For 16 years, Maria Solano has been running Maria’s of Chester, a successful bakery and retail store in Chester offering fresh-baked breads and desserts, as well as dry goods including pastas, and olive oil.
Solano is now expanding west, but her vision for the Long Valley 'Maria’s' will go beyond the bakery and retail establishment in Chester, to offer breakfast fare, gourmet Panini sandwiches, homemade soups, healthy shakes, yogurts, and a wide range of baked goods and coffees.
Solano said she is transforming the former into a bistro style café, similar to what one might visit in Europe.
The historic building that was once Neitzer’s Tavern, built in 1763, welcomed General George Washington on a number of occasions, who enjoyed a glass of wine served by William Neitzer, the owner’s nephew and the town’s first tavern keeper, according to research by the Washington Township Historical Society.
Solano said she hopes to open the new café at the end of July, but since she doesn’t do anything ‘half-baked’, she said she will open after she has dotted all her ‘Is’ and crossed all her ‘Ts.”
“I want people to walk in and say ‘wow’–this is a place I want to come back to again and again,” said Solano. “I want people to enjoy the food and the environment as much as I do.
“We are creating an environment similar to a European café, a place with an old world feel–so that when someone steps into the café, they won’t necessarily feel like they are in Long Valley anymore, rather, they may feel like they are in the south of France,” said Solano, who has been involved in the restaurant business for more than 30 years.
She said she learned every facet of the restaurant business from her husband’s family who has owned and run Solano’s Restaurant in Orange for 32 years.
Maria said the new menu will include stone ground breads, gluten free products, frozen drinks, health shakes, and there will be an emphasis on using fresh, local produce.
The sandwiches will be made of the freshest ingredients and could include prosciutto, Arugula, pesto, fig jam, fresh spiced turkey, grilled vegetables, provolone, and roasted peppers.
Desserts will include home made Italian cookies, biscotti, Cannolis, chocolate crème pie, cup cakes, chocolate crème pies, and cheese Danish.
Solano said she hopes to cater to local businesses, and schools, as well as residents. She also plans to offer gift baskets.
In the fall, she said she hopes to offer music and wine tasting events on Friday and Saturday nights.
“I hope to get back to basics, offering delicious and healthy food. I also hope to get to know everyone who comes to my café by name,” said Solano.
She said, “Everything has gotten too impersonal. There are so many places where you order a cup of coffee and no one bothers to really get to know you.”
And like the long running sitcom, Solano said, she hopes to create a warm and inviting environment–where everybody knows your name.