughout the space. It just really floods the house with light,” she explains. To the left of this entrance, a step-down living room demonstrates the resourcefulness of the home’s design plan. This elegant choice granted the lofty 10-foot ceilings the clients desired, while still remaining uniform with their neighbors. The room’s back wall is similarly lined with windows off the property’s south-facing yard, providing ample natural light and maximum heat gain for the entire house. Because of this optimal situation, the architect team could include slightly smaller windows in the front of the house, tucked gracefully under the porch to remain proportional and obscured from street view.

Adorned with natural materials, light fabrics, and bold decor, the living room perfectly embodies Jen and Brian’s aesthetic. “We don’t prescribe to any particular styles, we just know what feels good to us and appeals to people in general. Right now it feels like it’s simple, clean forms and shapes that are kind of peaceful– not overly ornate with lots of different things happening where your eye can’t really settle on any of them,“ Jen says. The room’s focal piece, an eye-catching black bisected accent wall, completes its balanced, serene ambiance.





Just around the corner in the kitchen, crisp white tile offsets geometric wood features, while mid-century lighting and colorful art pieces tie the elements of the room together. Through the space’s signature L-shaped setup, the Mowery Marsh team met the client’s goal for an open yet defined living space. Jen recounts of their plan, “they wanted it open but did not want to necessarily be seeing right into the spaces or have one big room. That’s where we figured out a way to use the different shapes of the house to create those connections and yet keep them distinctive.” A comparable method is employed in the adjoining dining area, where a sculptural, open-faced shelf divides the space from the kitchen. While still modern and unified, promoting positive airflow in the process, these stylistic choices allow the rooms to feel delineated. The rest of the Madison Passive House continues the former’s polished yet cozy trend; upstairs bedrooms and bathrooms possess a preternaturally bright, monochromatic color scheme, softened by lush textiles and natural views. In the yard, multiple outdoor living spaces and artful landscaping surround a rectangular

concrete pool. In a way, this sublime setting represents the overarching aim of Mowery Marsh’s Passive design—to provide a bridge between natural and constructed worlds, and with this, improve the overall wellbeing of their clients. Because the Passive House concept is only recently gaining notice, it is often met with misconceptions about its ability and limitations. Jen and Brian Marsh aim to defy these associations, proving that taste and smart living are not mutually exclusive. “People think that Passive Houses have to have a certain design and look to them...They think that they have to make sacrifices,” Brian states. However, after so many have spent most of their time inside this year, this mindset may be open to some reevaluation. “As more people start working from home, which I think will be a trend moving forward, they’ll have more flex time. People are going to think about how important their living environments are,” Jen explains. This Madison, NJ home acts as the culmination of all that Passive design can achieve, showing that your home can be progressive and beautiful all at once. ISSUE NO. 1



How SARAH BRADY and her team at Salt Design Company bring cool, effortless, and transitional style to New Jersey. by AMARIS POLLINGER photography by RAQUEL LANGWORTHY



Shop by Salt in Fair Haven, NJ

arah Brady grew up admiring the coastal aesthetic of nearby homes that dotted the New England shoreline. She would often imagine all the nuances one could create with those designs. As the daughter of a residential contractor, inspiration was never far away. It was those aesthetic memories that called to her artistic sensibility during her tenure in the corporate world of sales and trading. Soon she began freelance designing, but side projects began to feel more like a creative void. And so, after seven years, Brady left her job at Morgan Stanley and formed Salt Design Company. Now 14 employees strong, Salt has expanded their reach with the addition of a retail location that opened in Fair Haven in November of 2017. “We started off with small design projects, a few single-room designs,” Brady remarks on the company’s history. “Through our storefront, word of mouth, and social media—demand grew quickly.”



Photos: Pennsylvania Avenue Project in Spring Lake, NJ

Based primarily now out of Red Bank, Salt Design Company specializes in a largely transitional style. In the interior design world, transitional style is the meeting of traditional and contemporary styles that equate to a classic, timeless look. This effect is achieved through blending casual aesthetics that are emboldened with fresh, eclectic accents—a modern style many Garden State homes have been deprived of in decades past. Salt Design’s palette includes a substantial amount of earthy, natural tones complemented by white or ebony walls and lush greenery creeping out of terra cotta pots. Pulling these muted hues together and paying close attention to details, both large and small, is what sets Salt apart. “A neutral palette creates the perfect canvas for layering textures and pops of color,” says Kiera Gannon, interior designer and project manager at Salt Design Company. “It also gives [you] the ability to swap out accessories for a refreshed look. The key is to be more selective about use and placement so the home maintains a timeless feel.” Contrasting furniture is another core element of Salt Design’s aesthetic, one which strives to create a balanced room. “Sometimes this means pairing a beautifully tailored sofa with a reclaimed wood coffee table and sleek mid-century style chairs,” Jessica Chepauskas, fellow interior designer and project manager, explains. “We’ve come a long way from a quintessential coastal look. We like to incorporate a more natural feeling in our client’s homes.” This natural variety allows Salt Design’s clients to convert their spaces with the changing seasons. 80


“A neutral palette creates the perfect canvas for layering textures and pops of color.” “Being on the East Coast, we’re lucky enough to go through each season. We like our designs to go from winter to spring seamlessly,” Chespauskas continues. Even the home’s location plays a role in their designs. While Salt receives plenty of coastal residential projects, each client and home are different. “Not every beach house needs to be blue and white!” Chepauskas adds. Still, the overall goal for Salt Design Company remains the same: to use the traditional style model to fuse the past with the present and the comfortable with the durable, all while constructing an enduring, liveable space. Ever-evolving and relishing a design challenge, Salt is dedicated to their client’s needs from initial vision to the final installation. That’s not just a company mission statement, but a serious mantra that Brady and her team execute in real-time. This has no doubt been a huge part of their success. From the beginning, the Salt team assesses the particular needs and desired styles of each client that walks through their doors. Part of their process goes so far as to determine not only how the space will be utilized but by whom.





Photos: Pennsylvania Avenue Project in Spring Lake, NJ

“We aim to fully develop the design from start to finish,” Brady says about the collaboration process. “Determining everything from the architectural components, hard materials, soft furnishings, and final details.” From there, the Salt team invites the client into their design studio; the team presents their concept, while still allowing the client to develop their own personalized style. “A lot of puzzle pieces come into play depending on the client,” says Chepauskas, “It’s not as easy as Instagram makes it look.” 2020 undoubtedly brought a set of changes to Salt Design’s doorstep. While their Fair Haven store was temporarily closed, the team took this opportunity to launch their online shop, receiving an overwhelming amount of support both near and far. On the design side of the business, Brady admits that the company met other challenges. All over the globe, manufacturing was halted, residential construction was put on hold, and Salt Design began operating from home. “It’s been a priority ever since March [of 2020] to keep all our employees and clients as safe as possible while also continuing to make progress with all of our projects,” Brady explains. As virtual work became the norm, many urbanites found themselves hardly, if at all, needing to report to an office. This allowed many to venture out of the city, and throughout 2020, we saw this pattern continue. Some of this migration was a blessing in disguise for Salt Design Company, as these new residents sought them out to design their living spaces. “We saw an increase in demand for our services with the trend of residents moving [in] from New York City,” Brady says. Perhaps it’s this same influx of New Yorkers that gave rise to the new, “natural” transitional interior trend sweeping across New Jersey. But one thing is for sure, the aesthetic is here to stay, and perhaps break the mold of what we’ve historically known Garden State interior design to be. ISSUE NO. 1




EASTWIND HOTEL The Catskills’ Rustic-Chic Getaway





E S T L E D A M O N G T H E S O F T P E A K S and foliage of New York’s Catskill Mountains, the Eastwind Hotel’s signature navy exterior casts a striking contrast against its landscape. Paradoxically modern, natural, and timeless all at once—its juxtaposition may be one of the first details, but certainly not the last, to catch your eye during your stay. About two hours from the New Jersey border, the boutique hotel offers the ideal escape from hectic daily life, and with it, the opportunity to regain perspective amid the beauty of nature. In times such as these, Eastwind’s emphasis on a down-to-earth, adaptable experience is more inviting than ever. Founded in 2018 by Montclair couple Bjorn Boyer and Julija Stoliarova and their friends, the first-time hoteliers were drawn to the Catskills by their shared love of the area. For Boyer, the Catskills evoke fond childhood memories of exploring, skiing, and hiking. Upon discovering the low-key property encompassed by scenic views of Windham Mountain, Boyer recounts how the team was united by a single goal: “to create a unique Scandinavian home away from home that would help bring friends and families together.” With the help of their various backgrounds in hospitality, the founders combined their strengths to turn their plan into a reality. After months of collaboration, Eastwind carefully took the shape that it resembles today—an expansive property offering uniquely-designed accommodations, high-end amenities, and inviting gathering spaces across its sprawling 17 acres.



The Eastwind Hotel offers 26 accommodation options, from rooms within the main building to suites in their Hill House—a secondary location along the forest line. With the aim to “explore all the beauty that nature has to offer,” states Boyer, hammocks, fire pits, saunas and trails can be found scattered across the property’s numerous acres. Additionally, Eastwind is only a fiveminute drive from Windham Mountain, a center with over 54 ski trails, six terrain parks, snowshoeing trails, tubing slopes, and more. Through access to these diverse features, guests can take on the great outdoors full speed ahead or embrace a more laid-back approach, simply enjoying the crisp mountain air. Eastwind’s new Lushna Suites, launched in September 2020, take this idea to a whole new level.


Home Away from Home

n a town long connected to winter activities, Stoliarova, who also doubles as the hotel’s creative director, desired to create a calming retreat to complement a day spent in the great outdoors. Because of this, she drew on the property’s history as a bunkhouse for fly fishermen and hunters dating back to the 1920s. Evidence of this background can be observed in the thoughtful selection of vintage books, sporting equipment, and art adorning the walls of most Eastwind rooms. However, what sets Eastwind apart as a refreshing alternative to the antiquated, stuffy mountain homes of the past is Stoliarova’s incorporation of the increasingly popular Scandinavian design into the property’s rustic ambiance. Drawing on the Swedish concept lagom, meaning just the right amount, Eastwind’s rooms combine “clean, urban touches” with the raw resources of the area. A fitting display of Eastwind’s style can be found in the hotel’s mid-century “King’’ rooms. In the bedroom, navy and yellow knit accents, along with the woodlandinspired art lining the walls, give the room a soft country feel. At the same time, sprawling windows, white-washed walls, black sliding barn doors, and simplistic light fixtures carry the room into the present, almost resembling a hip New York City loft. A similar balance of styles exists in the room’s suite model, where French doors open into a living area characterized by a retro fireplace, painted stone walls, and geometric prints throughout. Though each of Eastwind’s rooms differs slightly in decoration, their tranquil effect is the same. Stoliarova’s airy, minimalist aesthetic proves the perfect complement to the sweeping mountain views outside, making it feel as if you are still connected to the wilderness while observing from the comfort of your bed. Faribault wool blankets, Frette linens, and Zenology bath products top off each room, sealing the deal on your upscale yet wholly natural experience.





The Lushna Suites, A Scandinavian Approach to Camping


esembling little wooden tents set among the trees, the three pet-friendly suites lie at the intersection of glamping and tiny house living. With all of the amenities you could need, this lodging expands upon its one-room predecessor, the Lushna Cabin. The 400-square-foot buildings are each equipped with a lofted-queen size bed and adjoining A-frame windows, providing breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding Catskills that every influencer dreams of. In the quaint living space that lies below, a pullout sofa allows the suite to accommodate four people total. Beyond this, the property opens to your own private deck and seating, where you can take in the expansive greenery firsthand while lounging in a complimentary Pendleton robe. To enhance your relaxation, each unit comes with its own outdoor shower, hammock, and fire pit, though upon request you can also acquire a barbeque to fire up your own meals. For the aspiring novelist, or really any digital-worker longing for a change of scenery, the suites offer a writer’s nook off of the living area. A similar spot exists within the hotel’s main building, though only the Lushna Suites have the benefit of possessing their own. Complete



with a desk and sweeping windows, this stylish corner is designed to draw on nature for inspiration. “Eastwind is a place to disconnect and align yourself with your thoughts,” explains Stoliarova. “That said, we included a few areas within our accommodations where your creativity can run wild. By adding the writer’s nooks in the Lushna Suites and the vintage typewriter within the Writer’s Studio, we hoped to encourage our guests to depart from their electronics—and put pen to paper. Perhaps releasing thoughts top-of-mind, writing poetry inspired by the nature they’re immersed in, or finally writing that novel.” Though in theory they are Eastwind Hotel’s most rustic lodging alternative, the standalone Lushna Suites are both self-serving and refined. With an en-suite bathroom, fridge, and Wi-Fi, you can exist there happily without ever having to branch out to the outside world. In a society that has become accustomed to this reclusion over the past year, the Lushna Suites reminds us that, when done right, it can actually be a thing of luxury and healing.

Top-Tier Service Amid a Changing Reality


astwind’s ambitious latest project is also one of the many examples of how the hotel has provided safe alternatives for the socially-distanced traveler. According to Boyer, business has unsurprisingly looked very different this year. “With air travel greatly slowed in 2020, we learned the strength and impact of our local and regional community of travelers. Being about two and a half hours or less from New York City, Northern New Jersey and Philadelphia, upon reopening, we’ve had the great privilege of welcoming guests who were eager to take advantage of what’s driveable and safe within their own

backyard.” Regardless, ensuring the comfort of their beloved neighboring guests is a top priority for the hotel, even when it means constructing entirely new living accommodations; “We’re proud to be able to meet the high demand from guests looking to immerse themselves in nature and enjoy the outdoors while keeping safety top of mind.” As a result of these changes, the Eastwind Hotel’s service has become even more catered to the individual experience and convenience. Check-in has been reimagined as a contactless affair, to take place over text while you drive up to the secluded mountain venue. During this interaction, you will be asked if you’d like to receive a breakfast basket–consisting of croissants, granola, fresh fruit, coffee, and more–along with your preferred time of delivery the following morning. While this is a welcoming treat that will make anyone feel like royalty, the best thing to come of their adapted service is the craft-cocktails that can be ordered straight to your room. For any other requests during your stay, simply shoot a text to the front desk and their staff will take care of it. If your idea of a peaceful getaway in today’s climate includes virtually no human interaction, this is an experience Eastwind is willing to make happen. For those who come for a more interactive stay, Eastwind also currently offers semi-private supper seating in the Salon via reservation on Friday and Saturday evenings. Here, you will find a full bar set among cozy pine paneling, farm tables, and groups of eclectic plush seating centered around a roaring fire. Whatever you choose to partake in, the hotel’s aim remains unchanging; “Our team encourages our guests to live a bit slower while on-property and be present by enjoying a craft cocktail, making s’mores and embracing the human connection,” says Boyer. At the end of the day, your time at Eastwind is yours to make of it, all depending on your comfort level and preference. Though Eastwind has been highly successful in its first few years of opening, Boyer and Stoliarova continue to divide their time between the hotel and their New Jersey home. Boyer shares, “We are lucky to call both Montclair and Windham home in different ways as we are consistently traveling between the two locations.” Because they like to have a handson approach in running the hotel, they try to spend as much time on property every time their children are off of school. The family has turned their hotel’s mantra into a reality; the location truly has become their “home away from home” as well. With the frame of such nostalgic family moments in mind, this sentiment reinforces the notion of what Eastwind is all about—getting back to the basics. Re-learning to enjoy the simple things in life. Spending quality time with the people we love most. At this imaginative mountain hotel, these are things they believe a pandemic should not get in the way of.




Staycations Guide NE W JERS EY

Sometimes you just need to get

away. Maybe it’s about a change of scenery. Perhaps you want to trade the chill of the East Coast for the warmth of the West.

Or, you could just as easily let

the Garden State surprise you. Spend the weekend cozied up

in a Scandanavian A-frame on

the Maurice River. Pull up a chair on the grand lawn of Congress Hall, America’s first seaside

resort. Either way, New Jersey’s staycation options span its

famed shoreline all the way up to the Gold Coast. You just need to know where to look. BY ABBY MONTANEZ

THE REEDS AT SHELTER HAVEN STONE HARBOR, NJ The Reeds at Shelter Haven sits just a half-mile from Stone Harbor Beach and is considered one of New Jersey’s finest hotels according to Condé Nast Traveler. The elegant, 58-room property is inspired by the palette of its surroundings, highlighted by warm sand tones, natural fabrics and doses of cerulean blue. Nautical details ensure you never feel far from the shore, and for beachgoers, The Reeds lends branded beach chairs, umbrellas, towels and tags to its guests, along with a personal attendant. If you prefer the shade, consider stopping by the fitness center or Salt Spa where they offer everything from a Turkish bath experience to float therapy and a light inhalation lounge. 90


LOKAL A-FRAME DORCHESTER, NJ Fans of Scandanavian design (think pine plywood, white oak flooring, concrete shower walls) will love this ultra-cozy A-frame on the Maurice River. This cabin was originally built in the ‘60s and later purchased and renovated by owners Chad and Courtney Ludeman. Today, the Lokal A-Frame is outfitted with a jacuzzi, private river beach and high-end furnishings from Article. The hotel experience is not lost at this offthe-grid getaway. Their “invisible concierge” service allows guests a truly remote retreat where in-person interactions are obsolete. Everything from room service to check-in is handled digitally and you can enjoy amenities such as Sonos surround sound, linens from Parachute and an HD projection screen with Apple TV.

THE W HOBOKEN HOBOKEN, NJ Sweeping views of Manhattan are one of the most desirable amenities at the W Hoboken. Located in the heart of the Mile Square City, this sleek hotel acts as a reprieve from the hustle and bustle by wedding a modern, cosmopolitan feel with a serene atmosphere. Think comfy, cool guest rooms with blue hues to glamorous, over-the-top suites. Occupy your time on-property by visiting the W Hoboken’s 1,520-square-foot gym or exploring the in-house art gallery with works by local artist Ricardo Roig. By night, grab a cocktail at the Living Room lounge bar before digging into farm-to-table coastal cuisine offered at on-site restaurant, Halifax.

THE ASBURY HOTEL | ASBURY PARK, NJ When The Asbury came onto the scene in 2016, it was the town’s first new hotel in over a decade. A $50 million renovation transformed this former Salvation Army building into the luxurious, 110-room property it is today, outfitted with a rooftop cantina, outdoor pool and beer garden. Today, Asbury Park’s rock and roll roots live on through stylish, retro-inspired decor, as does its legacy as an iconic destination for beachgoers. The guest rooms are just as spirited as the hotel’s common spaces and are adorned with vintage photographs and music posters that hark back to Asbury Park’s beginnings.

SEAVIEW, A DOLCE HOTEL GALLOWAY, NJ Since its beginnings as a private golf club in 1914, Seaview Hotel has served as an iconic Jersey Shore destination for over a century. Today, it maintains its historic architecture while boasting modern accommodations, three on-site dining experiences and both an indoor and outdoor pool. The major draw here, however, is the hotel’s aforementioned golf program. The resort is home to two courses spanning over 670 acres of woodland. Not only are they considered some of the most beautiful, albeit challenging, courses in all of North America, but Seaview itself has also made history as the host of the annual ShopRite LPGA Classic.

THE VIRGINIA HOTEL CAPE MAY, NJ Dating back to 1878, The Virginia Hotel was first constructed by owners Alfred and Ellen Ebbit following a fire that destroyed 40 acres of Cape May. However, it was condemned nearly a century later before being purchased, renovated and reopened in the 1980s by Curtis Bashaw and his family. As it stands, the colonial-style inn still sports a vintage interior and 19th-century architecture, albeit with modern amenities including daily golf cart rentals for local outings and a farm-to-table restaurant known as The Ebbitt Room. Set on Jackson Street in the Historic District, guests visiting in the summer are only half a block from the nearest beach.

WAVE RESORT & SPA LONG BRANCH, NJ In 2019, Long Branch welcomed Wave Resort to its seaside community—a sixstory, 67-room hotel with an undulating roof reminiscent of its name. The posh property encompasses all the attributes of a Shore getaway from a sun-drenched pool with swim-up bar to oceanfront accommodations and nearby attractions such as Pier Village. Bright, light-filled guestrooms ensure that visitors never feel too far away from their surroundings while personal concierge service allows guests to do exactly what they came to do—sit back, relax and enjoy. Here, you can have your beach and bliss out too at the second-floor spa. Whether you want to unwind with a detoxing facial or destress with a soothing massage, the choice is up to you.



THE MC HOTEL | MONTCLAIR, NJ It’s immediately evident from the 50-foot mural in the lobby that art is at the core of The MC Hotel. The building itself serves as a gateway to Montclair’s own cultural identity, boasting works and offerings from nearby painters, craft brewers and coffee roasters. The 159-room hotel, which opened in 2019, is designed for both relaxation and inspiration—a mix of modern details and a calming color palette. The community vibe is carried all the way through The MC’s public spaces including Allegory, a Mediterranean small plates restaurant, and Alto, a 3,000-square-foot rooftop bar overlooking Manhattan. Ask about The MC’s staycation offer, the Montclair Escapist package, exclusive to New Jersey residents.

CONGRESS HALL CAPE MAY, NJ It’s been over 200 years since the U.S. saw its first seaside resort, the likes of which first opened up in Cape May. Congress Hall, once nicknamed “The Summer White House,” evokes pure Americana vibes from its beginnings as a retreat for the nation’s presidents to its presentday lure as a boutique Jersey Shore hotel. In order to meet more modern needs, the hotel has seen a number of upgrades to its interior including guest rooms with highend American heritage furniture, antique brass hardware, plush bedding and hand-dyed linen. Make the most of your stay by lounging in a private tent on the beach, relaxing at the pool or dining at farm-to-table restaurant, Blue Pig Tavern.



THE PEACOCK INN | PRINCETON, NJ This colonial-style mansion from the 1700s has been transformed into a 16-room boutique hotel in the heart of Princeton. For centuries, The Peacock Inn has served as a New Jersey landmark. These days, it strives to meld its storied past with modern hospitality. Historic details are balanced with contemporary comforts including guest rooms that feature flat-screen TVs, luxurious bedding, rain showers and heated bathroom flooring. The hotel also offers full-service afternoon tea on the weekends and is home to an onsite, fine dining restaurant known as The Perch.

GRAND CASCADES LODGE AT CRYSTAL SPRINGS RESORT HAMBURG, NJ The Grand Cascades Lodge at Crystal Springs was designed to complement its beautiful landscape, not intrude upon it. The hotel brings the outdoors in through natural materials, textures, colors and plenty of bright light to create a calming and inviting atmosphere for guests. While visitors might have a hard time leaving their Adirondackstyle accommodations, just steps away lies six premier golf courses, a full-service spa, Biosphere pool, 6,000-label wine cellar and the awardwinning Restaurant Latour.

ENVUE HOTEL WEEHAWKEN, NJ EnVue Hotel channels the energy of New York City without having to be in the middle of the country’s most crowded metropolis. This newly opened building comes as part of the Weehawken waterfront’s revitalization plan and remains within shouting distance of the Port Imperial Ferry. EnVue houses 208 guest rooms that peer over the Manhattan skyline and Hudson River. In addition, the 15,000-square-foot rooftop bar-restaurant by celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson has quickly become one of the hottest places to grab a cocktail in the state. The 11-story facade has a sleek, cosmopolitan feel and its ultra-sophisticated guest rooms are outfitted with spalike bathrooms. The amenities are no less indulgent—think a fullyequipped fitness center and high-tech meeting space.

THE GEORGE MONTCLAIR, NJ What was once the home of architect Charles Van Vleck in 1902 and later converted to The Georgian Inn, is now better known as just The George. Today, this boutique hotel is helmed by makeup mogul Bobbi Brown and her husband, real estate developer Steven Plofker. The two completed a total renovation of the 32-room property in 2016, restoring the hotel’s original lobby and wood-paneled library. As creative director, Brown made this hotel feel like home by filling The George with furnishings and decor she’s collected over the years. She also put her partnerships to good use, bringing in high-end brands such as Casper, Dyson, Nespresso, One Kings Lane and more to elevate the guest experience. ISSUE NO. 1



Now taking online orders!

Scooping Up a Second Location: Torico Ice Cream Plans to Expand



espite what some may say, it’s never too cold to enjoy delicious ice cream— especially if that sweet treat is from Torico in Downtown Jersey City. After more than 50 years of “serving happiness,” this beloved ice cream shop decided they wanted to spread the love by opening a second location in the Bergen-Lafayette neighborhood of JC. Owners Pura and Peter Berrios are hoping to expand their popular ice cream parlor to a one-story building on Garfield Ave. With more than 3,500 square feet of industrial and retail space combined, this immense structure will have a spacious storefront for visitors and will also serve as a production facility for both locations. While it is unclear when construction would begin, it’s possible guests could be savoring their favorite Torico flavors at their new locale as soon as 2022. Originally established in 1968 as a delicatessen, Torico quickly transformed into an ice cream hot spot. When Pura was pregnant with her first daughter, she began craving the tropical ice cream she adored while growing up in Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, these fresh, fruity flavors were not readily available, so her loving husband bought an ice cream machine to make her favorite frozen desserts at home. Peter had the brilliant idea to start selling it in the deli, and customers

came flocking in to get a taste of this handcrafted sweet treat. After receiving such positive feedback from guests, the couple made the decision to focus exclusively on serving ice cream, and thus, the Berrios’ sweets shop was born. Initially named Tropical Delight, Pura and Peter later renamed the shop Torico, a slangy contraction of “todo rico,” which translates to “everything is delicious.” While Peter has replaced his old hand-crank machine with some more modern technology, he continues to hand-make the shop’s rich ice cream using only real fruit and other premium ingredients; you won’t find any powdered mixes in these creamy creations! Years of practice means the Berrios’ have perfected their extensive menu

of more than 65 flavors. Many of the store’s eccentric selections are inspired by the diverse community of Jersey City, said Christine Berrios, daughter of Purra and Peter. In addition to childhood favorites like bubblegum and internationallyinspired flavors such as green tea, they make their own unique concoctions like Irish cream liqueur and cereal milk. All of their flavors can also be made into a milkshake, custom ice cream cake, or pie. While their Bergen-Lafayette location is under construction, their original storefront on Erie Street remains open daily from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. Whether you’re grabbing a cone or a pint, Torico is the hottest spot for a cold scoop of ice cream. ISSUE NO. 1


DISRUPTING THE INFLUENCE New Jersey mortgage banker RALPH DIBUGNARA is changing the rules for what it means to have influence. Under the name The Disruptor Network, he’s curated a group of successful industry experts, in addition to launching a TV docu-series and a scholarship-based academy to train young, aspiring real estate professionals. BY MICHAEL SCIVOLI


alph Dibugnara is an influence disruptor. It would be easy to call him an influencer, but that is too narrow a definition for what he actually does. Yes, the 42-year-old Fort Lee, NJ resident has amassed a great deal of influence in the local real estate market. But Dibugnara—who is President of Home Qualified and VP of Cardinal Financial—is out to squelch false prophets in the industry by uplifting local experts who have actually paved a path to success. And by doing this, he hopes to empower a new generation of industry professionals. For Dibugnara, his own road to success was not without struggle. Growing up in Brooklyn, he learned from an early age that in order to survive, he would have to work hard. Though there was no clear path or direction, his drive to build a better life fueled him. Today, Dibugnara is a nationally-recognized mortgage banker known for his expertise with the millennial demographic—which is, no doubt, a nod to his resilience. Fast-forward to 2020, the early months of the pandemic looked dire for Dibugnara and his mortgage business. But if his Brooklyn roots (and the 2008 financial crisis) taught him anything about weathering life’s storms, it was no time to hesitate. “When the pandemic hit, I told my staff ‘Whatever happens, we have to show up for work every day and move forward.’ As long as we’re progressively working on something, we’ll be fine in the end—we just have to keep moving.” Dibugnara’s “moving forward” mentality has undoubtedly been one of his key ingredients to success. But in the midst of the global pandemic, it was abundantly clear that people were looking to business influencers more than ever before. Rather than add to the already convoluted sea of influencers, he built a network of industry experts under the name Real Estate Disruptors, which began with weekly webinars. Not long after, Dibugnara put together a young, talented team to help produce a new docu-series, The Disruptor Network. He called on friends he thought of as high-level individuals in the industry like interior designer Vanessa Deleon and developer Anthony Lolli. He interviewed them on how they were weathering their own storms. “I wanted to know: Were they resilient? What were they doing to grow their business in the midst of a global pandemic?” Dibugnara recalled.



“There’s a lot of entrepreneurs out there, teaching people how to make money and get rich. How to use the system. The problem I have with that is, a lot of the time, you’re not getting people with actual substance. Did they build a business? Did they fail? Did they succeed? The show is really to highlight entrepreneurs who have done it and who are willing to help others and mentor. There’s a lot of false prophets on social media. Sometimes, you can’t tell who is real. It was important to me to go into my network and find people I felt were real.” Prior to the show’s production, Dibugnara was offered another gig—a real estate-based reality show. But the more he thought about it, the more it sounded like the same “influencer” fluff, content devoid of any real value. “I wanted to show people what we do every day and highlight who we wanted to highlight,” he explained. “I started calling in favors and we began production. Everyone knew it was self-funded and wasn’t high-paying, but it gave people a chance to use it for branding and to get their story out. We really just started filming what we’ve already been doing.”




hen matters of social justice arose in 2020, Dibugnara knew there was an opportunity to do even more than disrupt the chain of influence—something to perhaps even help break generational struggles. “I’ve always wanted to create a system where we could mentor people within my business. When all of the protests began, I was conflicted on how I could possibly help. What was the best use of my time? What came to me was, I wanted to help people get access to a better life. I know real estate. So I wanted to create



a school where I can teach people. I’m going to teach them for free. I’m going to give them scholarships so they can learn how to be either a mortgage loan officer or a real estate agent. I’m going to get them licensed and put them out into the world.” A big part of success, in business or life, is how you prepare. Dibugnara’s academy is aimed not only at giving students the tools they need to achieve success in real estate, but also skills they need for everyday life. “We’re looking for a certain age range. I’m going to target places where I feel people are underserved; people who are not getting the opportunity that they need. I’m also going to promote it on all the bigger real estate platforms to try to get the best candidates. There are going to be aspects of it that people may not want to be a part of. There’s going to be a fitness aspect to it. There’s going to be a life aspect. I want people to leave here being tuned in to a better place—not just have a license,” Dibugnara said. As with The Disruptor Network docuseries, the academy is meant to inspire and teach aspiring professionals from a place of success. “I’m not going to tell you that you’re going to make a million dollars this year because I don’t think you can,” Dibugnara explained. “I’ve put thousands and thousands of hours into my business. That’s how I’ve gotten there. I want to teach people the skills to get there. Some people learn through books and studying, but some can’t. They need practical experience. That’s what the academy is going to do. It’s not a classroom; it’s about getting in the field—something that will help students be functional in the future. I think people have to make mistakes and get the experience of doing it. “I grew up in Brooklyn in an all Italian neighborhood. There are stereotypes that are present in your brain when you leave those neighborhoods. If you’re not smart enough to get past the ignorance of it, you can really be stuck in that forever. My family is mixed race, but I grew up in an ignorant place. It wasn’t enough for me to just supersede that ignorance, I have to do something to effect change. This academy is my contribution.”

RESIDENTIAL RETREAT Designed for people to live in.

Build a better backyard for tomorrow, today. CALL OR EMAIL FOR MORE INFO 914.879.5602 | s t e v e @ s t e v e g r i g g s d e s i g n . c o m stevegriggsdesign.com

Profile for New Jersey Digest

New Jersey Digest | Issue No. 1 | 2021  

New Jersey Digest | Issue No. 1 | 2021  

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