Opening a restaurant is not for the faint of heart, something Jim Nawn knows only too well.
Nawn is the owner of Agricola Eatery, which is slated to open at the former Lahiere’s Restaurant on Witherspoon Street in Princeton in early 2013.
He purchased Great Road Farm in Skillman, signed a long-term lease for one of the most recognized commercial spaces downtown, and will hire about 50 employees for a full service farm-to-table restaurant.
“There’s a lot of excitement and I’m very pleased about it, but I’m also anxious, because we’ve got to deliver,” Nawn said. “We’re at center stage, and when we put the lights on, we’ve got to perform.
“I think there’s a healthy level of fear that should exist in any great performer," he said. "That fear is a standard that we want to achieve. And that keeps us confident but working hard."
Nawn is no stranger to restaurant enterprises. He is the former owner and operator of 37 Panera Bread franchises in north Jersey.
After divesting of his Panera operations in 2010, he and his family moved to Great Road Farm. He hired Steve Tomlinson and Sam Joseph to help run the farm. With one successful growing season under his belt and much of Agricola’s food expected to come from the farm, Nawn signed a long-term lease on the restaurant space and hired Executive Chef Josh Thomsen.
“I think we’ll be as good as we deserve to be,” Nawn said of Agricola’s prospects. “There are enough people in Princeton to come in and make a restaurant successful. The Momos, Jack Morrison, and some of the single unit operators, they prove that.
“It is a big risk, it’s not an inexpensive space,” he said. “But it’s a space that’s special and that has a liquor license that transfers which is important for what I want to do, but honestly it is a big bet."
But don’t let Nawn fool you- he’s put a lot of effort into preparation. Already a businessman and a manager, he completed an eight-month program at the Institute of Culinary Education and a six-week residency in the kitchen of Veritas in New York City.
He hopes Agricola will become a community gathering place much as Lahiere’s was for generations of locals and visitors alike.
He believes the restaurant’s success will be due to the partnerships he’s created with Tomlinson, Joseph and Thomsen.
“My calculations are that this can be successful, but without these guys and without this space and without Josh (Thomsen), it’s just a dream.”
Nawn said Agricola’s food must be tasty, affordable and served in an inviting and comfortable environment with excellent service.
“When you operate from a place of procedure, you get a different output than when you operate from a place of passion," Nawn said. "And I can only tell you that what I think we’re going to put on the table will be a product of a collective commitment and compassion in each of our roles.
“We are committed to doing things that drive great taste,” he said.