Manager and Head Chef Chris Nguyen noted his philosophy on his menu–simple done right–as the model train traveled overhead on its infinite course around the front dining room ceiling.
While the menu at Morristown's latest dining destination may be kept tight and to the point, the cafe itself is a far more eclectic collection of vintage toys, antique furniture and style points co-owner Jon McGloin fondly referred to as "Willy Wonka-ness," referring to the high-backed, neon green chairs set further inside his business.
Starting the process a year ago, the fruits of Jon and Vita McGloin's labors finally were revealed when the couple opened their first business together at 28 West Park Place on March 10, the day of .
"We came looking for a spot," said Jon, of Bedminster but originally from Long Island. "We wanted to open a gelato place. And, a friend said, why don't you come to Morristown?"
After looking at a couple other locations in town, as well as in Westfield, they checked out the former Godiva Chocolatier, which had been vacant for six years.
It wasn't love at first sight. "It was very small here," Jon said. "The back part of the place was just offices. It had a funky smell because of a sewage problem.
"It was a total wreck," he said.
Vita McGloin, originally from Lithuania, was not immediately convinced. "I said forget it but Jon said let's do it," she said. "I'm very happy we did it."
The transformation was total. Out went the back offices, to extend the dining area. Furniture was installed, fresh coats of paint and the equipment that would be used to make Cafe on the Green's creations.
But the culinary arts were not the expertise of Jon and Vita, former opticians and senior computer programmer for Chubb, respectively. So, they brought in Nguyen, whose bona fides include a year in the kitchen at the Hilton Short Hills, as well as training at L'Academie de Cuisine, a French culinary school in Maryland.
Quick with a smile and a joke ("they taught me to be pompous," he said of his alma mater with a laugh), Nguyen emphasized simplicity in his menu, which he plans to rotate seasonally.
"I like simple stuff done right," he said. "I like a small menu where everything's great, as opposed to a big menu where you can get freaked out."
The menu includes a selection of panini-style sandwiches, salads and a soup of the day. There is a small selection of strong, organic coffees from Black River Roasters, based in Hunterdon County and Vermont. Then there are the dessert options, which includes a large number of gelato options, made in-house.
While the McGloins were aware they needed a trained chef to head up most of the menu, they were not going into this venture ignorant. They took a course at ice cream impresario Malcolm Stogo's Ice Cream University, even getting their endeavors highlighted on a Today Show feature about the program.
But, with Morristown already flush with ice cream joints, they knew they needed to be more than just a dessert destination.
"We wanted a lounge, not just a get your ice cream and leave thing," Vita said. "We wanted it to be inviting."
To get there, Cafe on the Green needed to have elements of what they thought would make them, and anyone, feel at home. "I always loved antiques, copper ceilings, Victorian porches with all the detail," Jon said.
So, all that went into the design, with product coming both new and from antique shops. And, from their own families.
As the train completed another circuit around the ceiling, Jon pointed to its engine, a Santa Fe train from 1940 that was his father's.
Looking ahead, the folks behind Cafe on the Green are looking forward to consistently warmer weather and outdoor seating, as well as some new dessert and breakfast options.
Nguyen noted they're not trying to reinvent the wheel, just present it in the best, more appealing way. "I think we're doing what others are doing, but a little bit different," he said. "Give people stuff they know in a more professional and better way."
"It takes a lot of effort," Jon McGloin said. "But, it's fun. I really enjoy it, even sweeping the floor."