Creating with food; transforming interiors in Montclair (Robin’s Nest)
The colorful and pretty facade of La Fontaine Cafe, 12 North Willow St., caught my eye, but I hadn't yet stopped in there to learn more about the business and its owner, Pinar Fazlioglu.
She was born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey, and lived there until she was 24 years old. Pinar spoke Turkish, but wanted to learn how to speak fluent English.
She decided to come to the United States and worked as an au pair in Massachusetts. “It was such a small town, it just had just one traffic light,” she said. “I worked with diverse families and learned so much about the cultures and customs in China, India and Russia. I even worked with a Turkish family.”
However, she found it difficult to learn as much English as she wanted to while working, and ended up going to school to study the language. Pinar decided that she had to move to a larger and more urban town and made her way to New Jersey. She lives in West New York with her parents and Bade, her sweet 2-year-old Jack Russell terrier.
Since La Fontaine opened in October 2021, Pinar's been working six days a week running the business, cooking and serving customers. She has help come in on the weekends when it's very busy, but otherwise has at least a 12-hour day there, plus the commute back and forth to her home.
Pinar loves Paris and all things French, and the interior décor reminds one of a Parisian cafe. La Fontaine means “the fountain” in French. Her design school study is evident in the motif and bright colors she chose, especially the botanical print she had custom-made to hang behind the counter, reminiscent of the style of the 17th-century artist Jean de La Fontaine.
The cafe has a separate coffee and tea menu, which includes drip coffee, espresso, cappuccino, matcha green tea and spiced chai latte.
Some iced drinks to savor and cool down with are the iced hot chocolate and iced mocha. You know how I much I love my coffee, and I can say that the hot oat milk latte she made for me was one of the best I've ever had.
She is an intuitive cook who likes creating something unique, such as the Mediterranean Avocado Toast made with Turkish white cheese and special spices. Pinar told me how she came up with her recipe, saying, “You can have avocado toast anywhere, but not like the one here. I make it on whole wheat toast, add greens, tomatoes, green olives, avocado mixed with Turkish white cheese, topped with a poached egg and sprinkled with sesame seeds and other spices.” Gluten-free sandwiches are also available.
Another menu item is Creme de Marron chestnut crepes. Creme de Marron is a candied sweetened chestnut puree, which Pinar imports from Clement Faugier. She described the puree as “like Nutella for French people.”
With her busy schedule, I asked Pinar what she does on Monday, her day off, when the cafe is closed. “I don't really have a day off, since I'm always shopping for the cafe,” she said. “But I enjoy going to Fisherman's Cove on the Jersey Shore whenever I can. Even though I'm cooking all the time at work, I don't like to order out for food, and make special Turkish soups and dishes for myself, which I sometimes offer to my customers. I post alerts on social media to let them know about surprise menu items.”
Stop by to say hello to Pinar and enjoy a quick coffee, a nice meal, fresh-baked spanakopita (spinach pie) or a crunchy bagel-like Turkish simit.
Going from a woman who creates with food, I went on to interview a woman who transforms and creates interiors for homes and businesses, decorative artisan Ariana Hoffman.
She has spent virtually her whole life – more than 45 years – in Montclair and comes from an artistic family. Her father is a doctor who enjoys woodworking as a hobby and taught her how to use tools at an early age. Ariana's mother was a seamstress, who made her own clothes and was a gifted watercolor artist.
“I was always very artistic from a young age and did hand sewing and made beaded jewelry,” Ariana said. “I wanted to be an artist and applied to a lot of art programs. My father thought it would be a good idea for me to get a degree, which would help me get a job. So I went to Syracuse University and earned a bachelor of science in speech communication.”
Wanting to pursue a career in the décor and design world, Ariana studied with furniture designer Jay Sanders to learn the faux bois or fake wood technique, which is an artistic imitation of wood grains in various media. We're staying tres Francais here, with this technique going back to the Renaissance era as trompe l'oeil, or fool the eye.
These skills are evident in her hand-painted floors, where she makes up a template from an idea, design, color or pattern shown to her by her clients. “I create special designs, textures and finishes for furniture, walls, floors and ceilings,” Ariana said. “I can do concept rooms that have a certain vibe. I offer a service for someone who has the need for something special, beautiful, functional and lasting.”
Ariana has worked in my home, creating a large hand-painted mural on one of my living room walls, with branches and cherry blossoms spanning the space. As a surprise for me, she painted a robin near the far corner of the mural, which makes me smile every time I see it. I've added more color to the walls, and asked her for tips on what's popular now.
Ready for the list? Here goes:
- Metallic finishes in silver, taupe, gold and antique bronze
- Faux animal print skins on walls
- Dimensional plaster
- Ombre finishes on painted walls
- “Quiet or zen spaces” in home or corporate offices, where one can take breaks, relax and enjoy the beauty in art, stones and crystals
- Hand-painted floors
- Antique brick wall treatments
Although Ariana is busy around the clock with commissions big and small, she gets to go down the shore to work, along with trips to the Hamptons and as far away as Florida. In her infrequent down time, Ariana said, “I like to travel frequently when my schedule allows, taking what I call girl trips with friends. For September of this year, I booked a trip to Greece, and will spend 10 days there, and another week on the island of Crete. I've been to Iceland and Italy, and want to go to England soon. If I wasn't doing the work I do now, I'd be a travel photographer.”
Inspiration and beauty is all around us, expressed through culinary and artistic endeavors. If you don't care to cook or decorate on your own, Pinar and Ariana are here in town to help you out.
In this article:
- La Fontaine Cafe
12 North Willow St
- Ariana Hoffman
Robin Woods is a local girl about town, writing about activities, stores, restaurants and interesting people that catch her eye. She's written memoirs and personal essays, as well as music and fashion columns for various New York City newspapers. Her writing awards include the Shirley Chisholm Award for Journalism and the Director's Award for Essex County Legacies Essay contest.