Chef Kathy Rana started her career in information technology, and although she’s been in the food industry for almost a decade now, she hasn’t quite lost the meticulous, well-researched approach the IT sector demanded.
Such was the case when she began exploring “part two” of her career six years ago, talking with people in fields she found interesting, like chiropractors, lawyers and chefs, when it seemed the time had come to move on from her gig with Bell Labs.
That process led her to obtain a caterer’s certificate from Mercer County Community College, and now—after plenty of research and market study—she’s decided it’s time to expand the scope of her new career.
With a year’s worth of effort behind the planning and execution of her idea, it’s no wonder why Rana is confident her new “fast casual” restaurant Jersey Girl Café—which opened Aug. 23—will succeed at its Route 33 location.
Rana, a Princeton resident, said Route 33 and Hamilton provided a perfect setting for the kind of restaurant she wanted to open. The café, located in the same strip mall as stores like Family Fun Hobbies, fills a void on the busy corridor. There are plenty of eateries on Route 33, but none quite like Jersey Girl Café.
While U.S. 130 has joints like Panera Bread for people to relax with a cup of coffee and a newspaper or hold an off-site business meeting, Route 33 doesn’t. With free Wi-Fi, warm and stylish décor and a café menu, Jersey Girl Café will become that spot, Rana hopes.
And, eventually, Rana would love it if people started bypassing the chain for her place.
“I want this to be the alternative to Panera,” she said.
Jersey Girl Café will be open for breakfast and lunch, with the evenings reserved for special groups. Some local groups, like the Girl Scouts, had booked dates before the restaurant even opened. Rana said she wants to continue pursuing community-building ideas for her eatery, even tossing about the idea for an in-house Wii bowling league.
To build the initial community, though, Rana knows it’s all about the food.
She said she won’t be in the kitchen all the time, preferring to focus on other aspects of the restaurant. But Jersey Girl Café will take a cue from the style Rana has developed as a caterer and personal chef.
Menu items will have a seasonal and local flair, and Rana will be working with Zone 7, an organization that helps bring New Jersey produce to restaurants.
The signature dish will be a chicken salad made with red grapes and celery, scallions and lemon juice. The chicken is roasted and hand shredded.
Aside from breakfast and lunch items, Jersey Girl Café will also feature fresh, homemade cookies. Among the varieties are burnt sugar chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin and a cranberry-orange cookie.
Rana also currently runs a personal chef and catering business, and she’s carrying over her emphasis on lean meats and fresh vegetables and herbs to Jersey Girl Café. Rana said she selects foods that are better quality and good for people.
“But we will have French fries,” she quickly added with a laugh.
That fun-loving attitude is on display throughout the restaurant, in the color scheme, the logo and even in the café’s name.
“The name evolved,” Rana said. “We went around, trying to come up with a good name. I just kind of landed on Jersey Girl. I did research. The name worked well with younger people and older people. Everybody seems to like it.”
She’s sure diners will extend the same feelings to the restaurant itself.
Jersey Girl Café, located at 731 Route 33 in Hamilton, is open Monday-Friday 6:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information, call (609) 586-0620 or go online to jerseygirlcafenj.com.