RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Renee Faris faced obstacles every step of the way in launching Erie Coffeeshop & Bakery in Rutherford last year. She didn’t let any of them stop her.
“Having my own place is something I’ve always wanted,’’ said Faris, who opened her business at 10 Franklin Place in Rutherford in a space that formerly housed a barber shop. “I found a location that I really liked, and I went with it.”
Faris, a pastry chef, offers cakes, pies, cookies, tarts, scones, breads and even a few daily surprises. Its coffee is locally roasted is from Cafe Grumpy in Brooklyn, and she sets her menu based on the availability of seasonal products and the creativity of her and the staff.
“I liked this space because of its proximity to Manhattan and we’re near the train station,’’ Faris said. “There isn’t any other coffee shop close by other than Dunkin’ Donuts, and they’re completely different from what we do.”
The initial pushback from town officials was just one of many hurdles Faris faced in opening her business.
After graduating from high school, Faris’ parents insisted that she attend college, when her interest was in culinary school. “I really didn’t want to go,’’ said Faris, who earned a degree from William Paterson. “I ended up really loving English Literature and Writing. I was Vice President of the English Club, and I learned a lot about myself. It was fantastic. At 18, it’s awfully hard to know what you want to do for the rest of your life. I’m glad I went to college. I discovered who I am.”
And yet, once she got out, Faris enrolled in culinary school. “I still wanted to bake and cook,” Faris said. “My parents were behind me 100 percent.”
At culinary school, she also worked full-time at Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken. While it went smoothly at first, the bakery shortly afterwards became associated with the TLC television show, The Cake Boss, and business exploded. “Suddenly there were lines forming out of nowhere,’’ Faris said. “I thought ‘Where did all these people come from?'''
A fellow chef in culinary school asked her to join him as his pastry chef at a restaurant in California, and Faris surprised everyone by heading west. “It was very spontaneous,’’ she said. “No one believe me until I was gone. It was crazy.”
She returned to New Jersey a little more than two years later and worked for a few New York restaurants. She also kept an eye out for a space to launch her own business. “Restaurant work is very stressful,’’ Renee said. “It was six days a week, 12 hours a day. All the horror stories you hear about working in a restaurant is kind of what it is. I needed a life. I want to get married, have kids, get to travel and do everything I want to do. I knew if I continued in that lifestyle, it would be even harder.”
Faris looked for nearly two years before finding her current space, but it needed a complete overhaul. After getting town approval, her family, fiance and friends helped her renovate the space. “It’s fantastic that they support me so much and believe in me,’’ Faris said.
While she has faced some challenges -- she does her own bookkeeping and equipment maintenance with her fiance -- she has built a loyal base of clients. “It’s a completely organic company,’’ Faris said. “I try not to make things over-complicated.”
Faris built a team at the bakery, which also includes her mother. She seeks advice from her staff to develop a diverse and unique menu. She draws on her Palestinian heritage to create pastries with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern influences. Among her favorite is a spinach, mushroom and feta hand pie flavored with sumac, a deep red berry from the Middle East. “It’s tangy and sweet,’’ Faris said. “There’s a little bit of everything in one bite.”
Faris may not have taken the most direct business path, but she’s finally found a long-term business home that she hopes the community will embrace.
“I feel like it’s a part of me,’’ Faris said. “I don’t feel like it’s work. I go to the shop, and I don’t call it work. My girls working there are happy, and they feel the same where. It’s important to do something you love. This is what I love.”