Twenty-five years in business is a milestone for any restaurant, but especially the Frenchtown Café, which appeared doomed from the start.
Shortly after opening in 1996, Rosella Caloiero, the restaurant’s owner, split from her husband and business partner. And yet, the café, which serves breakfast and lunch, gradually found its footing and then became a destination for locals and the hordes that fill the nearby towpath on the weekends through much of the year.
Decades of positive momentum came to an abrupt halt in August 2018, when a truck plowed into the Italian restaurant next to the café and set the building ablaze. Just that quickly, it was all gone. Most would have cut their losses, but Caloiero was determined to rebuild.
She oversaw a renovation that would last for 15 months, an eternity in the hospitality industry. But even before they were finished clearing the rubble, Caloiero was consumed with resettling her suddenly-displaced staff. Some she sent to the Sky Café at Sky Manor Airport, her other restaurant in Pittstown, New Jersey. She secured jobs for others by reaching out to some restaurant-owning friends in the area.
The Frenchtown Café reopened in November 2019. Through much of last winter, diners filled the space with the echoes of conversation while they devoured orange ricotta pancakes, buttermilk-fried chicken and waffles, pastrami paninis, and Bridge Burgers – a mouthwatering composition that features a short rib, chorizo, and angus blend topped with provoleta (grilled provolone cheese) and chimichurri.
And then came the pandemic, which roared in as abruptly and devastatingly as that truck in August 2018. The café reopened last spring for takeout only.
“I put out a few tables and chairs for people to sit on until their order was ready to go,” Caloiero told the Bucks County Herald. “But some folks called the cops, and just after Memorial Day weekend, they shut me down. It wasn’t like they were eating there. They were just resting and waiting.”
She was permitted to reopen last September, a summer’s worth of revenue (albeit, a pandemic summer) lost. With the state’s current restrictions, the Frenchtown Café was able to mark its 25th anniversary last month at less than 50 percent capacity.
But if you think Caloiero is disappointed and/or frustrated, you’ve mistaken her for another restaurant owner. She’s already proven, time and again, that she has the patience and determination to find her way to brighter days.
Death, taxes, and breakfast at the Frenchtown Café.