Espresso Joe’s – Great Music, Nice People, Awesome Food… Oh yeah, the coffee is fantastic, too!

The morning rush has settled down and Felicia McIntosh is using the break after the bustle to tackle a few of the many tasks at hand to make Espresso Joe’s at 50 West Front Street in Keyport. Multi-tasking is key – “There’s not enough hours in the day,” she imparts. The minute I walked in the door, my ritual began. I come here quite often, and they know me here.

Espresso Joe’s credit “Lo” 9 years old

As with many other businesses in this harbor town nestled in the southeast reaches of the Raritan Bay, McIntosh knows her regular clientele and she knows what they like. It’s 9:30 in the morning and I tell her I am a bit hungry. I am disappointed to learn that her now-famous chia-bowl is not available at the moment, a new batch of chia “is brewing right now and will be ready this afternoon.”

I ask her what she has, and she offers up hummus that she made earlier this morning.

The Best Hummus Ever (in the author’s opinion)

“On multigrain toast with tomato and lettuce” she says, and I agree. As usual at Felicia’s Espresso Joe’s café, the ingredients are all non-GMO, organic and farm-fresh which is going to subject my taste buds to a dish that is fresh and flavorful. She does not disappoint, and it hits the spot.

It’s August now, and McIntosh acquired this business in February – the third owner in less than 4 years. In the 6-months since, she has imbued personal touches that have begun to shape the café into a destination for seekers of good coffee, fresh traditional fare, vegan and gluten-free choices, and fantastic music performed by musicians from (very) near and far.

On a Wednesday evening, bring your guitar, poetry book, journal, flute, lute or cajón. The venue is yours for up to 10 mins or so at the open mic. On the weekend, bring your musical sensibilities and enjoy the regular local musicians, some of whom have been performing here for years, and many of whom McIntosh has built relationships with over her life as a local-music aficionada. The variety is notable and intentional, “I like all kinds of music,” she says, adding that the variety meets the varied musical tastes of her customers, too.

Full disclosure, I am biased. Keyport is my town, and some days, Espresso Joes is my office. Indeed, I am writing this sitting in my normal spot next to the Snapple refrigerator on the repurposed church bench with my laptop and coffee. For me, it’s all about the ritual of the patron. Indeed, we establish good relationships with businesses based on the quality of the products that they have to offer, but here at Espresso Joe’s, it’s all about the ritual of the patron – the experience they offer to me every time I walk in. Esspresso Joe’s satisfies my desire to have a familiar place to come to where I can eat, play and, sometimes, work.

My coffee is nearly done, and so is this article. The early afternoon bustle is beginning and Felicia is getting back to business. Someone is deciding what to order to eat, “Try the hummus,” I say, “It was the bomb.”

The Keyport GardenWalk Is Back At The Bayshore

Artwork by 2018 Keyport GardenWalk Art Contest winner Billy Green

Artwork by 2018 Keyport GardenWalk Art Contest winner Billy Green

Come with your walking shoes on, your cameras loaded and your appetites ready.

For the seventh year running, the Keyport GardenWalk will attract thousands of enthusiasts to the private and public gardens of this charming town on the southwest corner of the Raritan Bayshore. The event takes place over two days on June 2nd and 3rd from 11am to 3pm and is free to everyone. Visitors should give themselves plenty of time to browse the many dozens of gardens on display. A number of the gardeners of previous GardenWalks have cultivated their gardens once again for this annual event. Indeed, the annual preparation for this event marks the beginning of the gardening season for many of them.

“We are nothing without our generous gardeners,” says Keyport GardenWalk chair, Clare Skeen.

There are many gardeners who are willing to do so year after year and every year there are new resident gardeners who put their homes and gardens on display. The gardens that you will see vary from the sublime to the eclectic and the plants, shrubs and trees within them vary from indigenous to exotic.

The resident gardeners are always willing to discuss their gardens with visitors and some welcome them with soft drinks, light fare and even some live music.

“Our visitors marvel at the generosity of our gardeners and the variety of the gardens,” Skeen adds, “(The visitors) also really appreciate the fact that 99% of our gardens are designed, planted and maintained by the gardeners themselves.”

Photo by Jr. Photographer “Lo” – age 9

The seed for the GardenWalk was planted 8 years ago when Ms. Skeen read an article about the GardenWalk in Buffalo, New York, in the June/July 2010 edition of Horticulture magazine. She then brought the concept to the Keyport Garden Club. From there, the Keyport GardenWalk started to grow from concept to reality. According to Skeen, the organizers of GardenWalk Buffalo “were very generous in their advice” to the Keyport Garden Club members that organized the event. In order to prepare and plan accordingly, the Club decided that the first GardenWalk in Keyport would be in 2012. Since then, the event has grown to be a top tourist attraction, attracting 3,100 visitors to the historic Borough of Keyport in 2017 alone.

Visitors from as far as Dusselberg, Germany have previously visited the dozens of public and privately owned gardens as they walked, biked or took a complimentary pedicab ride through the picturesque borough which is scattered with Victorian-era homes and buildings that add to the charm and appeal of the day.

In addition to walking the gardens, visitors can attend morning GardenTalks at Keyport Borough Hall on topics that include “Gardens of the Cotswolds – Inspirations and Lessons” presented by Kirsty Dougherty of Noble Garden Tours and local garden designer, Erin Koberle and “Backyard Birds and Beyond” presented by photographer and birder, Ed Norman.

Photos by Jr. Photographer “Lo” – age 9

The day will go by quick, and you may not get through all of the gardens on in one day. You can stay overnight at any of the local hotels, but don’t leave town without visiting one of Keyport’s renowned restaurants for a late lunch, dinner and a drink. Vendors from near and far have inquired if they could set up at the GardenWalk, but the response is always, “Thank you for your interest but we want visitors shopping in our year round shops and eating at our restaurants,” Skeen states. The organizers resolute to keep the interests of the local businesses and restaurants in town at the forefront. Local businesses and restaurants are “incredibly supportive of our Club and, in particular, this event,” Skeen adds.

The Keyport GardenWalk is uniquely suited to provide a wonderful opportunity for visitors to support the local businesses in town. It attracts thousands of folks from near and far, and for that reason, Local Joan supports this event and gives it a grade A+.

When you arrive at the Keyport GardenWalk event, be sure to make your way down to the Keyport waterfront gazebo – that is where the Keyport GardenWalk headquarters is. They will have all of the information you will need to start your tour of the gardens of Keyport.

For information on planning your visit to Keyport on June 2nd and 3rd, you can visit the Keyport GardenWalk website which has directions, hotel information and general information about the Borough of Keyport.


Local Brew – Demented Brewing Sees Bright Future Despite Conglomerate Pressure

It seems to be a matter of consensus among craft beer brewers and aficionados that we are living through the greatest time in history to be a beer drinker in America, a sort of “golden age of beer.”  In 35 years the number of craft breweries in America has risen from around 80 to over 5000 making a huge variety of flavorful lagers, porters and my favorite, IPA’s.  While providing U.S. drinkers, be they beer snobs or guzzlers with an almost endless variety of unique tastes, the craft beer industry has become a viable part of the local economies. However, a recent opinion piece in The New York Times by Jim Koch, the founder of The Boston Beer Company, told a cautionary tale. It seems lax government antitrust laws and the business practices of a few mega global brewers like Miller Coors may be bringing about, “…the beginning of the end of the American craft beer revolution.”  To get a local perspective, and to taste some great beer were ample reasons to visit Demented Brewing in Middlesex, NJ.  After the field was winnowed down to the final four, Demented was named the best craft brewery in New Jersey by the judges of

The word BREWERY marks the spot.

Siri got me to 600 Lincoln Blvd in Middlesex easily enough, but the brewery was a little disconcerting.  Set back from the street, partially obscured by another building, Demented looks to be a former auto repair shop.  Large letters in red on black spelling, “Brewery,” fill what were once windows, and you can see people through an open garage door working amid oak kegs and stainless steel equipment reminiscent of the AMC series, Breaking Bad.    The Head Brewer later confided that much like the operation producing the illicit product depicted in the popular series, the quality of the beer largely depends of the cleanliness of the equipment.  A large part of a brewing run is cleaning.

Where does one get a beer?  On the left side the building is a nondescript, black door with a small sign cautioning you to watch your step.  At the risk of barging into a private work area, I opened the door to find a small, cozy brick walled taproom where four or five people were sipping and discussing the product.  The walls were murals depicting various demonic creatures, well, brewing beer.

Choices of the day are marked by asterisks

The obligatory blackboard behind the bar above the taps listed about 15 titles with asterisks indicating which ones were available.  The inspiration for the brewery’s theme, The Jersey Devil, is the centerpiece of the board.

Before I could sit down, the man behind the bar asked me if I’d been there before.  It seemed a rhetorical question, he seems to know his clientele, but after answering no, he said, “Do me a favor and go through that door to take a tour of the brewery.” Since this appeared to be a prerequisite, I complied.  A stack of one sheets illustrating the brewing process were in a compartment on another black door. I went through and found myself amid brewing equipment, oak casks and bags of malt from Germany.  The workers paid me little mind on this self-guided tour, but one young man with a beard asked me why I took a picture of the malt bags.  I asked if he purchased any ingredients locally, and he replied that save for the occasional local hops, New Jersey doesn’t really produce the ingredients necessary for the brewing process. He purchases far and wide.  He apologized for the “mess” saying that they had just finished brewing.  The brewery was considerably less messy than my own living room.

We can’t brew enough beer… Doug Phillips, Head Brewer

As it turns out, I was speaking with Doug Phillips, the Head Brewer of Demented Brewing. He modestly downplayed the award, and though he was familiar with the Times article, was not pessimistic in the least.  “We can’t brew enough beer,” he stated simply.  The brewery has over 600 clients in the State of New Jersey with hopes of expanding to Pennsylvania and New York.  In order to keep the supply flowing, Demented brews at least six times a week, sometimes twice a day.

Double Dementia IPA – You be the judge.

Back in the bar, I ordered the Double Dementia IPA. It’s the kind of brew that makes me take a picture with my phone to remember in case I see it on a menu again.  It has the hoppiness of an IPA balanced by the malt. It is not bitter, has citrus hint with perhaps a touch of caramel.  Names of craft beers are half the fun, and Demented is no exception when it comes to the inventive titles.  Beowulf, Scarlet Night, Orcus, Wrath and Envy were listed.  Dave Rawlins, the bar man and associate brewer assured me that all seven deadly sins are represented on a seasonal basis with one exception: Lust is available all year long.  The beer can be very strong with alcohol contents up to 10%.  I followed the DD with a Voodoo IPA, a relatively new offering made with fresh Lemondrop hops.  I’m no expert, but I found the Voodoo to have a lighter texture with almost a hint of shandy in the taste.  While I generally drink a Cote de Rhone when I am defying doctor’s orders with a rack of lamb or a porcetta, either of the IPA’s I tasted could accompany a hearty meat dish.  It may become my go- to drink with meatloaf and mashed potatoes.

The atmosphere in the tap room is convivial.  The complexities and attributes of the beers are freely discussed.  “Growlers” and “grunts” are available to go, as well as tee shirts and hats.  I bought my wife a tee shirt that simply read, “Demented.”  That ought to put me in Dutch.

It’s an American and New Jersey success story.  Doug comes from Tinton Falls by way of Vermont.  He says he learned brewing in his mother’s kitchen, a parenting story that I envy.  The owner of the brewery who was not there that day, is Tom Zuber, a software engineer who, according to a framed article on the wall of the bar,  apparently lost his job, opening up the doorway of opportunity to begin brewing beer.  He found the premises on Craig’s List, began brewing in May of 2015 and serving in the tap room in August of that year.  I have to say that aside from the delicious beer, the assembled staff of Demented Brewing combined with the demonic décor and welcoming atmosphere make this local Jersey business a pleasant visit.  I know they want to keep it simple, but I hope that they incorporate some kind of limited menu in the future.  After just two strong IPA’s, I felt the need of a hero which I purchased down Lincoln Blvd. at L and D’s Sapore Ravioli & Cheese. That’s a whole other story.  Do yourself a favor and check them out as well. Since departing New York City 37 years ago for New Jersey, I have found that you can get any food or drink available in The Big Apple somewhere in New Jersey cheaper, just as good and often better.  With places like Demented Brewing, it should be easy to support your local business.

The “Reaper’s” Scythe

On a final note, above the bar hangs a scythe, a handheld farming tool still used to harvest crops, cutting them close to the ground.  But it is also the tool carried by someone we will all eventually make the acquaintance of, the grim reaper.  Life is short, so for crying out loud, do yourself a favor and stop by Demented Brewing for a couple of great glasses of beer.

Truly Local: Graze Restaurant in Little Silver

Graze in Little SilverChamon Laercio (aka Junior) worked for several years in the restaurant business before deciding he didn’t want to open his own restaurant.

“I intended to have a small catering place,” he tells Local Joan while sitting in a round booth at Graze, the eatery he opened last year in Little Silver. “I didn’t want to do this. It’s a tough business.”

After running a successful catering company for four years, he bought Zoe’s in 2015 and gradually began changing the menu to serve more locally sourced food and less of the standard and ubiquitous “Penne Vodka” type of dish, he explains.Little Silver Graze restaurant

“Most other places can’t tell you where their food came from,” says Junior, noting that New Jersey is catching up with the local food trend and after a difficult transition, he has a “clientele that understands” what he’s trying to do.

Junior’s new clientele is regional, not only local. Friday jazz nights are popular, he says, and Graze just opened for lunch as well as dinner.

My goal is to support local farmers and farmer’s markets

You can typically find Junior either cooking or talking to patrons about their experience.

Classically trained in French cooking but with Brazilian-born parents, Junior reflects his culinary heritage with dishes such as coxinhas: “Brazilian chicken croquettes with green tomato ketchup.” The “Bourbon Glazed Carrot Soup” garnished with micro-celery, is a staple, as are local harvest greens of the day and a four-cheese mac and cheese dish for which he makes not only the pasta, but also the cheese!

Glazed carrot soup at Graze in Little Silver

Bourbon glazed carrot soup is a delectable specialty of Graze’s kitchen.

Junior also does his own butchering and tries to use every part of the animal in his cooking. He points to a pasture raised pork chop.

“You can tell it’s good because it’s red, not white. People think pork is supposed to be white, like ‘the other white meat’ but it’s naturally a red meat.”

Not 100 percent of his food comes from local sources, though. The “toughest part” is that some foods are hard to get in the Garden State year round, although greenhouses make it possible to find, for example, heirloom tomatoes in winter.

“I do the best I can.”

He works with Harvest Drop, a local middleman, and uses about 30 different farmers in total. A born teacher, Junior says he hopes to advocate and raise awareness of the desirability of local food, both for its freshness and to support local business.

“My goal [in purchasing] is to support local farmers and farmer’s markets,” he says, adding that there are more than ever before. There are a great many local farms in New Jersey that people don’t realize exist.

Where did Junior get his interest in food? Both his parents have the cooking gene. His mother cooked for the Brazilian consulate at one time and his father owned a bakery in the U.S. and a dairy farm in Brazil.

His mother’s are “the only leftovers I’ll eat!”


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Be a Rookstar This October For Children’s Cancer

This October 11, Rook Coffee Roasters is hosting its second annual Rook Run for children’s cancer.

Rook Coffee Roasters, founded by Shawn Kingsley & Holly Migliaccio, is expanding rapidly. When we first wrote about it in February 2014, there were four Monmouth County locations. Now it’s eight and soon to be nine!

This year’s event will again benefit The Valerie Fund, a children’s cancer program established by Ed and Sue Goldstein in honor of their daughter Valerie. The second annual Rook Run has already raised $120,000 at press time of its total goal of $150,000. At press time in late September, 1581 runners have entered, divided into 138 teams, including “Rookstars,’ ‘Cup of Joe,’ ‘Crossfit Delirium’ and ‘Run Like You Stole Something.’

The benefits of being a Rook runner or race volunteer:
1. You can give your team a zany name;
2. You can wear a crazy costume while you run;
3. You can get fresh air and sunshine on a beautiful fall afternoon;
4. You will give hope and life to a young person struggling with a disease;
5. You can eat and drink merrily during the awards ceremony;
6. You can have fun with your friends all day while doing something for a worthy charity.

In the first Rook Run, held last November, 1076 people competed. It was won by Victor Vientos of New York City for the Men and by Chelsea Callan of Ocean Grove, NJ, for the Women.

This year’s 5-K race kicks off at 10 am at the Great Lawn at Pier Village and registration is $35. Complete race details are published on the Rook Run’s interactive site. In addition, there will be Rook Run hoodies, bumper stickers and t-shirts available for sale at the Rook Run.

Come and join the fun!

What’s Made In Monmouth? Find Out This Week at the County Fair

recycled billboard vinyl mat

DorDesign creates unique furniture and other household items out of recycled, weatherproof, billboard vinyl.

At the County Fair this week, you may meet Doreen Catena of DorDesign Sustainable Home Goods who makes furniture, floor and table mats and wall hangings out of recycled billboards.

“I never know what the next billboards will be or what they will become,” says owner and former graphic designer Catena.


High Strung Studios makes jewelry out of guitar strings, for musicians and music lovers.

Local musician Jenny Woods recycles guitar strings to make funky and fashionable jewelry at High Strung Studios.

Or talk to former state senator Ellen Karcher, owner of Pleasant Valley Lavender Farm in Morganville, New Jersey’s only commercial lavender nursery.

The creativity and resourcefulness of these Monmouth County residents, among others, will be on display at the Monmouth County Fair at the East Freehold Park Showgrounds in Freehold this week. Try to stop by and support our locals who are bringing revenue into our local economy.

Made in Monmouth vendors feature art, jewelry, baked goods and jellies, stationery and bath and body products that are all made locally. Jersey shore (the beach, not the show) themed goods include Jersey Girl Barefoot Sandal and Sea You Again.

The fair is a traditional county fair, complete with blue ribbons, a pie-eating contest and amusement rides. The county will offer an interactive display of real public works equipment for kids, including its popular “Touch A Truck” display and Sheriff’s Ident-A-Kid program.

The fair runs Wednesday through Sunday, July 22-26, from 5 -11 p.m. on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday (July 22-24), from 3-11 p.m. on Saturday, July 25 and from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. on Sunday. Held at East Freehold Park Showgrounds on Kozloski Road, between Routes 33 and 537 in Freehold Township, admission is $8 per person. Children 12 and under are free. For more information, visit or call 732-842-4000.

Long Branch Rook Run Raises Money For Children’s Cancer Fund

Rook Run Start

Rook Run Director Joshua Ballard signaling the start of the race on the Long Branch boardwalk.

Rook Coffee Roasters, a locally owned business that Local Joan profiled earlier this year, held its 1st Annual Rook Run in Long Branch on November 8, 2014. First place overall went to Victor Vientos of New York City, with a time of 16:23.7. The first female finisher was Chelsea Callan of Ocean Grove, NJ, with 17:57.4.

1076 people participated in the 5K, and it raised $69,200 for The Valerie Fund, which supports comprehensive health care for children with cancer and blood disorders.

We wanted to do something that would help kids in our community,” says Rook co-owner Shawn Kingsley. “The Valerie Fund stood out as the shining star among the group.”

Run director with Rook founders and Valerie Fund children

Joshua Ballard (second from l) and Rook Coffee founders Shawn Kingsley & Holly Migliaccio (at right), meeting The Valerie Fund children Francesca (far left) and Zippy (center). Photo courtesy of Rook.

logo for Valerie Fund

The Valerie Fund is named after Valerie Goldstein, who died of cancer in 1976.Ed Goldstein, founder of The Valerie Fund, said it treats more than 4,000 kids a year, and “No one is turned away.”

Ed and Sue Goldstein started the Valerie Fund to honor their daughter Valerie’s memory and to provide local alternatives to treatment outside of Philadelphia and New York City. The nonprofit is based in Maplewood and has seven locations, including Monmouth Medical Center, Long Branch.

The top team fundraising team was “Olive Rook,” which raised $7080! Its name says it all.

“We’re doing it to use our brand in a positive way,” says co-owner Holly Migliaccio.

The race was held on the Great Lawn section of the Long Branch boardwalk.

The rest of the winners:

Top 3 Men

1. Victor Vientos (16:23.7)

2. Matthew Grogan (16:33.5)

3. Joe Pawlish (16:46.5)

Top 3 Women

1. Chelsea Callan (17:57.4)

Chelsea Callan

Top Woman’s finisher, Chelsea Callan of Ocean Grove. Photo courtesy of Rook Coffee Roasters.

2. Katie Desiere (19:25.8)

3. Allison McQuillen (19:36.0)

Under 14: Nick Hanlon (19:23.7) & Catherine DeSousa (20:33.9)

14-24: Lee Colvin (17:51.5) & Grace Wells (20:32.4)

25-34: Chris Kessler (16:50.4) & Nicole Corre (20:20.1)

35-44: Alejandro Sanchez (17:18.8) & Heather Schlisserman (21:49.5)

45-54: Michael Metlitz (19:47.3) & Cindy Lauer (22:19.9)

55-64: Larry Butynski (20:36.7) & Jan Farnung-Krause (25:05.3)

65+: Ted Freeman (27:47.9) & Ceil Langa (31:29.8)


Excel Travel’s Ted Friedl Works To “Kick Cancer Overboard”

ted friedl at work

Ted Friedl, hard at work on a typical day.

Ted Friedl is known to many as the local travel agency owner with two beaded braids, a Hawaiian shirt, and the memorable slogan: Make Us Happy–Go Away!

When he’s not setting up a honeymoon aboard a Russian Icebreaker to the North Pole or at a chamber of commerce function (he belongs to seven), he raises money for cancer survivors and their families to embark on one-week Royal Caribbean cruises out of Cape Liberty, all expenses paid.

“The recipient’s most important question [on a cruise] is not how to pay for the next medical bill, but whether to play bingo, get a massage or sing karaoke,” says the upbeat CVO, or Chief Vacation Officer of Excel Travel in Long Branch. He and DonnaLyn Giegrich, a cancer survivor and fellow business owner, started “Kick Cancer Overboard” in 2011, and just achieved 501(3)(c) status, making KCO a nonprofit eligible for matching contributions.

Ted’s career has not always had smooth sailing.

KCO button

Kick Cancer Overboard was founded to help people with cancer.

In 1994 Ted and his wife, Joanna Friedl, Excel Travel’s vice president, thought the future looked somewhat grim when newscaster Connie Chung predicted that this new thing called the internet would be the death of the travel industry, he remembers.

Ted and Joanna watched as airlines slashed commissions, many travel agencies folded or consolidated, and internet travel sites proliferated. The business that they’d started together out of a mutual passion for travel was at risk.

Excel pivoted away from mainly business into leisure travel. That shift was an important aspect of its success, Ted notes. Today they have a team of agents, a surfboard for a coffee table, and a binder full of glowing–and unsolicited–testimonials.

“I don’t know what happened to Connie Chung, but we’re still here,” quips Ted, the recipient of two Spinnaker awards from the Eastern Monmouth Chamber of Commerce, for Volunteer of the Year and for Community Service.

“Ted has endured multiple storm Sandy setbacks, including losing his house; maintained a thriving travel business; and served the community in leadership roles without waivering from KCO’s mission,” says his partner, Donnlyn. “It’s an honor to collaborate on his award-winning creation and we’re grateful to our KCO community of staunch supporters who’ve made it possible.”

Ted notes that all of KCO’s donations and sponsorships go to survivors and their families. He and DonnaLyn don’t use any donations for administrative costs, and their overhead is “very low.” Past fundraisers have been sponsored by Tom’s Ford in Keyport, Fred Astaire Dancers, A Kneaded Vacation, Dean’s Natural Market in Ocean, and Rich and Maria Laganga. In December KCO threw a holiday party with partner Rockit.

The majority of the 91 cruise goers have survived, but sadly, one passed away before going on the cruise and nine after returning home.

Amy with hoop onstage

Goodbie Amy vocalist and cancer survivor onstage hoola-hooping. (Her band’s on Facebook.)


The first recipient, Goodbie Amy vocalist Amy Paradise, had breast cancer twice and is now a big supporter of KCO, having hosted several benefit concerts.

Another cruise goer was an oncology nurse who herself developed cancer, and was nominated by her patients at the hospital where she worked. The recipients are chosen by a ten-person team, and are always locals because Ted says there’s no reason to look outside the state. He recuses himself from the selection committee.

So what’s Ted’s secret for staying relevant in a rapidly changing industry? Raising awareness about the value he provides as an independent agent. He enjoys “debunking myths” people hold about travel and guarantees the best prices for cruises or vacation packages, insisting the conventional wisdom that you’ll save money online for travel is wrong.

“There’s not one study saying that it’s cheaper,” says Ted, who has a standing offer of $100 to anyone who can prove otherwise. The commissions that airlines and hotels pay to agents are simply pocketed when people buy online, and the savings are not passed on to the traveler, he explains.

Also, Ted says, the U.S. State Department in Washington issues warnings about Mexico, yet Washington D.C. is four times more deadly than Mexico City.  The chances of contracting a disease on a cruise are miniscule, he points out, because every year 40 million people go on cruises, yet fewer than 1,000 get sick.

Trends he’s noticed in the last year are the popularity of destination weddings, river cruises and family reunions that take place on vacation.

“We’ve shifted to doing more leisure and group travel, safaris, family reunions, destination weddings, cruises,” he says. “It’s more creative. The more complicated and difficult the itinerary, the more valuable our services become.”

Ted's office in Long Branch

Excel Travel in Long Branch has shifted its focus to the leisure travel market.

Ted says he’s thrilled to go to work in a business that brings joy to people’s lives and KCO is a way to spread that joy.

“They’re going to enjoy it a lot more, because they understand how precious life is,” says Ted of KCO’s cruise recipients.

And, he notes, over the last three years, the old-fashioned brick and mortar travel agencies are actually gaining market share back from the web.

So, make Ted happy and go away.

Does Local Joan Shop Anywhere Else?

local bookstoreOne question Local Joan gets frequently is: how can I do all my shopping at only local stores?

This depends upon what you consider to be a local store. Not every business that’s “local” is limited to one location. For example, a franchise such as True Value or Ace Hardware may belong to a network of locally owned businesses that use the same local suppliers. Although located in other states, some national outlets make notable efforts to support the local community. Kohl’s department stores, for example, runs a program, “Associates in Action,” in which employees volunteer for local children’s charities.

Local Joan’s mission is to help small business, but it also advocates for nationally owned businesses or franchises who are good neighbors in the local community and use fair hiring practices.

One of our key missions is to help you distinguish between  businesses that invest in the community and those that take money out of it. That’s the most important difference. We realize it’s not easy to draw that distinction, or to find local commerce for all our needs, especially when they typically have miniscule advertising budgets, but that’s where Local Joan comes in.

Joan’s philosophy is not about making your life difficult or limiting your choices. Joan simply wants us to shop responsibly and to be aware of which stores contribute to their communities, and to reward them for doing so by giving them our business. Be aware of the barriers that locally-owned stores face against larger competitors who don’t give back, and give those local companies a chance to meet your needs before shopping elsewhere.

Similarly, many professional services are locally owned and have close ties to the communities where they are based. An understandable exception is to go to another state or region for a specialist who has expertise that isn’t represented in your community. But be aware of the plethora of resources available locally, especially in the New York area, and when all else is equal, choose local.

When you shop, notice whether the business is making an effort to be a good neighbor by supporting local charities and by hiring locally. Do their profits all go to out of town causes or do they outsource their labor unnecessarily? That is what hurts us where we live. Let’s say a local businesswoman opens a franchise of a national chain restaurant. It’s likely the store’s menu and advertising and signage are all developed at a national headquarters that may be far away. But the food may be bought locally, which helps local farmers.

Starbucks and Panera Bread are examples of nationally owned chain eateries that make an effort to help their communities. Each has a community bulletin board and sponsors local nonprofit events. Panera locations in Shrewsbury and Ocean, for example, donates their leftover bread to local religious organizations and nonprofits who help the needy. These efforts to support the local community are laudable.

Let’s shop wisely and with discretion. Let’s give our dollars to those who support our local economy and workers, and pay a living wage to their workers, such as Costco.

To learn more about the advantages of local business, we recommend reading The Small-Mart Revolution by Michael H. Shuman.

The Scoop on Gracie and the Dudes’ Ice Cream

strawbewwyWhen you see the ice cream at Gracie and the Dudes, you may be surprised. The strawberry has only a hint of pink, and the other colors are similarly muted. Even the Italian ices they make are pale, in contrast with the vivid palette of the store and the eye-catching cartoon logo.

“Taste it before you judge it,” says Michelle McMullen, co-owner with her husband Brian of Gracie and the Dudes (and Sadie too!).

The shop’s most popular flavor, an intense dark chocolate, resembles Belgian chocolate. Cinnamon oatmeal and chocolate chip cookie taste like chilly versions of their namesake cookies. The flavors are concentrated and remarkably authentic. How does this small family-owned ice cream shop with two locations in Long Branch and Sea Bright accomplish this?

We make enough for our pockets. We want regular families to be able to come and not break the bank.

A ton of hard work testing and developing their own flavors from scratch, Michelle says. Because it lacks artificial flavors and colors, the ice cream has only a two-week shelf life. In the fledgling days of their business, much of it had to be donated or discarded.

“We opened in the winter. I’d just given birth. We had no customers.”

Michelle McMullen scoops a cone of her homemade ice cream.

Michelle McMullen scoops a cone of her homemade ice cream.

Twenty flavors are on display, with more than 65 in rotation, and more to come.

“Customers are very vocal,” says Michelle. Last month olive oil debuted. The general reaction was “ehh.”  Maple bacon was a temporary hit and sweet corn is on its way, by popular demand.

“We’ll need three or four tests to get it right.”

The married couple were successful national franchise owners, using pre-mixed formulas, but began to worry about the ingredients in the treats their kids were ingesting.

In 2009, the eldest, Gracie, was no longer a baby.

“We started thinking about what we were giving her,” Michelle says. They knew they wanted to make something different, something fresher, with high quality ingredients.

Even what’s in Italian ices is “horrendous,” so they created their own, which is technically sorbet, with three ingredients: fruit, water and sugar. The cherry flavor tastes like cherry pie, says Michelle, a former high school English teacher whose language skills are evident in the entertaining copy on her website. Learning the food science behind ice cream was tricky and their biggest challenge.

Sadie (far right) is the newest addition to the family & business too!

Another complication came in the form of a new baby, a girl named Sadie.

Michelle and Brian found themselves with a logo and business name prominently featuring their firstborn and her two brothers, “the dudes.”

When Sadie turned four, she became aware of her conspicuous absence in her family’s business.

Michelle admits the longer name is a bit unwieldy, but what can a parent do when her child wants to know, “Where’s me?”

Another challenge was Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

“We wanted to renovate but not quite the extensive renovation we did,” Michelle says, wryly. But though “devastatingly horrible. . .it really spurred a new community spirit within me.”

Michelle worked toward recovery and rebuilding on the Sea Bright 20/20 Committee, the precursor to Sustainable Sea Bright, a municipal committee.  “We are committed to making Sea Bright sustainable for the future.  We worked to bring a farmer’s market to town as well as having Sea Bright designated a sustainable community by the state of New Jersey,” she adds.

“The one benefit that came out of the storm is my commitment to making Sea Bright the best it can be, as well as the people I’ve met and the dear friendships I’ve formed.” Michelle traveled to New York with Mayor Dina Long to the ask for help.

“We, as a town, are fortunate to have some big fans in large corporations.”

So is healthy ice cream an oxymoron? Michelle nods as if she’s heard this before. “It’s healthier,” she qualifies. Everybody gives their kids an occasional treat, she contends, so why can’t it be from the best ingredients, which also taste the best? The McMullens say they use less sugar than is standard, and have a formula that works.

The store’s cream is from Wisconsin, so shipping costs more than the product itself.  Michelle says that wasn’t by choice; they couldn’t find a local supplier who could adapt to what they needed.

“Our prices are lower,” Michelle claims. “We make enough for our pockets. We want regular families to be able to come and not break the bank.” As for a complaint online about not selling single scoops, she nods.

“It’s been a bone of contention. But when you order, you’re paying for all of it, napkin, cone, all the overhead.”

Franchise offers beckon, but Michelle deems herself “a control freak, like all entrepreneurs.”

“We’re not quite there yet.”

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