Top Story, May 15, 2015
DiLorenzo celebrates farm-to-table restaurant’s debut
By RICHARD SKELLY
HIGHTSTOWN — In February, in the middle of a very rough winter in central New Jersey, Rennie DiLorenzo was able to realize his longtime dream with the opening of 12 Farms Restaurant on Main Street here.
He, his wife, son, employees of the restaurant and local political officials celebrated with a formal grand opening April 19.
The mayors of Hightstown and East Windsor helped DiLorenzo and local farm-to-table enthusiasts celebrate.
DiLorenzo was not shy about wanting to get the word out to farmers in Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth and Somerset counties that he is actively seeking more farm partners.
“We call this place 12 Farms, and that’s because we highlight a different farm every month, but we really want more relationships with more farmers,” he said.
Participating farms listed as of the April 19 grand opening included Cherry Grove Farm, Beechtree Farm, Blue Moon Acres, Griggstown Farm, Double Brook Farm, Phillips Farm, Greenstreet Coffee Co., Simply Grazin’ in Skillman, Working Dog Winery and Dripping Springs Creamery in Pennsylvania.
“I give preference to local and I give preference, where possible, to sustainable or organic practices,” he said. “I’m going out to Delaware for mushrooms and going out to Pennsylvania for things that I cannot get here, but I really want to eventually get them from farms that are closer to here.”
DiLorenzo was raised in Westford, Mass., the youngest of six kids, just south of Nashua, N.H.
“When I was growing up there were no good produce sources available, so we had our own garden which took up just about half an acre in the backyard, and we all worked it,” he recalled during a lull in the afternoon’s activity on April 19.
“We all worked in the fall to can and freeze everything, and everyone knew what we grew was better than anything we could find in a supermarket,” DiLorenzo explained.
He attended Northeastern University in Boston and later graduated from Salem State College. To pay for college he began working in restaurants when he was 14 as a dishwasher, busser, waiter, assistant cook, and later assistant manager and then manager.
“I worked in restaurants until I was 32 years old,” he said, “then I left it, realized this was my passion, came back to it and I’ve been saving up for this, the plan for this place has been in the works for more than a decade.”
“When I lived in Ipswich, Massachusetts there was a farm there that was not certified organic, but close to it. I brought about 20 people over to the house and I served New York strip and then I served grass fed beef versus the conventional. To a person, everyone said the flavor of the grass-fed beef was far superior. When I saw that, I realized it was a no-brainer. I always wanted to do that for a restaurant,” he said. “What I’m really doing is selling the farms and highlighting their produce more than anything else.
“When I moved here two years ago I was really struck by the number of farms there were around here,” he said, of his move from the financial services business and several years spent living in Manhattan. “This area is just so gorgeous. There’s a lot of preserved farmland, and I love seeing those signs and knowing these farms will be preserved.”
With a list of farms from the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, DiLorenzo began to visit various places near his home in neighboring East Windsor shortly after moving his wife and son from the city in 2013.
“When I called Cherry Grove, [an organic farm in Princeton Township] they said, ‘You really need to partner with Blue Moon Acres.’ Customers have come in and they’ll say, ‘Are you working with this farm?’ I partnered with Griggstown Farm, too, because it’s great food we’re getting from both of these places,” he said. “Sometimes some of these smaller farms can’t supply as much as we need, and that’s okay, I’ll work with them,” he said.
DiLorenzo’s wife, Barbara, uses her background in marketing and the arts to oversee such things as the 12 Farms website, www.12farms.com, and creative menu ideas, as well as local musicians who perform at the venue and local artists to display their works on the walls of the facility, which can seat perhaps 100 people at a time.
“We have rotating art exhibits, and people who are on the fence who have talent and have not participated, once they put their work in a frame and see it on a wall, they tend to take themselves a bit more seriously,” said Barbara, who also volunteers at the Arts Council of Princeton.
“We’d like to have a coffee house style restaurant on Wednesday nights and jazz in the afternoon on Sundays, because we’re trying to promote local musicians as well,” she said, adding, “the nice thing about what I’m doing here is I get to go and pick up much of the food, so I see the animals at the farms and the produce being grown there.
“I really get to witness the farm-to-table process, and I love it.”