Kitch Organic partners Rick Ivone, left, and Joe Durso beneath the pyramidal skylight in their new Leighton Avenue eatery, which features its own garden along Catherine Street, below. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
With a skylight reminiscent of the Louvre illuminating the impeccable interior and a design-conscious herb-and-vegetable garden out back, the new Kitch Organic restaurant on Red Bank’s West Side would stand out in any town.
But the fact that it replaces a liquor store remembered without fondness for serving minors while the occasional hooker milled about outside adds a dimension of change to a project that its owner hope will have all kinds of reach: social, economic, and more than anything else, nutritional.
Yeah, Rick Ivone and Joe Durso are thinking big. And they’ve put their money on the table to make it happen.
Ivone and Durso, center, with chef Jennifer Freeman and self-styled ‘minion’ Roger Quinn in the Kitch kitchen. Below, jars of tomato sauce Freeman made from the garden’s yield. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
In the works for four years and still staffing up, Kitch plans a quiet opening Thursday night at the corner of Leighton Avenue and Catherine Street, followed by a more pronounced on Monday. The address was once home to Best Liquors, which borough officials stripped of its booze license over numerous offenses in 2008; after a short stint as a grocery, the one-story building sat vacant for years.
As chef Jennifer Freeman and Roger Quinn prepared almond milk, a seven-apple juice and other menu offerings earlier this week, Kitch owners Rick Ivone, 46, and Joe Durso, 29, led redbankgreen on a sneak peek tour that more than hinted at an all-in commitment.
There’s the garden, with stacked galvanized tubs, artistically lighted at night, growing rainbow chard, figs and bok choi, and where Freeman harvested enough tomatoes and herbs this summer to make a seven-month supply of sauce.
There’s the tiny greenhouse, with glass facing east and south. There’s the still-immaculate kitchen packed with fresh-press and cold-press juicers and a water-purification system that filters the stuff up to five times, yielding alkaline water used to clean the floors. Even the stairway to the cellar, where the depth was increased by nearly four feet to accommodate a walk-in fridge, got a custom paint treatment.
But the star of Red Bank architect Michael Monroe’s design is the breathtaking dining room. With 15 stools along the perimeter and a giant central table, it’s capped by the 12-by-12-foot glass pyramid and trimmed in wood salvaged from a barn. The room opens to the kitchen, but can be closed off for private parties, seminars and cooking classes, all of which the partners plan on offering, they said. Lighting colors can be changed from Ivone’s cellphone.
In all, Ivone said he and Durso invested “at least 10 times” the $74,500 they paid to acquire the property last year. But despite being tucked into a residential neighborhood, they’ll get it back, said Durso.
“Look how many businesses fail on Broad Street,” he said. “It’s a matter of developing a culture.”
Ivone said the idea for Kitch was born when he and Durso traveled to San Francisco for a friend’s birthday dinner, which was held at the Plant Café Organic in the Embarcadero. Healthy eaters already, the two were so struck by the restaurant that they wanted to open a branch of that business in Red Bank, and returned within a few weeks to try to strike a deal, they said.
That didn’t pan out for a number of reasons, said Durso. For one, “We didn’t want to have to wait three weeks for permission to change a menu item,” he said, and the cost of starting from scratch turned out to be lower.
With Kitch, too, their own nutrition philosophy comes through. That is: “keep it as close to the plant as possible,” said Ivone, who began deepening his knowledge of nutrition after he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes two decades ago.
Garden aside, however, the menu isn’t strictly vegan. It features chicken, turkey and fish dishes, as well as a bison burger “folded with caramelized onions and served with horseradish sauce,” it says.
Freeman, a graduate of the Natural Gourmet Institute, is making “everything, down to the ketchups and mustards,” she said. That also includes breads and other baked goods — gluten-, additive- and wheat-free, but better-tasting than those products usually taste, owing to Freeman’s own blends of flours, Ivone said.
So what will sandwiches, protein juices and salads, most of which are expected to be sold as takeout, cost? At a borough zoning board meeting on the proposed restaurant a year ago, Durso said meals were expected to be priced at $18 to $25. which prompted board member Sharon Lee to wonder if Kitch might be “a wonderful-looking place that’s pretty much forbidden” to its working-class neighbors.
Durso was still finalizing prices earlier this week, but said he and Ivone checked out every restaurant and store selling comparable food in the area, and “it won’t be anything above the average. It won’t break the bank.” The aim is to draw in area residents as well as passersby enroute to and from the Parkway, he said.
And while the business stands out in the neighborhood, the owners say it has already begun to embed itself, with residents and others dropping by with words of encouragement.
“The irony is that everyone told us how bad it is here,” said Ivone, who lives with Durso just a few blocks away, on Locust Avenue, “but not one thing was stolen during construction. The neighbors look out for this place.”
More info is available at the Kitch Organic website.