Former Ninety Acres Chef David Felton Resurfaces With New Projects in Plainfield

Teaming with Landmark Hospitality, he’ll open a culinary school and restaurant—called DJBK—this spring.

Image courtesy of David Felton

Last April, when he left Ninety Acres in Peapack-Gladstone after a 10-year run as its founding executive chef, David Felton spoke publicly about wanting to spend more time with his family.

There was something else he was looking forward to, though he didn’t want to talk about it publicly. That was developing a restaurant and a culinary school in downtown Plainfield with Frank and Jeanne Cretella of Landmark Hospitality.

Felton broke his silence today. In an exclusive interview, he said he and Landmark will open DJBK—a “casual, approachable” restaurant with an open kitchen, wood-fired grill and a liquor license—in the former Courier-News Building at 212 Park Avenue, built in 1902.

“I enjoyed summer with my kids and a nice little break, and now it’s full steam ahead,” he said. “We’re looking at a late March opening.”

DJBK will have an eclectic but largely New American menu “focused on the seasons, cooked with ancient techniques, blended with my travels, experiences and passions.” The last two letters of the acronym stand for Bar and Kitchen. The D and J, he explained, “stand for David and Jenny, my wife, also my parents, Douglas and Judith, and two of my best friends from high school, Danny and Joseph, both of whom have passed away.”

The restaurant will have about 110 seats, divided between tables and counters, with a downstairs event space and a 14-seat private room facing the open kitchen. “I want to do a higher-end experience there, but that will come later,” he said. “I’m a high-end cook, so I need that outlet.”

Landmark restaurants include the Ryland Inn in Whitehouse Station, Liberty House in Jersey City, Stone House in Warren and Felina in Ridgewood, as well as event properties in West Windsor, Neshanic Station and Hampton, New Jersey, and New Hope, Pennsylvania.

Felton said the foundation he and the Cretellas created, called Art of Hospitality Path to Success (AHPS), is “developing a six-to-eight-week, hands-on training program in culinary arts for people who are underemployed.” He likened its approach to that of the noted culinary school at Eva’s Village, the Paterson nonprofit that helps variously challenged people get a leg up on life.

The school, he said, aims to open in March and operate out of Landmark’s commissary at 537 North Avenue in Plainfield.

“Union County Vocational School gets about 60 applications a year and can take only about 20,” Felton said. “We’re looking to have classes of 16 students, get them through the program and into a four-week internship somewhere, and then into full-time employment.”

After speaking with Felton, I called Frank Cretella. He said he is bullish on Felton and also on Plainfield.

“There was a popular spot in town, called Giovanna’s, that closed [last June after 36 years],” he said. “David’s vision is for DJBK to replace Giovanna’s as a gathering place for the neighborhood. We’re welcoming and inclusionary, and expect to get a diverse crowd.”

Cretella said he has been buying property in Plainfield for a decade. “I’ve developed in excess of 100 residential units, in small clusters,” he said. “Every place I go, I get doubters. I had a lot of doubters about Liberty House [in Liberty State Park]. Now everybody calls it a no-brainer.

“Here it’s a little more difficult, but the architecture of downtown is fantastic. Crime was a big issue, but the crime numbers have really dropped. This area [around DJBK] never had a lot of crime. The DJBK property comes with a huge lot that can hold over 120 cars. We bought the newspaper building, an old office building and an old bank building. It amounts to 90 percent of the block. I have a love for these old buildings, and I want to have the opportunity to restore them.”

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