Zebu Forno Closing Doors on Tuesday
European-style eatery, coffee spot opened in August 2010 on South Street.
After almost two years, Zebu Forno is closing its doors at the end of the day Tuesday.
Reopened by Chatham resident Bill Oliver in August 2010 after a short stint by another owner the previous year, the European-style cafe specializing in pizza, coffee and sandwiches–as well as a number of art programs and installations–was a labor of love for the former real estate developer.
On Monday afternoon, the father of four admitted he had teared up more than once after making the decision to close.
"The best times I had was when I had good music or nice artwork here, I just liked to give back," he said.
The large cafe at 9 South St. had become known as a place not only to get something to eat but to catch some live music, see an art installation or host a fundraiser. Oliver's choice of events was done not only to add variety to the Morristown landscape but out of financial necessity.
"It just didn't make money, that was a shortcoming," he said. "I'm sure there are things I could have done differently."
Whether or not every business decision bore fruit, Oliver's employees are walking away from more than just jobs.
"I love Bill, he's like my dad," said store manager Bria Young, one of the first employees to open the store on Aug. 3, 2010. "He's like everyone's dad."
Especially for Oliver's daughter, 20-year-old Kate Oliver, who came back every summer from Lehigh University to get to work. She recalled when her father first told the family he was going to invest in his very first restaurant. "I was a little nervous. But I was also excited," she said. "I always wanted to know the people in a restaurant.
"I know it sounds corny, but they have really become a family," she said. "Everyone gets along with everyone. I'm sad. I genuinely had fun coming to work."
Last summer Atalie Gimmel, entering her senior year at Morristown High School, had never had a job.
"Bill was so nice," said Gimmel, now graduated and headed to Loyola University this fall. "It was my first job ever. I had no experience whatsoever. He was patient with me."
"Things weren't always perfect, but Bill really gave it his all," employee Jackie Shribbs said. "I just feel bad that it didn't work out.
"Bill really cares about us, and we care about him. We all know each other's secrets," she said with a laugh.
Oliver said the intention of Zebu Forno was never to get rich. "It was almost like, make enough money so I could give back," he said. "There are reasons I'm glad I did it. I have to work a lot harder."
With three kids still in school, Oliver knew family had to come first. Still, "you hate to not be successful."
Earlier this year, another popular coffee spot, Greenberry's, closed its doors after four years. This shortly after java giant Starbucks returned to the Green after a multi-year absence.
Oliver said the coffee chain may have taken some of that part of his business away, but he did not blame them for his decision to close.
Sam Barnes, a former employee of Zebu Forno, agreed. "It was part of the problem, not the whole problem," he said. "It was more competition."
"We were much more than just coffee," Young said.
As he sat and thought about the end in sight, Oliver said it was the people–employees, customers–he would miss the most. "I wanted this to be a place where people would say, 'hey, nice to see you.' I think we did that," he said.
What's next? Oliver said he would take at least a month off to rest and spend more time with his family, especially his wife, Laura. "Hopefully, another door opens," he said. "I just want to thank everyone for their time, for their support."