Lunchtime can get busy behind the counter at Cafe 111. As a line formed one Wednesday earlier this month, three people moved hastily about the makeshift kitchen.
“Did you get Howard’s order yet?”
“Is that Marion’s Texas toast?”
“Can you wash some lettuce?”
It’s fast-paced work, but that is exactly what Bob Goldstein needed most when the cafe opened last July in the East Orange offices of Jewish Vocational Service of MetroWest, a beneficiary agency of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ.
A JVS client after being laid off from the Bear Stearns’ IT department just over two years ago, Goldstein — who had launched the Be Your Guest catering company after losing his job —was chosen from among five top candidates to run the cafe. Goldstein owns the business and pays rent to JVS for the space. The earnings from the cafe are his.
Before the cafe opened, JVS had only a non-working kitchen, vending machines with snacks, and a lunch truck that pulled up in front of the building.
After the vending machine prices went up, staff members and clients complained.
“We said, maybe this is an opportunity,” said JVS executive director Leonard Schneider. Why not create a cafeteria, he thought, run by someone on the JVS caseload who has food service experience and staff it with other JVS clients?
The 10- by 15-foot kitchen hadn’t been used since JVS first occupied the building in 1979. Schneider said he believes it may be original to the 1940 building.
Sinks and drains had to be added to bring it up to code, although they still can’t use the antiquated stove, grill, and hood. Goldstein brought in appliances of his own, including a George Forman grill, a microwave oven, and a professional steam table to make hot dogs.
He also squeezed into his office a desk, a chair, a telephone, a computer, and other paraphernalia. The space is a bit on the small side; if he slides back too far on his chair, he runs into the slicer.
The lunch menu is fairly basic — hot dogs, burgers and sliders, salads, Texas Toast. For Cinco de Mayo, Goldstein offered quesadillas with pico de gallo and sour cream.
Cafe 111 serves breakfast, snacks, coffee, and sodas. The business opens as the first clients arrive at 8 a.m. and closes after lunch at 2 p.m.
“We wanted to see if people would accept the cafe and how successful it would be before investing further,” said Schneider. “For now, everyone is happy with the various offerings. We’ll see about further investments.”
‘Bob’s food is better’
The menu is also limited by the clients — those seeking services at JVS generally have limited funds to spend on lunch. Even employees are suffering through a round of furloughs that have hit Jewish service agencies throughout the area.
Goldstein knows he won’t get rich running the cafe, and the food is not the gourmet fare he offers through his catering company, but he likes doing it.
“In corporate America, I was on call 24/7. I’d wake up in the morning and say, ‘I can’t believe I have to do this again,’” he said. “Now I wake up and I get out of bed; I get my stuff packed up and come in here. I like it. It keeps me busy, it keeps me amused.”
And it provides the cash flow he needs to keep his catering business going. “You need money all the time. To be able to front a $5,000 job, you can’t say I need $5,000 up front. This lets me to do what I have to do. It’s beneficial in that respect.”
It also gives him a connection to customers for his catering, including JVS, local businesses, in addition to his synagogue Temple B’nai Or in Morristown.
JVS staffers and clients have welcomed the cafe, especially when they recall the lunch truck. “The food was horrible; Bob’s food is far better,” said Nick Day of West Orange, who has been coming to JVS for about a year and a half.
“This has been a win-win for JVS,” said Schneider. “Our clients and staff have the opportunity to purchase reasonably priced food which is freshly prepared and Cafe 111 has provided some of our clients with hands-on food service experience that gives them employable skills.”
So far, three JVS clients have worked under Goldstein’s tutelage, including Elizabeth Marroquine who Goldstein says is working out “beautifully.” Goldstein’s cousin, Scarlet Berger, was also helping out in the cafe on this particular day.
It is Marroquine’s first job; her son is also a JVS client, in a program for people with autism.
Before the cafe opportunity came up, Goldstein was prepared to do “whatever I have to” to take care of his wife and two children. With the help of his JVS adviser, Meryl Kanter, he slowly began to focus on catering. He has a degree in hotel management, but he never really used it.
“I figured, when will I ever have this opportunity again?” he said.
Now, he looks forward to a time when the hood and grill will be brought up to code. He has visions of using the JVS location as a prep kitchen for other clients in the area, including a day care center and a government office.
In the meantime, he knows just how to handle the idiosyncrasies of customers he knows by name.
“That’s the same roll you had yesterday, Robert,” he reminded a customer. “The regular ones will be back tomorrow.”
And so will Goldstein.