By Samantha Sciarrotta
Denise Evans and her daughter, Aubrie, were frustrated by the lack of healthy restaurants in the area, so they took matters into their own hands.
Denise has owned Evans Family Chiropractic on Crosswicks Street for the last 25 years and over the last few decided that she wanted to open a health-conscious restaurant in the building next door, which she also owns. When the previous renter left over a year ago, she knew it was time. She opened Properly Fueled along with Aubrie, the restaurant’s manager, May 15.
“She likes to eat super healthy,” Aubrie said. “Not that the restaurants in town aren’t great—they’re all great—but they’re more sit-down, dinner type. Nothing really focused on health and nutrition. That’s really the whole reason behind it. You can drive 20 minutes and still not find something like this.”
The menu at Properly Fueled includes gluten-free, vegan, paleo, organic, seasonal and local options, and it ranges from breakfast grains, tartines and shakes to sandwiches, noodle and quinoa bowls and soups. Some recipes came from the Evans household, and some were created by Jacqueline Baldassari, the restaurant’s chef. Aubrie also worked with a consultant before Baldassari came on full-time.
Denise went into the process knowing that she wanted a kids’ menu, as well as smoothies and shakes. Before the consultant and Baldassari came on, Aubrie and Denise used some of their own recipes and perfected them at home. Once the kitchen in the restaurant was ready for use, they prepared each dish there multiple times, too. Baldassari has become a massive part of the business, Aubrie said.
“We hope she’s with us to stay,” she said. “She has a lot of responsibility here.”
The restaurant has a number of bowls, like the Hipster Bowl (quinoa, roasted curly kale, pickled carrot ribbons, avocado, pepitas, microgreens and citrus miso dressing) and the Mykonos Bowl (farro, kale, cucumber, tomato, red onion, chickpeas, kalamata olives, barrel-aged feta and parsley mint vinaigrette.
Sandwiches, like the Golden Chicken Salad with local shredded chicken breast, golden raisins, slivered almonds, field greens and yellow curry yogurt dressing, come with a choice of sourdough bread, artisan gluten-free bread or a whole wheat wrap. Sides include hummus and pickled vegetables.
Properly Fueled will also offer a special July 4 catering menu, including a smoky sweet potato salad, vegan and gluten-free chocolate chip oat cookies, sandwiches and the Summer Elixir—a cold blend of hibiscus tea, pineapple juice and lime.
Most of the restaurant’s ingredients are locally-sourced. Produce comes from Fernbrook Farms in Bordentown, and Small World in Princeton provides coffee. Chicken and eggs come from Natures Own Farm in Columbus, and baked goods, microgreens and honey all come from Bordentown-based suppliers.
Aubrie, 24, signed on to work at the restaurant about a year ago. It’s been tough but rewarding working with her mom, she said.
“We have a really good relationship,” she said. “We’re really passionate about the same things, like good ingredients, the way things are prepared. We both have that sense of quality control, especially when we first opened. I’m learning from her, because she’s been a businesswoman for 25 years. She’s teaching me what it’s like to run a business. I look up to her.”
A Drexel University graduate, Aubrie studied fashion design and merchandising. After graduating, she did freelance work as a photographer and designer, and in social media. Not having a full-time job to quit, Aubrie said, made it easier to dedicate her time to the restaurant. She personally designed the restaurant’s logo, website and menu.
“My background is in design, so then I started really visually thinking about how it was going to look,” Aubrie said. “I started branding it with the logo. I took some photos for inspiration, really going off the board to make sure [she and Denise] were on the same page, too. Weirdly enough, we were, right off the bat. We both love interior design, too, so we were like, ‘This is the vibe we’re going for.’”
The inside of the restaurant is modern, with white brick laid in front of and behind the counter. A large wooden table sits at the center of the space, along with a few two-person tables and a long tabletop facing the window. Artwork and knick knacks (and even a vintage bicycle) dot the walls.
When it came time to run the restaurant, though, Aubrie was apprehensive, at first. She has a marketing background, but she’d never worked in a restaurant before.
“I think in creative marketing a lot about emotions and how you want people to feel when they come in,” she said. “That, to me, is kind of intuitive, and that’s why I love it. The operational part of the restaurant was something that was very scary. Coming up with the look and feel of it, I was excited. That’s a project. The operational side, I was really nervous about.”
She’s able to juggle being both the brand manager and restaurant’s manager now, though. She says she has done just about everything at the restaurant—baking, taking orders, ringing customers up. The restaurant was packed for a few weeks after its grand opening—the line was out the door when it opened for lunch on its first day, Aubrie said—so she had to jump back on the line and prepare food to help the kitchen staff.
“We had no way of projecting our volume,” she said. “We were a little understaffed, at first.”
Now, Properly Fueled has about 12 employees. Once everything is running like “a well-oiled machine,” Aubrie said, she hopes to start reaching out to potential partners and hosting events.
She envisions renting out the space for parties or hosting prix fixe chef’s tasting dinners that are a little more formal than the restaurant’s casual flair. Aubrie would like to see cooking classes for kids and adults, and they have already started dipping their toes into catering. She hopes the restaurant continues to develop its place in the community.
“Even just from talking to customers, we’ve gotten new potential partners, like people coming in saying, ‘Hey, I grow my own vegetables, are you interested?’” Aubrie said. “Just things like that, connecting with people and the community. Community, I realized, is a key word that we used in the beginning, but it really is becoming the core of what I hope this is. When I see people come in and they know each other. That’s been a great part of it, too.”
Properly Fueled, 1 1/2 Crosswicks St., Bordentown. Hours: Monday-Friday, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Phone: (609) 424-0036. On the web: properlyfueled.com