Last September, Jill Sasso and Roe Manghisi went before the Lawrenceville Main Street Board with plans to open a local farm-to-table market. In November they signed a lease at 9 Gordon Avenue, in the location formerly occupied by Fusion Employment Services. Following six months of renovations, the business partners—and newlyweds—opened Lawrenceville Provisions on April 21.
The store fills a hole identified by a survey conducted last year by the Lawrenceville Main Street Board of Directors as part of the group’s strategic planning. According to executive director Lindsey Bohra, “a grocery store was only second to a pub. People were craving a place they could walk to or stop in on their way home from work to pick up milk or cheese. Provisions completely fits the bill.”
According to paperwork provided to the board last fall, Sasso and Manghisi’s mission is “to connect the community with the local farmers that grow, raise and harvest organic products. From local produce to heritage breed animals and grains, we strive to bring our customers the healthiest ingredients that are an alternative to the commonplace industrial food markets.”
The past few months have been a whirlwind of activity for the couple. Not long after Sasso left her job at CoolVines in Princeton last summer, she drove by the currect Provisions space and called Kate Hullfish, the realtor. They negotiated “a good deal” and went from there.
“It took some time to get the sequence of events right. What do you do first?” They first hired an architect to turn the former office space, complete with cubicles, into a 700-sq.-ft. grocery store. “We gutted the place and added a lot of sinks. We don’t have a full kitchen, but we have enough to cut cheese to order.”
The store is divided into three sections. There are dry goods and local produce sold in the storefront. The middle has a deli counter where sandwiches are sold, and a refrigerator. Down a small hallway, and past Sasso’s tiny office, is another section with another refrigerator holding pasta, veggie burgers and other produce, plus a wall with dry goods like a variety of pastas, specialty gift items, and more packaged goods. Parking is available both in front of and behind the store.
Sasso cited Blue Moon Acres in Hopewell and Forager’s Market in the Chelsea and Red Hook areas of New York City as her inspirations for their store. “Blue Moon Acres is great,” she said. “I want to take it and add to it to make it a corner store. They have a little bit of everything, enough to make dinner. I wanted to have fresh meat so you can make dinner quickly after work.” Lawrenceville Provisions sells Griggstown Farm chicken, pork chops from the Piggery in upstate New York, and grass-fed burgers. They would like to offer more meats from the immediate area, but as of now Griggstown is the only USFDA facility they have found that can sell wholesale.
Lawrenceville Provisions has an “eclectic assortment of food with traceability and integrity. It is not all local, but I would love for it to all be local someday. We hope more and more people make food locally,” Sasso said. They sell both fresh foods—such as in-season vegetables, meats and cheeses—as well as prepared foods, such as olives and sauces.
Sasso recently met a Lawrenceville woman making Middle Eastern-inspired sauces. She plans to start a catering business, and Sasso hopes to carry her sauces in the store.
“I love food,” Sasso said. “I love the sources of all of these products. I love getting to know the people who make the products. They are made from real people I can call. It goes back to the traceability party. I want it to come from someone who cares about what they are doing. It makes it a little more expensive, but I think it is worth it.”
Prior to opening her own business, Sasso was a sommelier, most recently at Cool Vines. She has a vast background in the food industry, including working for Jody Williams, a New York City chef. “Jody taught me a lot about making pestos. She still helps me out and gives me tips and coaches me,” Sasso said. Lawrenceville Provisions sells Sasso’s pesto, along with hummus and salsa.
Sasso’s mother, Mary Kraska, has been a big help as Sasso and Manghisi work on their new business. Though Kraska is a nurse living in Florida, she comes up to help the two as often as she can. “She loves food. She loves the store,” Sasso said. “We are sending my mom to ‘cheese college’—a three-day intensive cheese class at Murray’s Cheese, the most famous in New York City. She is going to learn cheeses and help me.”
Her father and grandfather are also entrepreneurs. Dad Scott Sasso has his own trucking business in Connecticut. Her mother’s father, John Kraska, has always had his own business. Before passing away recently, he was a general contractor in St. Louis. “He started his own sandwich company when he was younger: The Stadium Special, outside the stadium in St. Louis,” Sasso said.
Another entrepreneur in the family is Manghisi, who works in the store part-time, as well as running her own security business. After 26 years as one of the first female New Jersey State Troopers, Manghisi retired as a captain seven years. She is originally from Newark, but moved to Lawrenceville 13 years ago. Sasso moved to town two years ago.
“It is great,” Manghisi said of Lawrenceville Provisions. “It is a departure from my law enforcement career and my security guard business.” Sasso describes Manghisi as the ambassador for Lawrenceville Provisions, a title that makes Manghisi smile in agreement.
“Jill has put so much effort into it: research, finding the best products for every category we have,” she said. “She supports the local farms that have small needs distribution. All of the vendors whose produce she sells love her dedication to showcasing and providing the best in class for each category, from cheese to spaghetti. She appreciates good quality products. I get to try everything. That is the fringe benefit. I see it in repeat customers, in people carrying their bags on their shoulders, that is the neatest thing.”
One of their goals is to become “a meeting point for people in the community for getting to know your neighbors.” They are giving back to the community through their sales of the Lawrenceville Trail Mix, a combination of pumpkin seeds, peanuts, almonds, dried apricots, raisons and chocolate chips. The final product is still evolving, and may include dried apples. “I’m looking for good, organic ingredients.” A part of the proceeds from the sale of this product will go to the Lawrenceville Hopewell Trail (LHT), which practically passes their store.
Lawrenceville Provisions, 9 Gordon Avenue. Phone: (609) 620-8800. On the web: lawrencevilleprovisions.com. Hours: Closed Monday; Tuesday and Wednesday 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Thursday and Friday 10 a.m.- 7 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
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