COLTS NECK, NJ: The town of Colts Neck is often referred to as the 'Jewel of Monmouth County'. When one becomes very acquainted they soon realize that it’s much more than the charm of sprawling farmland and large homes nestled deep on multiple acres of tree lined properties.
It’s a town carefully preserved in more ways than the open wide fields perfect for viewing sunsets. It's more than the uninterrupted landscape, horse farms and parks. There are pockets in the town where you find the grit, the heart and soul of 'the jewel', and it takes you back, to a time when there were the 'regulars' and they welcomed the strangers. One of those pockets is the Colts Neck General Store, built in 1849, a time when they still used tree trunks in basements as support beams to hold up the building. The grit is Mary Ellen Pahira, the 28 year-young owner who puts her heart and soul into preserving human connectivity while delivering delicious home-style cooking served in an atmosphere much like 'going back home' to visit with family.
Colts Neck Mayor JP Bartolomeo, a regular at the General Store comments, "The Colts Neck General Store is the quintessential Colts Neck Business. It's a throwback to yesteryear, feel good food. Everyone knows everyone." The General Store's 'sandwich of the month' on the menu board recently was called "The Mayor's Sandwich," one of Colts Neck's Mayor JP's healthy creations; turkey on whole wheat wrap with egg whites, swiss and avocado.
Meet Mary Ellen: TAPinto Colts Neck sat down with Mary on one of her sofa's in the T.V. nook of her store. From the moment you walk up the front steps onto the painted wood floor of the front porch, and open the door that squeaks and slams shut behind, many realize 'this is different...and familiar'. It can feel like going to visit close family, where you feel comfortable to relax and unwind.
Mary Ellen says, "I grew up in Holmdel, NJ my entire life and I graduated from Holmdel High School in 2008. I started working at Delicious Orchards in Colts Neck, in the bakery while I was in high school and continued working there while I took classes at Brookdale. On our breaks at Delicious Orchards, we would always order food from The General Store, like pork roll egg and cheese, and the food was so good! Then I started going in the store and really enjoyed it because not only was the food great, but the people were the reason that I quickly grew to love the store. I wanted to be a part of it. So one day the owner Glen Asher asked me if I would work there and offered to pay me one dollar more than what I was getting paid at Delicious Orchards, and I took the job in 2009. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made... I fell in love with the town and with this store and I gave it my everything. The cliental was mainly male when I started to work here. I began decorating and asking the owners Glen and his wife Jill, to buy new furniture and paint the walls. I brought in cloth and flowers to decorate. I started to change the look and feel of the store to attract more women and families and the best part of it was that the former owners Glen and Jill supported all of my suggestions and it worked. We started to get more and more families in..."
Mary became a manager of the store, sometimes taking over completely for a couple weeks at a time when the Asher's went on vacation. They entrusted her with everything from ordering the food supplies to day-to-day management. Mary continues, "The Asher's lived in the house attached to the store and when they were away I would stay here and manage everything, and I mean everything; the store, the house, their dogs..."
Mary wanted a 'piece of the pie' and she wasn't shy about it. She expressed her wishes to the owners several times. She had been working at the store about 6 years when one day in 2016, the owner Glen told her that he and his wife were going to sale the store and that they would give her first right to buy if she wanted it, and that she had one year to figure it out... Long story short; A year later in 2017, Mary bought the business from the Asher's...
Something else really amazing and life changing happened in 2017 as well. In a spontaneous Halloween themed wedding held at The General Store, Mary married her fiance Mike of 5 years, a regular at the General Store. Mary Ellen's husband Mike Pahira also grew up in Holmdel, and is an accountant at the firm WithumSmith and Brown.
Mary comments, "I waited on my now husband Mike for two years before we had a conversation and when we finally did talk that was it, we were engaged shortly after. Then at Halloween time of 2017 we said 'let's do it' and we called all of our close friends, told them to dress in costume and show up for the funnest wedding ever and they did. Our ceremony was out back behind the store here, with a lot of pumpkins and fall decor from Brock Farms. After the ceremony Mike and I changed into our Galaxy of the Guardian costumes, I was painted green! We ordered the food from Lavotis, and had one amazing wedding/Halloween party. Then Mike and I a couple weeks ago, in December (2018) tied the knot again, this time at St. Catharine's Church in Holmdel. It's a really great way to start the new year for us. My grandmother kept coming to me in my dreams telling me that I needed to get married in the church. So we made it happen!" Mike comments, "What I love most about Mary is her drive and passion, aside from thinking she's the most gorgeous girl in the world."
Walking into the Colts Neck General Store there is a lot to fill your senses; the aroma of fresh coffee and delicious foods, the various small gift sections with everything from scented candles to local jarred honey, many craft items some made by locals, candies including nostalgic penny candies in jars...but the best part is the down to earth, comfortable country atmosphere that Mary Ellen has created. It's a nod to the days before the electronic gadget distractions, a visit back to when people walked with their head up (not down looking at their phones) to greet and say hello to others. Colts Neck General Store is a place to bring the family, enjoy a meal, maybe play cards or a board game. It's a place many locals regularly gather after sports events, shows, etc. Mary Ellen comments, "Every year around graduation time I get very emotional, I've seen them come in after their sports games, proms, etc and then they are off to college...I can't help getting choked up." What's Mary Ellen's favorite food at the store, "Personally for lunch I love the Chicken Delight sandwich, it's grilled chicken with cole slaw, swiss cheese and bacon all on a delicious roll. I absolutely love it! We have a couple hundred or so people walk in and out every day here. If you haven't been in stop by to meet us and we know you will love it here. Stay tuned for our 2019 plans for movie and comedy nights, ladies nights, and various town events... "
Mary Ellen is a member of the Colts Neck Ladies Auxiliary, a new member of the Historical Preservation and Lions Club. She's been a member of Bridges Out Reach since the time she was a student at Holmdel's W.R. Satz School where she began giving food and clothing to the homeless in NYC, and has continued those efforts for the past 10 years.
The Colts Neck General Store and Deli is located at 171 Country Road 537 West, Colts Neck, NJ 07722. Hours of business are M-F 6am-4pm, Saturday 6am-3pm and Sunday 6am-2pm. Telephone is 732.462.5185. Click here for their website. The General Store offers discounts for military, police and fire.
True confession of TAPinto Colts Neck publisher: "I had the most amazing to-die-for wings at the grand opening of A Country Floral Shoppe, back in October. They were so good that after the grand opening I went immediately to where they told me they came from; The Colts Neck General Store. Truly from the first steps up onto the wooden front porch, and the creaking front door, it brought me back to my days growing up in rural PA, and it's been a delicious love affair ever since... Mary Ellen is the type of person that two minutes into the conversation I said, 'I have to do an article on you...' There's definitely 'something about Mary'..."
all photos are courtesy of Colts Neck General Store.