Charissa Lanza always had a passion for baking, but set off for art school before she could turn her passion into a career. After her family bought a historic piece of property in West Milford in 2003, her father worked hard to turn it into something special.
The Vreeland Store dates back to the late 1800s, where it served as a general store and post office to the local community. Its rustic feel and beautiful architecture still stands tall, only now you can enjoy a delicious meal there instead of getting your groceries and mail. When Vreeland re-opened as a cafe in 2013, Lanza launched the bakery, which she currently runs with her mother.
“One of my favorite things is when the older people come in and they’re so excited to see the place because they were here when they were a kid,” says Lanza. “It’s so awesome.”
We caught up with Lanza to discuss the Vreeland Store’s history, her exquisite handmade holiday pies, and what her favorite about working out of a historic building are.
TH: What sparked an interest in opening a restaurant at Vreeland?
CL: My dad bought the property in 2003 and had always wanted to put a restaurant here. I had worked in food service since I was 16…serving food for years and I had just gotten out of art school. My dad asked if we wanted to do it together and I just wanted to take it on. My sister helped open it as well and she was running the kitchen in the beginning. We all love food and we cook a lot.
TH: How have you been doing this year?
CL: It’s been very hard and there’s been a lot of challenges. It made us learn a lot about where we make money and where we don’t. It helped us cut a lot of stuff out. Switching over to takeout was a huge jump for us.
TH: You usually do a lot of events around this time of year. Can you tell me a little about those?
CL: Usually it’s Thursday or Saturday night that we’ll host live music. My mom does all the bookings. We’ve also been doing some outdoor events, like all day events on Saturday and Sunday. We had started with our Harvest Festival that we do every year. We made it two days so we didn’t get an onslaught of people at once and it worked out nicely. For the past couple weeks we’ve been doing a couple of things like that, where we have vendors in the back and live music.
TH: You have a delicious menu—especially your baked goods. Tell me about your pies and pastries.
CL: I started the bakery myself. We started with a bakery and a kitchen because I wanted it to be like a cafe and also a restaurant. I always enjoyed making pies and anything I liked. We have a couple bakers, two young girls that work with me. They’re both in high school. They like to have fun too with a lot of the cupcakes and with some of the fun ideas we try to mix it up a little bit here and there. For macarons, we really make what we feel like that week. I also try to make the colors go with the season.
TH: I guess that could be where part of your art background comes in.
CL: I am very particular about color and stuff like that. We always do vanilla and we normally will do a raspberry vanilla but I [recently] ran out of raspberry jelly that I use for the raspberry flavor. So we made a cranberry using our cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving dinner.
TH: Did you ever see yourself being part of the restaurant scene after going to art school?
CL: Baking has always been a passion of mine, I used to bake like a thousand Christmas cookies every year and give them to my family. I did a lot of setup photography and would bake things and then take pictures of them when they were first made. I really enjoyed taking pictures of baked goods.
TH: What kind of seasonal pies and desserts are you doing for the holidays?
CL: We have apple pie and an apple cranberry pie with an oatmeal almond crumb that is always a Thanksgiving favorite. Then we do your classic pumpkin pie, a pecan pie, a Key lime, and chocolate mousse. We have a menu up for Thanksgiving now and we won’t post the Christmas one until after Thanksgiving is over. We’ll most likely do the same pies for Christmas. We like to try to see what went well and how we can adapt to certain things.
TH: Tell me a little more about your Thanksgiving menu.
CL: We’re doing sides so you can get half sides by the half tray and we’re doing roast turkey breast. We’re also offering individual plates, for groups of two and four that want a meal.
TH: How many pies do you typically sell around the holidays?
CL: In the past we have always limited it because they’re all handmade and put in glass dishes. I think last year I did around 60. We charge a $10 deposit for the dish but you get that back if you bring the dish back, or you can just use the $10 toward your meal.
TH: Do you use any local ingredients in your pies?
CL: We get eggs from Hazelman Farms right up the street. I try to get local when I can. We know a couple small farms in the area, but it’s more in the summer where we’ll incorporate whatever they have available.
TH: Do you have a favorite Thanksgiving meal or dish that you do?
CL: Laurie in the kitchen makes the best turkey breast. When it first comes out of the oven, I always run to the kitchen when she’s slicing it and I’ll take some of the end pieces. She makes it so moist and there’s so much flavor in it.
TH: The perks of being the boss!
CL: Definitely. Quality control is definitely one of the perks.
TH: Do you have a favorite experience from being at the Vreeland Store these past seven years?
CL: Just having people from West Milford come in and talk about Relda Vreeland [part of the family of original owners]. She was a woman before her time and she never married. She was a postmaster, she sold insurance, fought for the women’s right to vote, was one of the first women in New Jersey to get her driver’s license. She’s like our mascot. She was a pretty awesome woman.
The Vreeland Store is located at 1383 Macopin Road in West Milford. Open Thursday 11 am-8 pm, Friday and Saturday 9 am-8 pm, and Sunday 9 am-3 pm. Check out the full Thanksgiving menu online and look out for the Christmas menu in the coming weeks. Call 973-874-0860, email [email protected], or check out their Instagram page for additional information.Click here to leave a comment