BEST OF THE BEST 2020
Best mussels, Best Crepes, Best Sweet Breads, Best Candy/Chocolate (Reader's Pick). Thank you SJ Magazine for voting @bluemonkeytavern @charliescrepes @thestation @auntcharlottes the BEST OF THE BEST OF SOUTH JERSEY!
BUSINESS SPOTLIGHT ON MERCHANTVILLE ANTIQUES AND SALVAGE,
27 N. Centre St., Merchantville, NJ
By Angelina O’Brien
We are happy to get an in-depth look at the longstanding antique shop, Merchantville Antiques and Salvage, from co-owner Jaclyn Ricci, as she talks about the business she runs with her husband, Michael Ricci. Michael can typically be found in the store, making lamp and lighting repairs, while Jackie is often researching pieces and running the office and social media.
Where did this entrepreneurship begin in your family and how did it develop into Merchantville Antiques and Salvage today?
Michael’s family has been present in Merchantville for over 100 years with a plethora of businesses throughout the years. His grandfather opened a shoe repair store, his father was a shoe coddler, his mother owned a dress store, his brother is involved in handyman work and construction, and they even owned a deli in Merchantville. Entrepreneurship and business ownership have been steadfast in Michael’s family. Michael has always had the love of antiques. His family always held on to things because “you never know when you might need something.”
How do you collect the items you sell?
We are always on the hunt looking for interesting pieces to add to the shop along with specific items that a customer may be looking for. We try to look for unique, different than what is currently out there, and within the trends to constantly move merchandise. We also have some pieces that last a very long time in the shop just waiting for the right buyer to come along.
Recently, there have been difficulties in acquiring pieces. COVID has made it difficult for any antique or vintage shop to acquire items, especially with state/federal restrictions limiting gatherings, which curbed the normal estate sales, antique markets, and events that fed our industry.
How did you get into the Lighting repairs and installation part of the business?
Michael does all the lighting and repairs. He is a mechanic by trade for over twenty years and his specialty was electric, so it comes naturally to him. It all started when a customer came in one day and needed a lamp repair and Michael happily agreed to fix it. Eventually, that person told more and more people about the repair and it ballooned into this side aspect of the business. This even led to us carrying vintage and antique lamps, replacement pieces, chandeliers, desk, floor, pendant, and ceiling lighting. Any lighting that is broken, we can probably fix it!
What are your most popular types of antiques to sell?
There actually aren’t any most popular items because of the variety that Merchantville Antiques and Salvage carries. We have vintage electronics to salvaged pieces to furniture, kitchen, and housewares. All walks of people come to see the multi-faceted array of items. If you come in for something, we might just have it here!
What are your personal favorite pieces to collect?
We both fall in love with pieces all the time. If I bring it home, it might not come back to the store! We have our areas of expertise: Michael enjoys furniture and lighting and I am very interested in marks, research, and history. Besides the normal maker's mark identifying the person or company responsible for the production of the piece, the "marks" I appreciate are the dings, dents, rubs, and patina giving an item its character and telling the story of its journey.
Do you focus on restoring items or do you allow customers to restore pieces themselves?
It depends on the piece. You want to appreciate the patina and wear on the piece. We may fix up a lamp or a chair, but ultimately leave it alone. We want the buyer to have the imagination to take them anywhere they want to go with their piece, whether they want to paint it or keep it in its original form. We are not “purists,” but we do appreciate the value of original pieces. We just want the pieces to be used and re-loved by customers.
Where do your customers come from? Locally in Merchantville or from outside towns/states?
We are often a destination shop. We draw a wide variety of people, as far as Massachusetts, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Antique stores draw in what we call “trippers,” the people who road trip around the area for antiques. We do have a loyal base of people in town who constantly support us.
What is your favorite part of being a business owner in town?
I personally love the history of our town in itself, as I am an avid fan of research. We love the customer interaction and talking about the past. I love having regulars who pop in just to talk. We have known this town and its wonderful group of people. Merchantville has this charm that really draws people in. We are in the center of so many things. There is also a lot of support from the surrounding businesses. Merchantville has a lot to offer as a town for anyone coming in. Ultimately we love what we do!
We are thrilled to Spotlight Eclipse Brewing in this month's Merchantville Business Spotlight. If you've visited Eclipse, you won't be surprised to learn that 'PHL 17' rated Eclipse as "Best Brewery" in their Top Spots. What you may not know is how Chris and Beth Mattern came to own one of Merchantville's coziest and friendliest destinations. Enjoy their story here then head over to enjoy a cold brew in their tasting room.
SPOTLIGHT ON ECLIPSE BREWING, 25 E. PARK AVENUE, MERCHANTVILLE, NJ
By Emily Copeman, Merchantville Resident
What inspired you to open a brewery?
I was a homebrewer for 38 years after a friend talked me into making an IPA beer. I wasn't an IPA fan at the time, you couldn't buy IPAs anywhere! But over time, I developed a taste for it and if I wanted to drink it, I had to make it myself. After New Jersey changed the rules for craft breweries, I decided to enter the craft brewing industry and try my hand at it. We looked at other locations and for various reasons they didn't work out. Then, we heard that Merchantville was looking for a brewery to open in the old bank and we met Mayor Ted Brennan there with some home brews. He was impressed with the beer we made, but the space was too big for our vision. He then showed us the EMS building and that was more our style. Our goal was to create an experience that makes you feel like you are drinking a homebrew in our living room, and the cozy EMS building gives that vibe.
How did you choose Merchantville for your first location and what is the benefit of owning a business here?
We love the small town feel of Merchantville and the people we have met in the tasting room. We have regular customers that walk through our door and like to try new beers on tap. Some customers have a favorite style and we don't have to ask what they want, we know already. We are proud that most people are willing and able to converse with others in the tasting room even though they don't know each other. It is a welcoming atmosphere and we strive to provide good customer service. We have ten beertenders and they know how important it is to us to greet all visitors with a smile and make them feel comfortable so they’ll want to return. In the future, we hope to be known through the state as the small brewery with big flavor beers. We already have beer geeks that travel from far away to try our beer!
We often stop in for a flight and see you and your wife working side-by-side. Was it always your intention to have Eclipse be a family endeavor? What did you each do professionally before you embarked on this journey?
Beth and I were in a long-term relationship when I decided to open a brewery and was the person who told me I should go for it. She has been my partner every step of the way and we enjoy working together. We got married nine months after the brewery opened and it remains a team effort. Previously, I owned my own landscaping business, then worked for the state's biggest weed control business as tree, shrub and turf manager. I like being my own boss now and not having to wake up to an alarm each morning. Beth was an elementary health and physical education teacher for thirty years before retiring from teaching and now works with me.
Tell us about your brewing process. How long does it take?
From start to finish, it takes about 2 weeks for a beer to be ready for serving.
How do you decide what types of beer and flavor profiles you want to pursue? Do you source locally?
We try to have different styles of beer on tap and with seventeen taps we can do that. We like using local ingredients, especially fruit, when possible. In the summer we use local peaches, watermelon, peppers, honey and blueberries in our beers. We feel our beer has more flavor than most breweries. Because we don't distribute, it gives us more flexibility to create beers with shorter shelf life.
If a customer were to try only one beer on top right now, what would you recommend?
It is difficult to choose one beer for a new person to try, but I typically like to ask the person a few questions. If they are IPA fans, we’d recommend the Haaze, our New England style IPA. If they don't like IPAs, then the most popular beer we pour, Coconut Cream Ale would be a safe bet.
What is your favorite part about owning a brewery?
We spend a lot of time in the brewery, not always working hard in the production area, but talking with folks in the tasting room. It is time consuming but a pleasurable endeavor!
Cheers! BREWERY HOURS: WED & THURS - 4pm to 9pm // FRIDAY - 4pm to 10pm // SATURDAY - NOON to 10pm // SUNDAY - NOON to 8pm. For more information about the tasting room, please contact Eclipse Brewing at (856) 662-7453.
Spotlight on St Clair CPA Solutions, 28 South Centre Street
By Emily Copeman, Merchantville resident
For the last month of 2018, we are pleased to share a conversation with St. Clair CPA Solutions, an organization that sometimes flies under the radar despite being in the heart of our sweet downtown. The people of St. Clair embody the values that make Merchantville such a special place to live and do business – integrity, hope and dedication to community. Enjoy!
What is St. Clair CPA Solution's mission?
Our mission is to maintain a tradition of providing the best accounting, tax and financial services possible. We take pride in our industry-wide reputation for commitment to our clients. We work every day to understand their individual needs, solve their problems, and help them achieve their financial objectives.
Professionalism is the cornerstone of everything we do. We foster an environment where people are respected and have a place to learn, grow and prosper; where creativity is rewarded; prudent risks are encouraged; quality and excellence are revered. We seek creative solutions, individually and collectively. We embrace and accept change in methods, products, ideas, styles, and technology. We will reach beyond our comfort zones to further our personal and professional goals.
Our promise to provide our clients with dedicated service and quality products at a competitive cost remains firm. Service is our hallmark.
We understand St Clair CPA Solutions provides services in specific niche areas. What specialized industries and services to you serve?
We have experienced significant growth providing accounting, tax, audit and business solutions to franchisors and franchisees, as well as small businesses, nonprofits, real estate developers, construction, affordable housing, manufacturing & distribution, schools, employee benefit plans audits, SOC reports, mortgage banking and estate planning.
We also have a financial group that specializes in retirement planning, retirement plans 401K, 403B; investment advisory and wealth management; life insurance, disability insurance and long-term care insurance as well as education/529Cs.
We provide Accounting for Life and Advising for Lifecycles™ - all under one roof.
How did you become an accounting and tax provider to franchisors and franchisees?
In the mid-1980s, we were approached by the Tumolo family who had four active Rita’s Water Ice stores; each was owned and operated by family members. The family wanted to expand, but they had no more family members available to own and operate a store. They decided to pursue franchising.
When I asked why they contacted our firm, Betty Tumolo stated that we were referred by the President of Miri Construction Company, a contracting company in South Philadelphia, who was very happy with our audit work. A word of mouth referral is the best type of referral a company can get!
We performed the initial audit for the Tumolo family, and continued as their auditor for a few years. As we continued working with the family, they realized our tax expertise and strategic planning capabilities was well-suited for their business.
For years we sat on their Board of Advisors with bi-monthly meetings to strategize for the growth of an ever-expanding franchise organization. From 1987, until the Tumolo family sold their company in the mid-2000s, we performed accounting, auditing, tax and forensic services. We played a strategic role in formulating and negotiating the sale of their company.
Why did you choose Merchantville for an office location?
The building was owned by one of our clients. I had always enjoyed coming to Merchantville when I met with him. When he mentioned he was getting ready to sell the building, we made an offer, and moved our office from Center City to Merchantville.
What communities do you serve from your Merchantville location?
We are a regional firm and also have an office in Pennsylvania. We serve clients throughout the Greater Philadelphia area and our franchise practice serves clients nationwide.
How do you work with those communities outside of your business operations? Do you have a volunteer/community outreach program?
Through our Employee Relations Committee, a charity is nominated and selected each month to support. We raise money through our dress-down for charity program. An employee donates $5 when he or she wears blue jeans to the office. Our company matches the employee contributions and 12 charities are supported each year.
We also work with community organizations and provide extra hands when needed. During the last quarter of 2018, we painted classrooms at a Philadelphia school, helped with a food delivery at a community center, and in December 2018, many of our employees have donated to and plan to participate in Wreaths Across America at the Beverly National Cemetery in Beverly, New Jersey.
What is the most exciting part of the work you do?
Helping a business grow—we love being that trusted adviser who is considered part of the internal team to strategize and help a business succeed from their initial startup to the sale of a business or help with the creation of a succession plan for the next generation.
What are the benefits of owning a business in Merchantville?
Location, location, location! We are convenient to all of the bridges into Center City, easy access to and from all major roads, the Jersey shore as well as convenient shopping, services and a genuinely nice home town to conduct our everyday business. Plus, Merchantville has a well-maintained business district surrounded by majestic homes and scenic neighborhoods.
We love that you had a team walking in the 2018 Walk Against Hate through the Anti-Defamation League - how did you choose to support that specific cause?
Our partner, Alan Gubernick, became the Chair of the Philadelphia Region Board of Directors for the Anti-Defamation League in 2017. Alan has been involved with the ADL for over seven years. When the Walk Against Hate began in 2011, Alan shared the information and we created a team. St. Clair CPA Solutions has always been a culturally diverse organization and participation in ADL activities is a very good fit for our company and our employees.
How do you serve Merchantvillians?
We host seminars for businesses and residents, such as our Tax Reform Update which took place on the first Friday of December. If anyone would like to learn more, they may visit our website (www.stclaircpa.com) and subscribe to our newsletter to receive information about our events and programs.
We also support many local organizations. In November 2018, our employees collected money, shopped, and donated food to the Dolores Clark Food Pantry located at the Grace Episcopal Church in Merchantville. We also collected blankets and coats for the St. Clare’s Thrift Shoppe, also located at Grace Church.
Throughout the year we sponsor the annual Merchantville School Haunted House, the Classic Car Show and many other local events.We also have a Little Free Library in the front of our building for residents to take a book and share a book.
Our employees love supporting activities in Merchantville. Halloween is one of our favorite holidays and we love opening our doors to a giant T-Rex.
What would you say to other businesses considering a move to Merchantville?
Merchantville is a great classic town. Business owners are very supportive and we work together to help each other, as well as the town of Merchantville, thrive.
The professionals of CPA Financial Group, LLC and its affiliates are Registered Representatives and Investment Adviser Representatives with/and offer securities and advisory services through Commonwealth Financial Network, member FINRA, SIPC, a Registered Investment Adviser. Registered branch address: 28 South Centre Street, Merchantville, NJ 08109. Phone: 856.482.5600. Tax and accounting services offered by St. Clair CPA Solutions are separate and unrelated to Commonwealth.
Spotlight on Charlie's Crepes, 177 S Centre Street
Owners: Charles and Lisa
By Emily Copeman, Merchantville resident
We understand Charlie’s started as a Food Truck - when did you begin that business and what inspired you to do so?
We started in April of 2015… We had been kicking around food ideas, an empanada truck business called “The Humble Pie Company,” and we actually priced out a truck, and it came in around $70k. We had a couple of friends over for the Super Bowl that year, and I ended up making bbq pulled pork crepes… They were good, and the couple said we should consider it for a business. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but then my wife, Lisa, brought it up again… So we looked into the pricing of a modified hot dog cart as a crepe stand, and it was a lot more manageable as a food business idea, so we decided to go for it!
How did you choose this location for your first brick-and-mortar?
I ran across it by accident. I had never taken Cuthbert to the end, and one day I did. I had to go and get some supplies from Restaurant Depot in Pensauken, so I figured I’d cut through Merchantville to get there. As I rounded the circle I noticed a sign for “Taqueria Tablas”, and as my daughter loves Mexican food, I decided to take a closer look, and that’s when I noticed a “for rent” sign in the window. I also took a look in the window and noticed an overhead Ansul system and vent hood. As this over-head vent system can be an substantial expense for potential retail spaces, my interests were automatically peaked. However there was no phone number on the “for rent” sign. I went next door to the deli and asked the person working behind the counter if she had the number for the landlord, she did! We did our due diligence and a few weeks later we were signing the lease…
What is the best crepe on the menu?
Anything seasonal, from the local farmers, is a pretty good bet to be our best crepe during any given season. As far as the “standards” go, I’m preferential to the Sherry Shallot Mushrooms, and if you are interested in a classic, you can’t go wrong with the banana Nutella sauce crepe…
What inspired you to go from food truck to restaurant?
In our minds, what we were doing, and what we are doing is pretty unique. We are partnering with local farmers, to offer a made from scratch product, with no frills that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg… In our area, if you want the dollar menu, it’s available, if you want the fine dining experience, it’s available, and if you want a super “middle of the road” option, where care and quality ingredients go into every dish, now you have it with “Charlie’s Crepes.” Plus we love our customers, we love to see them happy and smile. Some have been coming to our cart, and now our store, every week ever since we started in 2015… Who wouldn’t want to see and spread that kind of joy in the world?
Why did you choose Merchantville for your location?
It’s the perfect location. The street we are on is a thoroughfare between Cherry Hill, Merchantville and Pennsauken to some degree. And it has thriving neighboring towns such as Collingswood, Haddon Heights, Haddon TWP, and Haddonfield… All of New Jersey is booming. The North Jersey folks are discovering the bounties of South Jersey and South Jersey is beginning to bloom. You can see it on the waterfront in Camden, you can feel it in the restaurant scene in our townships and boroughs, and you can also reach out and pick some of the best produce in the world, right here in our back yards and neighboring counties. AND the town has opened their arms to embrace us. We now have new friends and patrons who we see every week, sometimes more than once a week! The response has been unbelievable, you can see it online on Facebook, Instagram and Yelp… The reviews speak for themselves, and it is reciprocal. And, you know, #merchantvillerocks !
What is your top-selling menu item?
Bacon Jam sells really well, especially when paired with the Vanilla Bourbon Peaches, or topped with a poached egg… I’d also say it really depends on what the seasonal offerings are as well.
When we visited, we noticed Charlie’s Crepes is very much a family operation - what is the best thing about being in it together? The most challenging?
My family is my rock. They are there for me when no one else is there. My wife Lisa, in her own respect, is an excellent pastry chef. She was a professional cake designer for a while, and she brings unbridled imagination and creativity to our sweet as well as our savory creations… My kids, they make me smile. The youngest is a charming magician, the middle is an Odyssey of the Mind mental mathematician / fashion designer, and the oldest follows in her mother’s footsteps and makes the most amazing macaron cookies. So if they can, and want to be in the shop, it is a blessing to have them there… As far as challenges go, work / life has unique challenges no matter the field you choose. My hat is tipped to you for making it work, if you are able, as life is not cheap, or easy. In our specific situation, the hours of the shop are somewhat dictated by the care needs of our youngest son. We only keep certain business hours, because we have family needs, but with love, strength, mutual respect and support, we hope to make it work!
What do you think keeps customers coming back?
Good food, in a relaxed atmosphere, and us!
What is your favorite thing about running a business in Merchantville?
The smiles, the opportunity, the guy who comes and gets coffee from me every morning and his dog. The simple things, being 10 minutes away from where I live, the fact that I can create something good, that can sustain a person, and they can leave me happy and satisfied. And the rock and roll aspect of it, Elvis rocked, and #merchantvillerocks !
How often do you change the menu, and, how do you choose which ingredients to feature?
We have “standard crepes” such as ham and cheese and banana Nutella, but we’ll also use what is in season. A few weeks ago cherries were bountiful, now peaches are really coming into a sweet spot, as well as blackberries… Corn is starting to happen, and in a few weeks pumpkins and butternut squash will shine… To everything turn turn turn, there is a season turn turn turn… And a time to every purpose…
Do you work with local farms or purveyors?
All of the time… We have been at the Collingswood market since 2015, and we keep the shop closed during market hours while it is market season… We use Schober (Peaches), Fruitwood (Cherries, honey and other berries), Viereck (tomatoes, peppers, blackberries), Flaim (greens and root veggies), Formisano (greens and root veggies), Eckert’s Corn, Springdale (strawberries / corn), Buckwild Bison, Hillacres Pride bacon, and Savoie (potatoes, garlic, garlic scapes and peppers). Our farmers constantly challenge us to make our recipes live up to their amazing produce!
How did you learn to make crepes?
A grandmother at a gite (farmhouse) in the South of France, on our honeymoon was kind enough to share her recipe with me. I’ve been perfecting it since… The path of spinning them on the cart was a learning curve when I got the cart in ’15… Let’s just say, they didn’t always look as good then, as they do now!
What is the best customer feedback you have received?
“That was the best thing I have ever eaten”… One customer said of our pumpkin custard crepe. There have been others about various other crepes since… Or “that was better than the crepes we had in France!” From a more recent customers’ kids… But mostly the smiles and the “thank you” we get on a daily basis, keep us calm, and doing what we do…
What are your goals for the business as you look to the future?
I hope to at least break even, and to be able to provide for my family. Not in it to get rich, there are probably easier roads to that… I tell people, “sometimes you pick what you do in life, and other times life picks you.” I never thought in my wildest dreams that I’d be the crepe maker… But that’s what what I am, and it’s a good thing.
What would you say to other entrepreneurs looking at Merchantville as a potential location for their business?
Don’t let this hidden gem pass you by. It is at a crossroads literally and metaphorically. If you want to capitalize on the potential of South Jersey, our region, and our proximity to Philly, I’d say the doors are open for business in this affordable, rocking, on the rise, beautiful town. Because, you know Merchantville Rocks! #merchantvillerocks
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I write original songs. I multitrack, produce, engineer, play every instrument on all of the tracks and master those songs. Professional, sustainable, success with music didn’t happen for me. Maybe it was when I was born, maybe it was luck, maybe it was all of those things. There’s no regret, but creating food and getting gratification from seeing a happy customer, is not too dissimilar from the applause of a crowd. It’s all good… I’m in a band called “Lounge Act”, and we’ll be playing a show at Collingswood Music on Saturday, September 29th after I close up the crepe shop for the evening… To hear some of our original music, please give a listen to our soundcloud page: https://soundcloud.com/lounge-act-08108