Teri Tyson has always had a love for food.
Growing up in Lancaster County, Pa., Teri’s family had a strong appreciation for the art of food, especially with an abundance of fresh foods from local farmers markets. So, opening a restaurant with a lunch and dinner menu full of homemade healthy foods was a no-brainer.
The Eatery, located at 447 Springfield Ave. in The Strand mall, opened its doors in late October 2012 (that’s right — just before Superstorm Sandy hit), featuring seasonal American cuisine.
“My lunch menu is really focused on my salads. I want to be known as the salad place. I’m keeping a very flexible menu, focusing on the salads at lunch, and the dinners I’m doing all rotate each week,” Teri said. “I email out my menu each Monday for that coming week and I intend to change the menu often.”
And Teri is staying true to her restaurant’s motto, “Make Life Easy,” by taking phone orders for take-home dinners from on-the-go residents, with curbside pick-up to boot.
“There’s plenty of pasta, pizza and sushi [in Summit], but I really wanted to do home-cooked dinners for people who are just busy, getting off the train, or coming home from work, or home with their kids,” Teri said. “I do curbside so you can pull up on Woodland Avenue and we’ll bring it right out to you.”
A few of Teri’s recipes come from her family, such as her dad’s spinach salad with warm bacon dressing, while others were cultivated through her culinary experiences.
Residents can really feel good about eating at The Eatery, as the entire menu, which also includes a variety of sides, sweets, sliders and soups, is made from scratch. While her meats come from Green Village Packing in Chatham and her seafood comes from ArChar Seafood in Toms River, Teri buys the freshest produce she can find from New York City.
“Everything is homemade from scratch and that’s probably what differentiates me the most because that is a dying art,” Teri says. “Everything that I make, I make from scratch — all of my salad dressings, all of my soup stocks, everything. That’s why I’m keeping a fairly limited menu.”
While Teri always had a passion for cooking, this wasn’t her first career.
Teri moved to Summit 20 years ago when she began her successful career in finance on Wall Street and raised two daughters, Samantha and Katie Watson. Most recently, Teri was the Head of Investor Relations at AIG, where she worked through the financial crisis and the company’s demise.
“I had a very, very stressful job there. I was dealing with investors of a company that was near bankruptcy overnight and it was awful. I was getting death threats. They were checking my mail for anthrax. It was awful. Never could I have imagined being in a position like that,” Teri explained. “I didn’t want to have that life for the rest of my life. My daughter was leaving for college and I thought, ‘if I don’t stop now and do what I want to do, it’ll never happen.’”
And with that, Teri left AIG in 2010 to pursue her passion. She attended the Institute of Culinary Education in New York for one year, developing her business plan for The Eatery and learning how to be a French trained chef. After she graduated, Teri worked in the test kitchen at Good Housekeeping Magazine, worked at every charity event she could, including the New York City Food and Wine Festival, Taste for Home at Rockefeller Center, and a Lobster Roll charity event, and assisted a number of famous chefs in New York, including Bobby Flay, Michael Psilakis, Ben Ford (Harrison Ford’s son) and Ming Tsai.
“So I really did earn my strips. I don’t have a whole career. I haven’t cooked since I was young, but I had the good fortune of having a career that allowed me to finance a business like this, which is not easy, and I immersed myself in it for a year and a half while I was building this space out and while I was at school,” Tyson explained. “I just got as much experience as I could while I was looking for space. I found this space in April, and I spent from April until November building it out, building a commercial kitchen and building the space into the plan I had made.”
Teri said she had the good fortune to find space available in The Strand mall, and the opportunity to work the property owner's team in building out the space and making her vision come to life.
“When I met the people who leased me this space, it was just such a perfect match and there was no doubt this is where I wanted to be,” Teri said. “Looking back then, I’m not even sure I realized how lucky I really was. They helped me build out the space I had planned and supported me in so many ways. I can't thank them enough for making my dream a reality.”
Teri’s team features seven community members, consisting of several front-end employees, an assistant cook, and lead cook.
Leslie Machinist, Teri’s lead cook, has 35 years of experience as a personal chef and working for a large catering firm to the stars in New York City. Teri said they met while Leslie was working in the butchering department at ShopRite.
“She really didn’t want to go to work in New York anymore and she’s about my age,” Teri said. “I was looking for meat and asking her questions. It was 7:30 in the morning and I was so lucky because it turned out that she was just sort of working there until she found something where she could go back to cooking again. We started talking, I was asking her questions and told her what I was doing, and we’ve been together since the start.”
Teri said she was fortunate and proud to have her 18-year-old daughter, Samantha Watson, at her side since the opening of The Eatery. Teri said Samantha, a graduate of Summit High School, has been instrumental in marketing the business, managing the front of house and training new employees.
“I don’t know what I would have done without her. She’s meant so much to me through this whole thing,” Teri said. “We’ve had a really good time. It’s almost like opening a family business because she was here with me.”
Samantha, who began attending Rider University last month as a freshman and is now majoring in communications, said she is very proud of her mom for opening her business.
“We’re really proud about everything that we do. We’ve been trying to put out a lot of fresh, homemade food. We work really well together,” Samantha said. “A lot of people ask me, ‘oh, do you guys fight all the time because you’re working together?’ No, we spend all of our time together. She’s like my best friend.”
Samantha said her mom always cooked for her at home, but Teri’s cooking was really refined at culinary school.
“From the very beginning, it took a while to get everything together. For two years, she researched everything she wanted to do. It’s been nice for me to help her,” Samantha said. “I’m going to miss this very much because it’s been a good step for me to be in charge of things. And it’s my mom’s lifeblood at this point. She’s so proud of it and I’ll miss it.”
But college won’t stop Samantha from working at The Eatery, as she plans to come home on the weekends and in the summer.
Teri’s 20-year-old daughter, Katie Watson, is also a graduate of Summit High School and was recruited by the University of Texas in Austin to run on the Track & Field team. Katie is now a sophomore, majoring in government and minoring in Spanish and Chinese.
Just two days before Superstorm Sandy swept through the area, Teri opened The Eatery to the Summit community.
“I had no power at my house for 10 days, but we didn’t lose power here so I opened the door and we did the best we could and the place was packed. People had their power strips, charging their devices. It was, in a weird way, a great way to open because people were so thankful we could be open. It was chaotic, but it worked. It was trial by fire. We did what we could and people were understanding because they’d rather be anywhere but home.”
Throughout the past three months, Teri said she’s received very good feedback from customers, many of whom heard about The Eatery by word of mouth.
“I have regulars that come every week for my dinners. There’s one woman who comes every day. What’s encouraging is not only do I have the regulars, I have a lot of new people coming in and I ask everyone how they heard about me, and most of them say from someone else in Summit, and I think that’s wonderful,” Teri said. “It’s been really heartwarming — the reception I’ve gotten from people, the customers, the people in this building, and I’m so happy that I live here and I’m part of that.”
Going forward, Teri said she hopes to offer catering, delivery and special brunches, host private events, and even set up tables outside in The Strand mall in the warmer weather.
“There’s a lot I can do, but one step at a time.”
Location: 447 Springfield Ave. in Summit, NJ (on the second floor of The Strand mall.)
Hours: Monday - Thursday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Friday - Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Contact information: (908) 273-0049, firstname.lastname@example.org