Restaurant owner Santiago Orosco has always taken a hands-on approach to running Under the Moon Café, his restaurant in Bordentown, NJ. The food is a unique combination of rich comfort food and South American flair with fresh ingredients, rich sauces, and enormous desserts hand made by his mother Estella.
Santiago believes that the surroundings in a restaurant are just as important as the food in creating an environment where people feel at home, where they want to linger a little, sit back or lean in, and get comfortable.
In his Bordentown restaurant, Santiago created a decidedly warm, homey, vintage vibe. Where the wood pallet boards covering the walls are the backdrop for a collection of vintage radios, dishes, photos, suitcases, and silver platters. Where everything from the tables and chairs, to the plates, wine glasses, and pepper shakers are a mismatched collection of everything your mother or grandmother once owned.
One day not long after he purchased his second location in Lambertville, NJ Santi dropped by our shop, sat down, and chatted with us about his vision. This new location would be heavily influenced by his background growing up in Argentina. He told us that his vision was to create the feeling of old Brazil, or Cuba, or San Juan. This new restaurant is small, so he wanted it to feel warm, intimate and cozy. He wanted it to feel like a place where families, couples, and friends have been gathering for generations to relax, to celebrate, to linger deep in conversation, and to fall in love. He wanted it to be colorful, comfortable, and aged to perfection.
It All Started with that Ceiling
About once a week, Santiago would stop into our shop to buy Chalk Paint® by Annie Sloan. Over the course of a couple of months, he created a personal collection of just about every color in the Annie Sloan palette. Santi explained to us that he would be installing a new ceiling in the restaurant but before the installation, he wanted to apply the paint. So, he spent weeks hand painting 151 brand new 20” x 20” embossed plastic ceiling tiles until each one was a unique, colorful, hand painted work of art.
Then Came the Floor
When Santiago’s paint buying slowed down, we knew he was nearing completion on the ceiling. Soon, he was coming into the shop for Annie Sloan’s Soft Wax. The restaurant needed a new floor, so he purchased new, unused pallet boards, sanded each one smooth, then applied Annie Sloan’s Dark and Black waxes to add dimension, depth, and age.
Finally, it was Time to Think About the Walls
One afternoon Santi stopped in and instead of looking for paint or wax, he was looking for ideas. For the walls of his restaurant, he wanted color, but not bright color…he wanted it to look deep and rich. Santi explained that he wanted the color to be layered, and textured, and deepened with aged. He and Paul looked through the piles of samples boards we keep in our shop until one caught Santi’s eye.
Paul explained the process then took out a large piece of plywood and demonstrated for Santi how the finish was created while I wrote down the step-by-step instructions.
Santiago left with his supplies, instructions, and his sample board. A few days later he called Paul in a panic. Santi said that he finished painting the base coat and started applying the random colors and he panicked, afraid that he wasn’t doing it right. He searched for his sample board only to find that one of the contractors working in the restaurant had thrown it out!
Santiago asked if we would be able to stop by reassure him, and provide him with a new sample.
Paul offered something else – how about the two of us join him in the restaurant and between the three of us, it’ll make the job a little less overwhelming.
Santi took Paul up on our offer.
Over the course of three days Paul, Santiago and I painted, scraped, waxed and buffed the walls of Under the Moon Café. The days were filled with work and music, meals and laughter, deep conversation and visits from friends and family.
Santiago had achieved his vision, and the restaurant wasn’t even open yet.
Annie Sloan, Clayre Saxon, and a Pair of Coincidences
On a whim, many months after Under the Moon opened in Lambertville, NJ, I shared a few blurry photos of the restaurant on the private Facebook group of Annie Sloan stockists. Annie saw my post and asked if I could get better quality images as she was interested in featuring it in the next issue of The Colourist bookazine.
I reached out to Santiago to ask if he had any professional photos that he could share. He explained that coincidentally just a few days earlier a professional photographer named Clayre Saxon happened to stop into the restaurant for a late lunch and asked permission to take some photos. He told me the photos are beautiful and they were posted on Clayre's Instagram.
Clayre's photos were indeed beautiful.
Clayre kindly agreed to allow Annie Sloan use of her photos. During our text conversation Clayre (a Brit, like Annie) mentioned yet another coincidence – as it turns out she is connected to Annie as they share a mutual acquaintance.
Every day that goes by in this life we've created, Paul and have the opportunity to meet amazingly talented people, share experiences, and realize that the world isn't that big after all.
Johanna and Paul
I love new beginnings.
I love opportunities.
I love a clean slate, a chance to do something differently.
January 1st is my favorite day of the year...the start of any new season…my birthday…heck, even trash day. Out with the old and in with the new. A chance to start over, to begin something new.
At the start of this year, Paul and I launched a new venture. It came about because of our store customers.
Every day is a joyride with us…ya just never know where we’ll end up.
This Monday was no exception.
After a long weekend in the store that ended with a really fun Image Transfer Workshop (thank you ladies for sharing that time with us) we did a little office work and then took a ride into Manhattan to join a couple dozen other stockists from the northeast.
The trip wasn’t unplanned, but it was short notice and it felt impulsive.
We arrived early. Imagine, no traffic on a Monday afternoon. So we strolled around Times Square, popped in and out of stores and finally moved onto our designated meeting place, the French Bistro Pigalle NYC.
This trip wasn’t just about meeting the other Annie Sloan stockists, however. The big draw was that we would have a chance to meet up with Annie Sloan. Yup, the one and only - for tea and cake (she is a Brit, after all).
But let’s back up to the ride in.
As we were tooling along the NJ turnpike Johanna says… What if she’s horrible? Or mean? Or just plain...unlikeable?
Hmmmm… never thought of that. What will we do? Just smile and sell her brand?
Thankfully, that was not the case at ALL!
Annie Sloan in person is lovely, and funny and one of the most likable people you could ever meet (what a relief) and we were so happy to have a chance to sit and chat for a bit with her.
Since it was our first encounter, Annie came right over and plopped herself down next to (actually, almost on top of) Johanna and asked “Should I know you?” We laughed, “No,” we said, “we’ve never met before” and we introduced ourselves. Before Johanna could get her last name out, Annie completed it and said “We’ve exchanged emails, haven't we?” She remembered us, “And your shop is Soldier…some numbers.”
Annie asked questions about our business and we exchanged some insights into our experience with her brand, small business and it’s challenges, as did she.
“Small business is unpredictable” she said “but you keep doing what you love, don't you?”
We feel lucky to be a part of Annie Sloan’s extended business family. She truly does care about each individual shop, each individual person. And most of all, she is committed to small business. Annie made it very clear that she would never sell out to the big box stores and she said that she often she makes business decisions now based on what she thinks Willow (her only grandchild – who is 2 years old) would want when she runs the business in the future.
Who knows what tomorrow will bring, but we do know we will wake up raring to go...and doing what we love.
Thanks for reading!
We're Paul and Johanna and we write about our life in the furniture business. The things we love, the places we go, and the treasures we find along the way.