Meet Fanwood’s Friendly Neighborhood Grocer

Eva Pfaff was incensed when her Union County borough lost its A&P. A few years later, she opened a community-centric store of her own.

Eva Pfaff stands outside her grocery store, Fanwood Larder.

Eva Pfaff, who calls herself the closer grocer, relishes the relationships she forms at Fanwood Larder. Photo by Jennifer Pottheiser

Eva Pfaff walks the aisles of Fanwood Larder as if her little grocery were a gallery, its products works of art. “This is falafel pizza, made right in Scotch Plains,” she says, opening a freezer to reveal a package from Falafel Eats, makers of Israeli cuisine. “Everyone loves it. Look at all the vegetables!”

A shelf nearby is laden with honeys from Sweet Cheeks Apiary in Tewksbury: wildflower with walnuts, smokin’ hot with chipotle. Pfaff picks up a bear-shaped jar. “Cute, right?”

“We’re all under her wing,” says Christina Gmyrek, owner of Wheelie Good Pierogi in Rahway. “As small businesses, we know the smallest acts of helping each other make a difference. Having Eva keep my pierogi in stock and introducing them to her customers goes a long way.”

Fanwood Larder is a passion project for Pfaff. She grew up in Fanwood. When the Union County borough lost its A&P in 2015, Pfaff was incensed. “No community should lose its grocery store,” she says. Pfaff vowed to open a store herself and source the food as locally as possible.

“We look at her as a champion of Fanwood,” says longtime mayor Colleen Mahr. “My vision was always to have a vibrant downtown with mom-and-pop businesses. There’s no greater example of that than Eva. She stocks local crafts, she has author events. I’ve done coffee-with-the-mayor events at her store. We are so pleased to have her optimism here.”

As a young professional in the 1980s and ’90s, Pfaff worked in promotion and marketing for the Columbia and Capitol record labels. A gold record of “Eleven,” by local heroes the Smithereens, hangs in Fanwood Larder as a souvenir of her early career. She then spent about 20 years in media research, helping print magazines adapt to the digital age. Running a neighborhood grocery would seem worlds apart. But Pfaff adapted the soft skills she had acquired to this new venture.

“She’s a real go-getter,” says Liz Jeffery, Fanwood’s economic-development liaison. “She’s the ultimate Fanwoodian. She is uncompromising about the products she puts on her shelf. And she’s so personable that when you go to Fanwood Larder, you fall in love with the place.”

After two years of planning and fundraising, Pfaff fulfilled her goal on Thanksgiving of 2019, when she opened Fanwood Larder in a rented, 1,500-square-foot subdivision of a building on South Martine Avenue that was formerly a kitchen and bath showroom. Fanwood Larder generated a healthy amount of business that winter, selling local products as well as carefully curated, eco-friendly, health-conscious, national and international brands. Then came the pandemic.

“She rose to the occasion,” Jeffery recalls. “She offered curbside pickup, delivery, online ordering. She continues to bring innovation that is customized to the local community. And when a business has that kind of community engagement, they’re a forever business.”

When the pandemic forced many professionals to work from home, Pfaff sold sandwiches to coax them out of the house at lunchtime and meal kits to offer an easy dinner solution. “I never experienced isolation during the pandemic because everyone still came here,” Pfaff says. “It was small and it was safe, and there was always food. If you give me 10 minutes’ notice, I can make a meal kit to order. I want people to feel they can be spontaneous and come to me when they need something last-minute.”

Earlier this year, when Pfaff began to hear British accents in her store, she decided to stock PG Tips tea, Branston Pickle, Walker shortbread and other U.K.-made products that would appeal to the expats. For St. Patrick’s Day, she promoted seasonal items by local vendors, including Guinness jelly by Holly Jolly Jams of Scotch Plains and green “O’Hummus” by the Healthy Hummus Broad, based in Westfield.

“She’s a big supporter of everything local,” says Cheryl Calello, owner of the Healthy Hummus Broad.

“She uses my jams on her signature sandwiches,” says Holly Hindin. “She really promotes a local atmosphere. It’s a great resource for me, because people can buy my jams seven days a week and not have to find me at the farmers markets.”

Pfaff has a playful sensibility—she has dubbed herself larderer-in-chief, and likes to call Fanwood Larder the closer grocer. She hosts book signings and other events that are commonplace at cafés or independent bookstores, but are unexpected at a grocery store. “I want people to feel they can shop here, but also that they can grab a coffee and talk to their neighbors here,” she says. “I hope that people will find much of what they need right here.” 

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