According to a sign on the window, MishMish Cafe in Montclair is “taking a few months to reset and reimagine our operation,” with similar notices on social media that followed. They’ll stay open for a casual takeout lunch in the interim, but regular operations have otherwise ceased. The restaurant just celebrated their fourth anniversary on December 13, which makes the temporary closure all the more confusing.
We caught up with chef/owner Meny Vaknin, who also runs Marcel Bakery & Kitchen in Montclair and is set to open another new project, even as MishMish hangs in the balance. Chef Vaknin reassured us MishMish isn’t closing permanently, just “resetting,” Marcel is still humming along, and his newest project will do all it can to honor the local Montclair icon it’s (gently) replacing.
Table Hopping: You opened MishMish in December of 2014. Why are you closing down regular operations?
Meny Vaknin: I’m at the point with the restaurant where I feel like, in one word, it needs a “reset.” We’re working on a lot of new projects. Marcel is very new, very successful. I like that concept, I like where it’s going. And I think the whole industry is going toward that concept—fast-casual, grab and go with high quality product. We decided to take a break from MishMish’s current formation, to look at it again and say ‘What can we do in order to really kind of maximize profit and make sure quality isn’t going down?’ So we’re going to focus and see what people love the most and come back with that in a different form of service.
TH: Do you think Marcel’s success is part of the issue? That your attention is divided?
MV: I wanted to make sure we’re not compromising product on quality because I’m so focused on other projects. MishMish is my little baby, sort of our flagship restaurant. It definitely took a bit of a hit when we started to cover other projects.
TH: Is the closure due to any lost business? Was there a lag since Marcel opened in October 2017?
MV: No… We’re booked every weekend. We’re good during the week. People love us. We’re actually very, very grateful to see that now, the reaction—I’m worried about being loyal to my customers. That’s why I’m not shutting it all down completely, leaving lunch here until we come up with a new concept, new menu, new operation.
TH: Does that mean rebranding MishMish along the fast-casual direction?
MV: We’ve been seeing larger demand for that in the last year and a half. But right now I’m really trying to be focused on what people like, what they come back for. I’m a service provider at the end of the day. I need to provide what people love, what they want to get.
MV: Sometime in May, the same time the new MishMish should be back around. It’ll be similar to Marcel, but more of a full-blown bakery, with everyday bread, and a whole range of new breads. A lot more focused on the grab-and-go.
TH: Eugene Walters, the owner and baker of Gina’s, who bought the place in 2000 is only now retiring. Is there added pressure, opening Luisa there?
MV: What we’re trying to do with Luisa is keep Gina’s legacy alive. Gene Walters is an amazing baker, he’s an amazing pastry chef… We’ll have pies, crowd favorites from Gina’s, and add our layer on top. Middle Eastern and Mediterranean breads and baked goods, things that are kind of hard to find in a 20-mile radius… A bakery with a global twist to it.
TH: Are you worried about spreading yourself too thin, with three operations?
MV: No, I’m not spread too thin. We have new people coming in, we’re creating a really amazing team. We’re keeping a lot of Gina’s people, too. Luis, the baker, he’s been [at Gina’s] for eight years, he’s with us at Marcel now during the transition. Leo was [at Gina’s] for 15 years. It is hard, though. As a chef, what I’m trying to do is to oversee everything and put my two cents in when I actually can be in the kitchen.
TH: Are you at all concerned three Middle Eastern/Moroccan-inflected fast-casual concepts in one town will overlap too much?
MV: No, we want to have one aspect in each [restaurant] that doesn’t exist in the other. I’m not competing with myself in that way. And Montclair is big enough. I noticed last year, there are really two markets here. Something good on this end of town doesn’t mean there can’t be something good on that end of town.
TH: How is the town reacting? Is there a lot of emotional feedback? Pressure?
MV: It’s a good pressure. “Emotional feedback” is the right way to put it. It’s really nice that you feel the love from Montclair…our customers are family. Extended family giving a lot of love and support. They’re still a little bit confused, but things are maybe gonna get clearer and clearer.
TH: If all goes well, 2019 should see you running three Montclair spots, in one format or another?
MV: Hope so. It should be a big year for business.
MishMish Cafe, and whatever it morphs into, is located at 215 Glenridge Avenue in Montclair and will continue serving grab-and-go lunch from 11 am to 4 pm. They’ll also do “private events catering, couple wine dinners during the night,” according to Vaknin. 973-337-5648
Marcel Bakery & Kitchen is located at 631 ½ Valley Road in Upper Montclair. 973-842-4088
Luisa Bakery & Café is slated to open in May at 110 Walnut Street in Montclair.Click here to leave a comment