It all started with a 2 a.m. phone call in the middle of the night a few weeks ago. Restaurants throughout the tri-state area weren’t allowed to seat customers anymore. Supermarkets were running out of food. Mohawk House’s Steve Scro and Pat LaFrieda, of Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors, were brainstorming. Scro wanted to help his community get access to fresh food—but how?
“I said, ‘Steve, my biggest concern right now is that panic will set in to the general public,” recounts LaFrieda. The famed butcher’s much-sought-after cuts appear up and down Scro’s farm to table menu.
“What I am is a bridge between food and people—and Steve, that’s what you are.’”
They built that bridge at Mohawk House. LaFrieda agreed to supply Scro daily with a refrigerated truck of fresh meat at a low cost. Scro created a mobile butcher shop outside his restaurant, passing along the top-tier meats to his customers, wholesale.
To meet the community’s needs for produce and paper products, Scro then reached out to a VP at Sysco Metro NY, who also agreed to supply a truck daily, stocked with everything from much-sought-after paper towels and toilet paper, to fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, pastas and dairy.
Within days, Scro had moved from running a farm to table, special occasion restaurant, to an open air market, providing essentials to the community in a safe environment. Customers place their orders over the phone or in person while maintaining social distancing. The only people touching the products at the market are its staff, clad in masks and gloves, following all safety precautions.
“Adversity is something that I roll up my sleeves, I look in the eye, and I’m up for the challenge,” says Scro. “I’m gonna keep going strong here as long as we need to, and I want to be there to do whatever I can for the people.”
Staying true to the farm-fresh, community spirit that Mohawk House prides itself on, products from local small businesses are also up for sale at the pop up. Carrot cake in a jar, mascarpone cake and cookie dough from Patty Cakes, and fresh bagels from Bagel Bistro are just a handful of the local products featured.
After hearing that Sparta Books was shuddered as a non-essential business, Scro added their books to the market, offering everything from New York Times bestsellers down to YA literature and books for kids.
“Let me stress to you—Steve’s an angel,” says Christina, of Sparta Books. “He realizes that we all exist in some form of cohesiveness in town. That’s what makes Sparta such a wonderful place to live and shop...he offered this to me so we could still expose ourselves in that limited capacity to the public.”
Jersey Girl Cheese, whose cheeses appear on Mohawk House’s pizzas, cheese plates, and burgers, is rolling up to the market with a truck of fresh products on Saturdays.
“We supply a lot of restaurants. That was about 60-70% of our income,” says Jersey Girl Cheese’s Sal Pisani. “Since they’ve all closed, it’s been really tough to keep up with production. But luckily Steve allowed us to come set up our van at his place...the first weekend I was there on Saturday, it was really great. I moved a good amount of cheese—it was almost like a normal farmers’ market for us...so this is really helping us out.”
While Scro is looking forward to eventually shifting gears back to being a restaurant, he’s embracing the change for now. Mohawk House is still offering a to go menu and its soups and signature rustic salty rolls are available through the market.
“This is not about the money, it’s about a smile on my face waking up in the morning and helping folks,” explains Scro. “I embrace people in the community, and local folks who are like minded and hardworking. I’ll open my arms to anybody that I can help.”
“To do this during a crisis just has this extra meaning to it that I can’t thank Steve enough for and he can’t thank me enough for,” says LaFrieda, who has been restocking a truck of fresh meat for Scro nearly every day the market is open. “The coolest thing is when you have larger restaurant groups—and we’ll stay away from names for now—call me and they say, ‘Hey Pat, I see what you’re doing at Mohawk—you think you could do that through a different part of New Jersey? And I’m like, you guys are probably worth a billion dollars and you’re following Steve Scro, and I love it.”