By TOM CHESEK
The news traveled fast Facebook fast. As NovelTeas founder Kim Widener posted last Friday: “NovelTeas has a new owner and will be re-opening tomorrow.”
Sure enough, come Saturday afternoon, the book salon/ tea room/ gift boutique established by Rumson resident Widener in 2009 on the “Left Bank” of Red Bank, and closed in recent weeks was abuzz with activity, with new proprietors welcoming customers in search of a last-minute MomsDay notion or sundry.
Taking over the shop at 78 Bridge Avenue are two generations of the Rotonda family of Toms River; dad Vic, mom Teri, son Vic Junior, and daughter Nicole a lecture agent by trade, and a media pro that Widener praised as “extremely energetic and creative” and “very connected.”
Nicole Rotonda, who’s based these days out of Little Silver, promises that the shop’s trademark author appearances a mix of local/regional and international scribes that included Norman Mailer associate Dwayne Raymond, chart-topping Happiness authority Gretchen Rubin and, most recently, novelist Kristin Hannah will “probably be picking back up again come June,” with one possible event being a return appearance for a prior NovelTeas guest: William D. Cohan, the award winning business writer whose combination of Street insider’s savvy and storyteller’s gift is on display in his current bestseller, Money and Power: How Goldman Sachs Came to Rule the World.
“We’re looking to strike a balance between fun topics and more serious, world-affairs kind of events,” she says. “We also want to make this place known as a meeting spot for clubs, organizations and town committees.”
The senior Vic Rotonda, who describes himself as “an infrastructure guy we each have a little talent that we bring to the table” mentions that the owners will be rolling out an expanded menu of “signature sandwiches” and other goodies (recipes created by official family chef, Teri) to complement the existing array of scones, bagels, croissants, specialty teas and coffees. With experience in the restaurant trade, Vic Junior will be overseeing the day-to-day operations, offering that “the location right across from the train station is great people need to know that we’ll be open on a consistent basis, and we’ll be here for the commuter crowd.”
Another major change in the works for the Bridge Avenue location is the planned opening of the property’s spacious rear patio to receptions and other occasions in addition to the large adjoining area that runs along the building’s south side, a space that sits behind an ornate wrought iron fence (itself a holdover from the store’s prior incarnation as Anvil Studio).
The Rotondas, who got acquainted with a cross section of the borough’s business community at the recent KaBoomFest fundraiser in Red Bank, are looking to keep the NovelTeas space bustling in the months to come, with ideas that range from weekly Open Mics, to charity functions, to apres-show arrangements with the local theaters.
“This is such a diverse community, and there’s a lot that we can do with such a great space,” says Nicole, whose many items on the to-do list include an updated website, official store hours and a formal grand opening announcement. “I think the town is really going to enjoy it.”