A youth-run restaurant? Visions of my junior high school Home Economics class come to mind. You almost feel like you’re doing a good deed – “for the kids” – by patronizing such an establishment. In reality, you’d be doing yourself a favor if you go to Café Blue Moose.
Café Blue Moose was started four years ago by Skylar Bird, a bright, creative, home-schooled teenager who was interested in cooking and wanted some place to do it. So, start a once a week supper club in your parents’ converted mill home, right? That’s what fifteen-year-old Skylar did with his friend, Pat Rogers.
With a staff of only four – including Skylar – all aged fourteen to twenty, Café Blue Moose produces locally sourced, three-course, French-inspired gourmet meals every Saturday evening for 20-25 diners in Skylar’s home in Doylestown, all for $25 per person. Skill skeptical? Here’s the menu from a meal we enjoyed last winter at Café Blue Moose: for starters, a choice of a seasonal salad with romaine lettuce, baby greens, blood orange, Valencia orange, ruby grapefruit, candied hazelnuts, red onions and a citrus balsamic vinaigrette, or a gingered sweet potato soup with local apple raita (Indian yogurt dish). For the entrée we were offered a braised chicken vindaloo over yogurt mashed potato with roasted cauliflower, or farfalle pasta with bacon, curried apples, carmelized onions and yogurt cream. Dessert? Eggnog cheesecake with cinnamon tuile, or Café Blue Moose’s signature dessert, Moosetracks, a creamy chocolate cake.
The French and Indian influences come directly from Skylar’s culinary training over the past two years. After graduating from college in 2009, he attended Jacque Pepin’s French Culinary Institute in Manhattan from the fall of 2009 through the spring of 2010, and completed a eight-month internship at the restaurant Tabla in New York following the program. The latter served American food with an Indian influence and gave Skylar experience as a prep and line cook, as well as helping him learn the subtle use of spices and balance that are an integral part of Indian cooking.
In a small home kitchen, behind a curtain, the nineteen-year-old Skylar accomplishes all this with his young staff of three – one to wait tables, one to do salads and appetizers, and one to plate and wash dishes. The dining room is cozy and warm, filled with charming accents and decorations. You know that it’s all been converted from a home to a “restaurant” for the evening, but somehow you don’t feel you are intruding on someone’s personal space. It could just as easily be a funky café in New Hope.
Which is what it will be soon. Much to many people’s delight (Café Blue Moose has a 90% customer return rate), the cafe will be opening as a full-time restaurant in New Hope this November. It will still be youth-run, with a goal of being open Wednesdays through Sundays, and accommodating 25-30 diners inside and 20 on the patio. “I want to keep the charm but make it as ‘fine dining’ as possible,” says Skylar. Seasonal, local sourcing is a big part of his philosophy as well. Skylar gets beef, poultry and some vegetables from None Such Farm Market in Buckingham. Other vegetables come from local farmers’ markets.
Why a youth-run restaurant? “This area’s not good for youth activities,” complains Skylar, referring to the problems some local municipalities have had with teenage loitering. “I wanted it to be something fun, while balancing learning and delivering quality,” he says. For most of the staff it is their first job and Skylar seems to understand the challenges of training and managing young workers. He looks for a good work ethic. “Experience isn’t as necessary; I want someone who is willing to learn and is motivated.” And he’s committed to using teenage employees which is why the New Hope location pleases him. “They’ll be able to walk there from the high school.”
The café will be holding a farewell party at the Doylestown location on October 28th, 7 – 9 pm. To attend, call 215-794-3254 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The new Café Blue Moose will open this November at 9 West Mechanic Street in New Hope. Watch their website at www.CafeBlueMoose.com for information.
This article was originally published in the Fall 2011 issue of Bucks Life magazine.
Update 12/28/2011: Café Blue Moose is now open in New Hope.