For Montclair Local

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. 

Got something you think should be in Robin’s Nest? Write to us at

Always on the lookout for story ideas, I meet interesting people doing unusual things around town. While taking a succulent terrarium-making class on June 13 at the Montclair Library, I chatted with one of my classmates while plotting plant placement. Leonora Brooks is a milliner, also known as a hatter, who designs and makes hats for women in her Montclair home studio. Moving from working in the corporate finance world in New York City with a seasonal side business, she decided to become a full-time hatter in January of 2019. 

After taking millinery classes in New York and at the Newark Museum, Leonora went to France in 2011 to learn about hat blocking and free-form sculpting. Before hats are formed and blocked they are known as hoods. Blocking shapes the hats on a general head form, usually 22 to 22 ½ inches in diameter, which is the average size for a woman’s hat. Sizing does not depend on the material used. Inspired by Chanel couture and accessories from the 1920s and 1930s, Leonora says, “I try to capture glamour into my hats, but want to appeal to today's contemporary working women.” 





Leonora showed me how she makes felt from large pieces of wool torn into tufts. I always thought of felt as just being its own material, but there's more to the story. Layers of wool are put out on a sheet, like scales of a fish. It doesn't matter whether the wool is naturally colored or dyed. A second perpendicular layer goes over the first one, and then very hot water is sprayed over the wool. The fibers finally come together after repeated pressing and draining of excess water. It's a time-consuming process that takes some practice to perfect. 

I admired the summery straw hat that Leonora was wearing as she showed me her designs, and found that it was a wide-brimmed fedora, embellished with a colored-ribbon hat band on the brim and a fanciful tulle bow She hand-sews sweat bands into the inside of each fedora. Leonora likes to add color into her creations, believing that “hats add a dimension to an individual's 360-degree view.” She takes commissions from clients and is now working on her fall and winter production line. It takes between one and three days to make a hat, depending on the design and fabric used. 

Wet wipes are a quick and easy way to keep your straw hat clean. If your hat gets soaked in the rain, gently dry it with a clean cloth and wrap it in acid-free tissue paper. Place it into a hat box filled with cedar balls and shut the lid. Use of cedar balls is important if the hat is made of fur. Your hat should be as good as new in no time, or Leonora will reshape it for you. I had a wonderful time trying on many of her hats, and you can guess which one I decided to commission for myself, after walking around like the peddler from the children's book “Caps For Sale” by Esphyr Slobodkina. 


Michael Gaugler prepares a coffee at Good Plans Cafe. NEIL GRABOWSKY/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL


As a vegetarian for more than 30 years, I've been trying to become more vegan, but it's been difficult for me to find truly vegan food and drink to order in cafes and restaurants. Vegans don't eat butter or cream, eggs, cheese from cows or goats, meat, poultry, lamb, beef, fish, shellfish, gelatin, honey, or white sugar. 

I heard about the opening of Good Plans Cafe, 22 Lackawanna Plaza, and had to stop by and find out what's what. It's entirely vegan, and gluten free. Good Plans Cafe came to be after two married couples, Michael and Patricia Gaugler and Sarah Gaugler and Pablo Peralta, decided to open a coffee and tea cafe in Montclair. “Montclair has a hip, city atmosphere and is a cool place to hang out,” Michael said.

Originally from the Philippines and relocating to the U.S. in 2014 after attending school, the quartet have interesting and varied backgrounds. Michael has a bachelor of science degree in information technology, and is a budding chef in training with Paolo at the cafe. His wife, Patricia, is a social media specialist. Paolo graduated from The Center for Culinary Arts in Manila, and his wife Sarah received a degree in fine arts from the University of Santo Tomas in Manila. She is also a tattoo artist with a business in the Tribeca area of Manhattan.

Sarah's decorated the walls in the cafe with hand-painted floral murals, and she chose the furniture and accessories in the rear lounge area. Customers can relax and work in a quiet environment smelling of incense, with gauzy curtains and Sarah's framed artwork displayed on the walls.

The menu includes hot and brewed coffee, espresso, cafe latte, cafe au lait and herbal teas. Since no dairy products are served here, you can choose from oat milk, coconut milk or almond milk to add to your beverage at no extra charge. Sweeteners are agave or maple syrup. 

If you're hungry, there are plant-based choices such as banana flour waffles, red mushroom pasta, basil cashew empanadas, pesto pasta bowl and a daily special salad. I ordered the pesto bowl, since I love the taste of basil. The pasta is made from the thinnest kelp noodles I've ever seen. It tasted wonderfully fresh, but I was a bit put off by the dark brown color of the dish and its generally mushy consistency. Since fresh-cut basil tends to turn brown after being exposed to air, I suggest that it be blanched before making the pesto.

Sarah said she practices her artistry through food, and likes to give special names to the food they serve, such as The Epic Lunch Bowl special, which includes quinoa, barbecued jackfruit, truffle-laced microgreens and pesto kelp noodles, topped with edible orchids from Thailand. Once assembled, it looks like a colorful bouquet of flowers.

Good Plans Cafe is happy place with a Zen vibe. The recycled paper coffee cup sleeves say, “There is a good plan for us all. It might be today or the next will come,” with a place to check off Have Coffee, I'm Happy, I Love Myself, or Have Fun.

New chapeau and great coffee. Who could ask for anything more?


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