Farm-to-table dining. Health and wellness. Community education. Three of the hottest lifestyle trends in America today.
The Rooted Affair is getting in on all of it.
A group of five people each with talents to complement those of the others have gotten together to start a new business called The Rooted Affair. A florist, an event planner, a chef, a decorator and a mason have formed a partnership that they believe will coalesce into something special on a wooded, 18-acre farm on Edgebrook Road in Robbinsville, not far from the Hamilton border.
Things are still in the works, but the quintet’s vision is clear. They see an open-sided barn where they will host elaborate, seasonal brunches and dinners. They see lavender fields and flower gardens where people can do yoga or take crafting workshops. In the future, they also see weddings and corporate retreats, all in a rustic, back-to-the-land setting.
Janene Puca is the florist and the manager of the enterprise. The owner of In Full Bloom before starting up The Rooted Affair, she has worked in the industry for more than 25 years. The Hamilton native’s handiwork has received many awards, including some at The Philadelphia Flower Show.
“We want The Rooted Affair to give people a sense of well being,” Puca says. “The whole sense of this place is for the mind, body and soul. This world is so fast paced. People need to take time to stop and smell the flowers.”
Barry Sexton is the chef of The Rooted Affair. The one-time Food Network “food stylist” has been cooking professionally for more than 25 years, and has worked in the kitchens of such restaurants as Striped Bass in Philadelphia, Hamilton’s Grill Room in Lambertville, and Paris Dessert and Catering in Hamilton.
Sexton got to know Puca on the events circuit, when he would be catering an event and she would be doing the flowers. “We were always talking about, ‘One day, one day,’” Sexton says. “There was always a lot of chatter. Then one day she comes to me and she says, ‘This is what I’m thinking’ and she tells me about this (The Rooted Affair). And I’m like, ‘We can do it. Let’s give it a shot.’”
Sexton takes pride in cooking with fresh, local ingredients — organic if possible. Though The Rooted Affair is still several months away from opening, they have already struck deals with several farms in the area. Resilient Farms of Hamilton, Drop the Beet Farms (Freehold), Abe’s Acres Farm (Hightstown), Specca Farms (Bordentown) have all committed to providing fresh produce, as has Honey Brook Organic Farm in Chesterfield. The Rooted Affair has plans to host a special farm-to-table dinner Sept. 29 on its grounds.
Heather Sconza is The Rooted Affair’s event planner, creative consultant, and social media and marketing manager. She was the proprietor of All the Rave Events by Heather for more than 10 years.
Sconza, from Yardville, has planned many weddings, charity galas and other special events. She got to know Puca through events that they had both worked.
She stepped away from her business to help her fiancé after he was injured in a terrible fall. Then their home was flooded and Sconza was sickened by mold. Healthy eating, she says, was the key to her recovery.
“So when they came up with this idea, it opened up a door to me,” she says. “I realized that this was what I always wanted to do.”
Of course, all the vision in the world doesn’t matter if you don’t have a great setting where all your dreams can take place. Enter the Snees, John and Maria, owners of the farm and talented in their own right. They have lived on Edgebrook Road for 15 years.
Maria, who is originally from Hamilton, is a designer and decorator who owned and operated a shop on the property, Cottage Treasures, for 10 years. She builds and sells upcycled furniture, and some of her creations will be integral elements of The Rooted Affair’s decor when it opens.
John, a Trenton firefighter by day, is also a builder and a mason. He says he and Maria have been looking for some way to use the bounty of their land for years. “My wife and I have always had lots of ideas. Maybe open a bed and breakfast, do some kind of campsite, something,” he says.
A few years back, an acquaintance of the Snees who was getting married asked if they could host a wedding on the property, and they agreed to do it. They set up a 60-by-60-foot tent in the field behind their house that held 220 people, and found room on another part of the yard to park 120 cars.
So when the question came up of whether their property could meet the ambitions of The Rooted Affair, they felt confident that it could. “If I didn’t park 120 cars here, I wouldn’t know we could do it,” says John, who grew up on Long Island.
Construction of a 35-by-100-foot barn is currently underway. John Snee is building it, assisted by experienced craftsman John Cornicello. Their plan is to build it with large doors that can be opened when weather allows, which would put their guests eat even closer to nature.
Once it is built, the partners envision it being the ideal space to host one-of-a-kind weddings, retirement parties, baby showers, corporate retreats and more. But the meals are to be at the heart of The Rooted Affair. Sexton is planning for 5-to-8-course meals made entirely or primarily using fresh local ingredients. Meals might have themes, like say a full-moon dinner. Diners will be required to purchase tickets online at therootedaffair.com to attend.
Also vital to the vision of the enterprise will be all kinds of wellness sessions, including horticulture therapy, aromatherapy, life coaching and goat yoga. What is goat yoga, you ask?
“I like to go way, way out of the box and come up with things no one is offering,” Sconza says. “Goat yoga is yoga with goats around. It’s calming and silly. It’s also therapeutic, and people can use that.”
The group plans to offer workshops on topics ranging from cooking and flower arranging to candlemaking, soapmaking and gardening. As with the meals, guests will be required to buy tickets to attend these sessions and workshops online at the website. Weather permitting, some of these sessions and workshops will take place in the farm’s lavender field and flower gardens that have been planted to provide Puca with material for her arrangements.
Members of the group will lead some of the workshops and wellness sessions, but they are also planning to engage members of the community who are experts in their fields to come to the farm and share their knowledge. A next phase of initiatives for the farm could include construction of a sculpture garden, a cabin in the woods where brides could prepare for their special days, and a store for selling the creations of Maria Snee and other area artisans.
Sconza says that yes, farm-to-table meals and rustic, nontraditional event venues are trending these days, but she says no one is doing it in the immediate area. That’s just one reason that she and her colleagues are confident that the time is right for The Rooted Affair.
“We are gearing to make it a beautiful escape right in Robbinsville, where people go to eat good food to nourish their bodies, while our workshops nourish their minds,” Sconza says.
The group hopes to be up and running by the fall. In the meantime, The Rooted Affair’s website is up and running and has a wide variety of information on planned workshops, brunches and dinners.
To be notified when The Rooted Affair starts selling tickets for various events, including the Sept. 29 farm-to-table meal, sign up for its email alerts.