Name a landmark event in David Halpern’s life, and it’s a safe bet that Allan Janoff’s family was somehow involved. His brother’s Bar Mitzvah back in 1960? Catered by Janoff’s grandfather and father. The naming parties for Halpern’s grandchildren, his son’s engagement party, countless business events? The list goes on and on.
Halpern’s sentiments about the Janoffs’ Crystal Plaza are summed up by a simple mathematical formula: the number of soirées that Halpern and his family have hosted over the past ten years—fifteen is a conservative estimate—multiplied by the number of their guests who’ve been served by the Janoff family. “All those parties, and not once has anyone ever complained about the food or the service or anything,” says Halpern, a Woodbridge businessman.
That three generations of Halperns have turned to three generations of Janoffs to oversee the most significant events in their lives is a testimonial to the way the Crystal Plaza, which operates out of the Livingston mansion designed and built by fabled architect Stanford White, has done business since 1917.
World War I was still being fought the year Max and Anna Janoff set up shop as Alpine Caterers on Clinton Street in Newark. One Great Depression, second world war, landing of men on the moon, and the dawn of the Internet later, the Janoffs are still at it, squeezing Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, dinner dances, retirement parties, and business meetings into a schedule that already includes as many as 350 weddings and wedding receptions every year.
Allan Janoff had barely started school when the family genes kicked in. “When I was a kid no more than eight years old, I used to sit on the couch and listen to my dad and grandfather discuss business. I always wanted to be a caterer,” Janoff recalls. At the age of twelve, he signed his first contract.
It didn’t hurt that Janoff considered his late father, Harold, his best friend—“Period. End of sentence,” he says. His best friend passed along his own father’s lessons, not only about delivering high-quality service at a reasonable price, but also the secret to developing and maintaining a professional relationship with what might be the most demanding client in the world: the American bride. “It’s important that they know that we feel [their wedding] is important,” he says.
Today the guests at Stanford White’s “old-world elegance” mansion dine under massive chandeliers—hence, Crystal Plaza—on food prepared in two kitchens (one kosher) by a professional cookery and waitstaff that includes at least one employee who dates back to Max Janoff’s era.
It’s not just brides who get first-class treatment. It’s pretty well known around Livingston, Halpern says, that Janoff has dropped his prices, but not his level of service, for charities or individuals who can’t afford the Crystal Plaza’s customary fees.
To Janoff, the family business extends beyond his partnership with his sister, Ronni, and their mother, Dorothy, to the general manager who has been with the firm for 22 years, the administrative assistant who’s been on the payroll for 23 years, and the countless chefs, waiters, and maintenance workers who are also “double-digit-year” employees.
Long after he’d mastered the art of putting together a first-class social affair, Allan Janoff posed a question to his father that goes to the heart of the family’s business. “I asked him why he let me make so many mistakes,” he says, “and he told me it was because it would be less expensive now than to make the same mistake fifteen or twenty years in the future.”
Janoff’s children, ages nine, thirteen, and fifteen, have all expressed interest in keeping the tradition alive. Should they follow through, the errors of their own ways will perhaps provide the lessons that guide the family business in its next generation.
AUNT BERTA’S KITCHEN
Alberta Ferebee is the first to admit that a town with a population that’s barely 1 percent African-American is an unlikely locale for a restaurant that offers up rib platters, okra, collard greens, and grits. But in the nearly eight years since Ferebee and her extended family opened the business in a former seafood restaurant on White Horse Pike, Aunt Berta’s Kitchen has become a Haddon Township—and South Jersey—institution.
The catering business that Ferebee started in 1998 fulfilled the dream of its owner and met the exhortations of friends and family, who for years had urged her to share her trademark macaroni and cheese, sweet potato, and smoked turkey wing recipes with a larger audience. Not that Ferebee’s culinary talents were limited to her immediate circle. Over the years, thousands of people ate her food in hospitals and corporate dining rooms, but her talents often were constrained by the requirements of the job.
It was back surgery, of all things, that enabled Ferebee, who holds a degree in home economics from Glassboro State College (now Rowan University), to walk away from institutional kitchens. In 1997, unable to work as a cook while she recuperated, she enrolled in a seven-week class that encouraged women to strike out on their own as entrepreneurs. She must have been paying attention; by January 1998, Ferebee was in the catering business for herself—if not exactly by herself.
There are family-run businesses, and then there is Aunt Berta’s Kitchen. Depending on the day, you might find as many as eight family members, from Ferebee’s 16-year-old great-niece to her 76-year-old mother, working in the kitchen, behind the counter, waiting tables, or performing whatever tasks are required to keep the clientele coming back for more. Ferebee, who grew up in Sicklerville, today lives behind her restaurant. And from the moment she opened Aunt Berta’s as a catering operation—the restaurant space was added in 2001—there’s never been any question about who’s in charge. “She always had a bossy personality,” laughs Ferebee’s older sister, Sarah Johnson. Although Ferebee does not disagree—“I’m the owner, and so I have the final say,” she says—she credits a higher authority for her restaurant’s success. “I believe it is nothing more than the grace of God,” she says.
Faith runs through Aunt Berta’s Kitchen like the flavor through her smoked turkey wings, the house specialty (seasoned with rosemary, garlic, and oregano, they’re baked and served with Ferebee’s wing sauce). Ferebee likes to say that she’s “feeding the human soul and feeding soul food,” although at Aunt Berta’s, those endeavors seem to go hand in hand. “Give a glass of water to someone in need, and you give it to God,” she says, paraphrasing a favorite Bible verse.
As a lay minister with the Acts of the Apostles Pentecostal Church in Philadelphia, she helps the city’s needy—some of them homeless, some drug-dependent, most of them women—pointing them toward work and school opportunities. Her outreach into vocational programs at nearby Riverfront State Prison has brought at least four parolees to Aunt Berta’s kitchen, where they served apprenticeships leading to permanent jobs elsewhere. And her work with the culinary arts program at Camden High School has resulted in Ferebee’s providing several young men and women with their first job. One student from last year’s program remains on the payroll, working behind the counter. Another young man, described by Ferebee as “a person with special needs,” arrives at the restaurant each evening to empty the trash, clean the bathroom, and perform other jobs. His wages are an hour’s pay and a meal. “That way I know he has had something to eat,” Ferebee says.
As one of the judges for the Family Business of the Year Awards wrote of Aunt Berta’s, “No hungry person is turned away from the door simply for a lack of funds.” Paying and non-paying customers alike are treated to, as the restaurant’s slogan says, homestyle cooking at Its best. As she prepares her recipes, Ferebee likes to keep the health of her customers in mind—not a trait always associated with soul-food cooks. She cuts back on the salt and uses smoked turkey as an alternative to the more traditional flavoring agent, pork fat.
On a visit in mid-September, the hum of anticipation at Aunt Berta’s is palpable. The salad days of summer are almost over, and the cold-weather months, the season for stick-to-the-ribs delicacies, are about to begin. Pass the pigs feet and the chitterlings. And praise the Lord.
Steve Giegerich is a freelance writer and an adjunct professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
Businesses With Revenue Above $10 Million
Drill Construction Company
West Orange–based Drill Construction, run by the grandchildren of founder Max Drill, employs six family members in a workforce of twenty. President Jonathan Drill believes the key to the company’s success is its ability to meet clients’ expectations, a philosophy that has earned it contracts for firms such as General Motors and Penske Corporation. The secret to keeping employees happy? “The staff is treated as family,” Drill says, and they even enjoy free lunch every day. Members of the Drill family have long been active in nonprofit and charitable causes; Jonathan is currently vice president of the board of New Jersey Y Camps. —Kristin McKeon Nieto
In 1958, a year after leaving Egypt, Jacques Cohenca founded Jason Industrial, which makes and sells industrial products. Later his son Philip helped expand the Fairfield-based company’s sales efforts from Europe to South America and Asia. Philip’s mother, Emy Cohenca, and his sister, Nevine Cohenca Michaan, serve on the board of directors. “I’m most proud of our personnel,” says Philip, who’s now the president and CEO. “We have low turnover—people like working here and that gets communicated to the customer.” The company donates to the Jacques and Emy Cohenca Charitable Foundation, which each year helps sponsor two graduate students at New York Weill Cornell Medical Center. —K.M.N.
Floyd Delaney joined Air Con in 1948, a year after its founding, and soon became a full partner. Today the second and third generations of Delaneys run Air Con—in all, four family members work for the company—one of the state’s leading mechanical contractors. The Mountainside company installs heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems for large-scale building projects. “My father worked hard until he was 80 years old, and he formed great relationships with contractors as well as the people who worked for us,” says Floyd Delaney’s son Douglas, the company secretary. “He really gave us a running start before we took over.” Air Con has supported kidney-disease research and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, and in 2001 Air Con employees donated their Christmas bonuses to the family of a firefighter who died on 9/11. —K.M.N.
Cinelli Iron & Metal Company
Joe Cinelli founded Cinelli Iron & Metal Company in Hackensack in 1975 with one employee and a pickup truck. By 1986 Cinelli was working six days a week, and his wife, Maureen, would bring their four kids to visit him at job sites. Today Cinelli’s 50 employees include two of his children and three other family members. “Joe knows everyone by name,” says chief financial officer David Barteck. “To be able to keep that family feel in a business that has grown so tremendously is pretty amazing.” The company has supported organizations from the local Little League to Hackensack University Medical Center. —K.M.N.
Flemington Department store
Step inside the 100,000-square-foot Flemington Department Store, and it’s hard to believe that it began as a small clothing shop founded by Jacob and Sara Resnick in a former chicken coop in nearby Quakertown in 1956. Today the business is run by their sons, Carl, Ted, and Martin, who sell, besides clothing and shoes, furniture, flooring, carpet, home accessories, and much more. “We have an old-fashioned department store,” Carl Resnick says. “We’re proud of being in business for almost 50 years. We really are living the American Dream.” The family has donated to the Boy Scouts of America and various medical causes. —K.M.N.
“What makes us special is not only the services we provide, but that we care way too much,” says Susan Greenbaum Gross, president and director of marketing at Greenbaum Interiors. Gross’s father, Jimmy Greenbaum, and his brother Alvin founded the Paterson-based home furnishings and design firm in 1952. Jimmy and his wife, Ellen, are still active in the business, which employs more than 100. “We have clients that we’ve done six homes for—and now we’re doing their children’s homes,” Gross says. The family gives to the Paterson Education Foundation, Mary Help of Christians Academy in Paterson, and Morristown Memorial Hospital.
Viking Yacht Company
Brothers Bob and Bill Healey started Viking Yacht Company in New Gretna in 1964 and built it into one of the world’s leading makers of sport-fishing yachts. “Boating is a family-oriented activity,” says company spokesman Peter Frederiksen. “That’s inherent in what we do.” At least twelve local families have sent successive generations to work at Viking, which employs 1,300 people. The company created the International Education Foundation, which provides scholarships to needy students. Last year the company received the George Bailey Award from the Press of Atlantic City in recognition of its commitment to community service. —K.M.N.
Businesses With Revenue Up to $10 Million
Robert Berry always knew he wanted to work for himself, and when the opportunity arose in 1973, he borrowed $5,000 and took the plunge. His company, R&J Control, which sells and services emergency generator and welding equipment, now grosses $2 million in annual sales, although Berry hasn’t forgotten the lean times, when dinner often meant macaroni and cheese over hot dogs. Today he’s joined in his venture by his sons—and the company’s namesakes—Robert Jr. and Jeffrey. Based in Dover, R&J Control sp
nsors fund drives for local police and fire departments and contributes to youth sports leagues. —Christopher Hann
As a businessman, Tom Cioffe has owned a jewelry store and still owns a healthcare publishing firm, but he took his first steps as a budding capitalist with a paper route at the age of eight. In 1997 Cioffe’s entrepreneurial streak led him, with his wife, Rosanne, his sister, Kathryn, her husband, Stuart Yannalfo, and his cousin, Matthew Kirnan, to start a business that would manage human-resource operations for other businesses. Today, CompSolutions PEO, based in Oakland, oversees human resources for more than 250 companies with 7,500 employees, 85 percent of them in New Jersey. Each year the company’s scholarship fund benefits three children of workers whose firms are served by Compensation Solutions. —C.H.
Cooper Pest Solutions
At Lawrenceville-based Cooper Pest Solutions, every transaction is designed to achieve what the company calls a “wow moment.” Begun 50 years ago by Theodore Cooper, the pest-control company, which serves homes and businesses in Central and North Jersey, today employs 54 people and generates annual revenue of $4 million. Cooper’s two sons now run the show. Richard is vice president and technical director, and Phillip is president; their mother, Sybil, is described as “Director of Stuff.” Among the company’s charitable endeavors is a 150-mile, two-day bicycle ride that benefits the Multiple Sclerosis Society. —C.H.
Jordan Baris Inc. Realtors
In 1952, Jordan Baris, newly graduated from the City College of New York, started a real estate company in Newark. More than a half-century later, Baris and his wife, Marjorie, are still at it, and their son, Ken, is the company’s president. Based in West Orange, Jordan Baris Realtors, now with 210 employees, brokers residential and commercial real estate transactions for buyers, sellers, tenants, landlords, and developers throughout North Jersey. The company has supported the Oskar Schindler Performing Arts Center and Saint Barnabas Hospital. —C.H.
Keil Heating and Air Conditioning
The story of Keil Heating and Air Conditioning is one of perseverance and adaptability. Founded in 1908 in Union City as Henry Keil & Sons, the company delivered ice for iceboxes and coal for heat. Around 1952, with coal use declining, the Keil family went into the oil business. Thirty years later, their focus shifted again, this time to heating and air-conditioning. Today the firm is run by Barbara Keil, the president, and her husband, vice president Milt Baum. Keil Heating and Air Conditioning supports the Police Athletic League and the Valerie Fund, which helps children with cancer. —C.H.
NAI James E. Hanson Inc.
This year NAI James E. Hanson celebrates its 50th anniversary of managing and developing commercial and industrial real estate. In 2004 alone, the Hackensack-based company assisted on roughly 200 real estate projects, 180 of them in New Jersey. Chairman of the board Peter O. Hanson, a former Air Force pilot and the founder’s son, joined the firm in 1959. His son, William C.H.nson, the firm’s president, has run day-to-day operations since the mid-1990s. The company has donated to the Boy Scouts of America, the Salvation Army, and Hackensack University Medical Center. —C.H.
The thirteenth annual Family Business of the Year Awards honor outstanding family-owned enterprises in New Jersey. Companies that enter the contest are asked how family values influence them, what separates them from the competition, and how they serve the community through charity and philanthropy. Winners were chosen by an esteemed panel for their uniqueness, their successful transition of power from generation to generation, and their ability to balance business acumen with civic spirit.
Article from November, 2005 Issue.