Almost a year-and-a-half after turning off his lava lamp lights at his village restaurant for the last time, Joel Scheinzeit has returned to Ridgewood in a variety of ways.
An owner of Joel's Malibu Cafe on Oak Street for 13 years, Scheinzeit closed up shop in December 2008 due to financial woes. The critically acclaimed and nationally recognized eatery was well known for its colorful and diverse food offerings. But managing a restaurant—particularly in the worst economic climate since the Great Depression—took a mental and physical toll on its proprietor.
"Sometimes I think back on it, and I wonder how I did it. I worked there every day and night," Scheinzeit says now of his former 80-hour-a-week gig. "There's no quality of life."
The Hawthorne resident traveled and exiled himself from food and Ridgewood. However, he soon discovered he couldn't stay away from either for long, and returned transformed.
Today, Scheinzeit isn't looking to open a new Ridgewood restaurant. Instead, his new passion lies in catering, teaching, and preparing frozen foods. His triple-threat of passions allows him to cook, but on his own terms, and nullifies the thankless kitchen hours.
"My restaurant was a ministry God gave me to reach people," he says of his former eatery. "I needed a restructuring, and now it's on different terms—my terms—but I still can give back."
Two village entities have enabled the reborn restaurateur—Ridgewood Culinary Studio and Super Cellars. The former provides him the kitchen and the latter a venue to distribute his exotic selections.
A food refugee himself, former Cheese Shop owner and now cheese guru at Super Cellars Rick Breitstein originally suggested that Scheinzeit package his recipes into frozen food delicacies. With Super Cellars owner Patrick Gray's encouragement, Scheinzeit reintroduced his fusion foods back to the villagers' palates.
Residents can buy his "Coconut Curry Peanut Chicken," "Hawaiian Pork Tenderloin," or "Fettuccini in Silly Sauce with Shrimp" from the cheese shop section of Super Cellars.
He also credits Nanci Gregory and Jo Marie Quinn from the Ridgewood Culinary Studio for their help in his second Ridgewood incarnation.
"Working with the girls at the Ridgewood Culinary Studio has been so amazing. They do a lot of wonderful things for the town," he says.
As he lives in a small apartment, Scheinzeit realized the limits of cooking large quantities for catering and packaging jobs. However, the studio opened up its professional kitchen for his use.
Additionally, Scheinzeit is teaching adult and child courses at the Chestnut Street kitchen. After returning from an extended West Coast stay, Scheinzeit first taught at the Wyckoff Community School before starting at the culinary studio.
"I get excited and stimulated to share information with people. And my students are a lot of former customers... They seem to be stimulated by what I'm doing, and I get stimulated when they ask questions. It's just so exciting," he says.
Although plans aren't officially finalized, Scheinzeit is also in talks to start a cooking class for autistic children in Verona.
"I hope I can make a difference and grab their attention. Anything to help them understand simple cooking" would go a long way, he says.
To pay the bills, Scheinzeit primarily relies on catering and says he's thrilled by his new opportunity.
Chatting outside his former restaurant (now Grape Leaves), Scheinzeit finally seems at peace. He lounges across two chairs and talks to a few familiar faces who pass by.
"I thought about leaving for good, but I have so many great contacts here," he says before stretching. "I've adjusted to the new pace."