Plum or Pizza?: A Colledge Education

Plum on Park in Montclair is so small it's a "street-car diner," says its owner, Natalie Colledge. But what's remarkable isn't just its pint size or even its recent addition of dinner service, but the tale of love and loss that brought it into being.

In 2010, Colledge considered herself a proud “10th generation baker” working in her family’s popular Clifton business, Styertowne Bakery, while her husband, Richard, was in remission from a rare form of cancer.

One night, over a home-cooked dinner and a bottle of wine with neighbors, Colledge talked about “always wanting to do something different with my life.”

Impressed with her cooking, the friends dared her to open a restaurant. The next day, they gave her the phone number of a man selling a vintage 1929 streetcar diner, manufactured in Elizabeth by the famed Jerry O’Mahoney Company, and located on Park Street in Montclair across from the YMCA.

Colledge turned it into Plum on Park, serving breakfast and lunch six days a week at six little booths and 18 counter seats.

She chose the name Plum on Park largely because it pleased her ear and helped locate the place in people’s minds. But there was a deeper reason.

"My mom used to call me Flaumchen, which means Little Plum in German," she says. "When I came up with the name, I didn’t think of that so much as that I was always in the bakery, pitting plums for the plum cakes. I’m 100 percent German, and Germans are famous for their plum cakes. At one point I said, ‘I cant pit one more plum!’"

Within a week of opening Plum on Park in October 2010, however, Colledge learned that her husband’s cancer had returned. Two years later, Richard passed away.

The restaurant “has been such a huge part of my life,” says Colledge, now 39. “As far as the connections I’ve made, the community I’ve built, the people who have reached out to me. I think there was a much greater reason for me to have Plum than to just make food. My customers are my family. They’ve helped me through a lot.”

In her first year of business, people would stop in after working out at the YMCA across the street. They asked for juices, so she bought a juicing machine. It saw so much action it burned out in six months.

Now she has a professional, heavy-duty machine, and juices are a mainstay. They include an entire menu of compound juices at $5.95, none more nutritious–and, yes, delicious–than the tall, $6.95 Super Green, made of raw kale, cucumber, lime, apple, mango and cilantro.

The new Wednesday-Thursday dinner service also was prompted by “customers asking all day long,” Colledge says. “I finally said, ‘Alright, alright, I’ll do it.’”

She aims to offer a healthy alternative to the fast-food and take-out options locally available.

Her kitchen staff of two lacks professional equipment like warming lamps and heated drawers. Everything is made to order.

“I don’t own a fryer and I don’t own a freezer, so everything is fresh,” Colledge says. “I get my produce delivered every single day. I go to the market every day. ”

The dinner menu changes almost daily, repending on what’s best in the market that day,

Right now, soft-shell crabs are at their peak. She serves them as a special with a slivered celery-and-walnut salad.

She calls her dinner creations “bistro food,” and dishes like pan-roasted brook trout with shaved Brussels sprout slaw ($18) and whole roasted chicken for two over baby greens ($32) “simple things that you can do during the week.”

“I want people to say, ‘Let’s go to Plum,’ rather than order pizza,” she says.

"There’s a definite vibe, there’s an energy here,” Colledge says of her tiny, vintage diner. “I know my husband is looking down on me and saying, ‘This is why you created your own place.’ It’s such a fulfilling feeling.”

Plum on Park
14 Park Street

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