Journal Square is a Jersey City neighborhood undergoing some of the most visible development, architecturally and economically, in the area. It is also seeing change brought about in another way – through community outreach, and that outreach is coming from an unexpected place.
While the reason businesses gravitate towards Journal Square seems obvious – new development – two sources of community outreach seem to have a different agenda, and it all starts with how landing in JSQ was purely a case of happenstance.
Square 1 Community Eatery at 283 St Pauls Avenue, which is celebrating its first year in business, and Whealth at 615 Pavonia Avenue, a restaurant that opened two months ago, are on different trajectories, but they embody a similar ideal that is so important to note during a time of so much change.
For Whealth’s David Trotta, the opportunity to open in JSQ fell into his lap, and he worked hard to make sure it happened. He had been giving a lecture at an event in the city titled “The Future of Food” when he was approached by someone working on the large Journal Squared development. That’s the one behind the PATH station, which will eventually have three skyscraping components – the first of which opened in March of this year and the second of which had its groundbreaking earlier this month and will be completed in 2020.
The restaurant now occupies a quaint ground level retail space there. It’s a space that Trotta and his crew had the opportunity to custom design to embody the message of their restaurant.
As a local resident, David believes strongly in bringing the community together, both to work and to play, and uses Whealth as the vehicle to drive connections between people. It hosts farm-to-table dinners every Friday night, inviting groups both big and small to come in and enjoy freshly prepared food sourced from local farms (to which David himself drives). One Saturday a month, they host a clean up where people from the neighborhood come to enjoy a cup of coffee with others, and then work to beautify the Journal Square area.
While sitting at Whealth early on a Wednesday morning, speaking with David felt like connecting with an old friend. And that, he said, is the entire point of the place – to connect with other people. Serving food is their business, but bringing people together is their passion. Creating meaningful conversations and connections is what Whealth is all about.
On a similar note, Square 1’s owners are also incredibly community-oriented. It’s owned by Laura, Marty, Mory, and Nick – a unique group of individuals who all bring their own special touch to the place and are involved, in their own ways, in the city itself. Being in Square 1 makes you feel at home because it’s such a cozy, but eclectic, space. The decor doesn’t feel too commercialized and that’s because all four owners played a part in the design. A lesson in inclusion and togetherness — some of Square 1’s most important pillars.
Speaking with Mory Thomas provided some insight into how they ended up opening in this spot specifically. Two of the owners owned the building for a while and weren’t sure what to do with it and eventually approached Mory and Nick about opening up a restaurant. While they knew they were early to the JSQ scene, it was the right time for them and everything managed to fall into place. The building used to house a blue-collar luncheonette/Polish deli called Helen and Joe’s. So, the space has come full circle by providing the community with a warm environment to get a delicious meal.
Through our conversation a different side of Square 1, of which some may not be entirely aware, began to emerge. They have not only created a one-of-a-kind spot for the area on a business level, but they’ve also managed to become activists for the local neighborhood. In an attempt to keep the area cleaner, they’ve provided outdoor trash cans and put in bicycle racks outside their storefront because they noticed it was something that was lacking.
Their most successful achievement has been the installation of a four-way stop sign at their intersection. Accidents were happening often, because cars turn off JFK and barrel down St Pauls, but everyone now has to stop. They noticed a problem happening, something that was affecting the community they made the decision to serve, and used the resources available to them to bring about a solution. Thanks to them, the residents of the neighborhood (pedestrians and drivers alike) are now much safer.
The most compelling part of these two stories is that while they’re independent of each other, they embody such similar positive characteristics. They’re not capitalizing on future development, but bettering their community for the people that call it home today. Journal Square is growing, and will undoubtedly continue to grow, but it’s lucky to have these two establishments in its corner to keep it grounded in its roots.