Agricola is the Latin word for farmer. It’s also the name for the new Princeton restaurant with the farm to table focus that will replace the historic Lahiere’s restaurant on Witherspoon Street.
The restaurant is the creation of Jim Nawn, managing member of the Fenwick Hospitality Group, which operates Panera Bread franchises throughout New Jersey.
Nawn said the warmth and hospitality of Lahiere’s left a deep impression on him, and in the spirit of the previous tenant, he has worked to create a restaurant where first-time guests feel like beloved regulars.
““Agricola is the culmination of my journey to create a warm and welcoming gathering place that celebrates fresh, seasonal foods and the kind of extraordinary service that can accommodate the needs of the Princeton community,” Nawn said.
The project has been a passion for Nawn ever since the opening of his Great Road Farm. In collaboration with other local providers, the farm will provide the restaurant with a steady supply of seasonal ingredients for its rustic American cuisine.
The Great Road Farm is located on 112 acres of preserved farmland in Skillman and is run by farmer Steven Tomlinson. The farm uses growing methods that focus on sustainability, and produces 120 varieties of vegetables. Chickens are raised for eggs. And apple and paw paw trees have also been planted. The farm already supplies vegetables to the restaurant Sprig & Vine in New Hope and often sells items at the Montgomery Farmers’ Market on Saturdays.
To prepare for the restaurant’s debut, Nawn completed an 8-month program at the Institute of Culinary Education and a 6-week residency in the kitchen of Veritas, a Michelin-starred restaurant in New York City known for its famous wine list and contemporary American menu.
“I spent my time absorbing as much as I could while chopping vegetables and doing whatever menial task the chef told me to do,” Nawn said. “It was
incredibly humbling — that was part of the challenge, after all — but I was also able to study how world-class restaurants operate on the ground floor. The many firsthand observations I was able to make have combined to shape my vision for Agricola.”
The executive chef for Agricola is New Jersey native Josh Thomsen, named a “Rising Star Chef” in the San Francisco Bay area by StarChefs in 2010. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in New York, Thomsen has worked with some of the most prominent chefs in the country, starting his career at the Hotel Bel-Air, Pinot Bistro & Patina in Southern California. He has also worked at French Laundry in Napa Valley, Mansion at the MGM Grand Hotel and Nobhill Tavern in Las Vegas, The Lodge at Pebble Beach, the Claremont Resort and Spa in Berkeley, and he was the chef de cuisine at Tao restaurant.
Agricola is slated to open in the late fall. With 200 seats, the renovated space at 11 Witherspoon Street will provide daily open
dining, private events for up to sixty people, and a lively bar Nawn says will be capable of entertaining guests from morning brunch through last call.
When Agricola opens, dinner will be served seven days a week. Shortly thereafter, the restaurant will add lunch to the menu, served on weekdays, as well as brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. Private events and catering are also on the horizon.
Lahiere’s, a Princeton landmark that served French cuisine, closed in November of 2010 after 91 years. The restaurant served famous people from Albert Einstein to Bob Hope to the King of Jordan.
Investment group ML Seven, which is led by Jeff Siegel, purchased the building for $4.6 million, according to property records. The company also owns some buildings on South Tulane Street in downtown Princeton, including the buildings that house the Princeton Record Exchange and the successful Japanese restaurant Moc Moc.
Nawn has hired the architecture and interiors firm Seed Design to create warm and inviting spaces at Agricola. Construction on the interior will begin this month.
“This project has been a labor of love. Old buildings require that, plus a whole lot of patience,” he said. “The community has witnessed the extent of the renovation firsthand…When Agricola opens, guests will be amazed at how distinct each room’s personality will be — from friendly and intimate to open and festive.”