LIVINGSTON, NJ - This week, The Alternative Press (TAP) of Livingston sat down with Allan Janoff, who owns The Crystal Plaza, located at 305 West Northfield Road (973-992-8100) to learn more about him and his business as part of a new member benefit being provided by The Livingston Area Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with TAP Livingston.
Q: Explain the history of The Crystal Plaza.
A: The original building of The Crystal Plaza was constructed in the 1890's as a private home by a prominent New England architect. In the 1920's the fieldstone mansion was purchased by the Norelli family, who began renovations for a family residence. In 1931, the mansion was sold for $7100 and renovated, and eventually became the site of the Condor Restaurant from 1942 to 1964. From 1964 to 1965 it was called the Golden Harp Restaurant.
The family business dates from 1917 when our grandfather established Alpine Caterers on Clinton Avenue in Newark. In the mid-1950's Alpine Caterers moved to Springfield Avenue in Maplewood. My family purchased the Livingston building in 1965 and renamed it The Crystal Plaza because of its crystal chandeliers and beautiful glasswork.
Over the past three decades The Crystal Plaza has hosted thousands of wedding and Bar/Bat mitzvah receptions, meetings, parties for some of the area's most prominent residents, and political gatherings attended by several New Jersey governors, United States senators, and other important figures.
Q: Who in your family in involved with you in running The Crystal Plaza?
A: The historic building is now run by me, Allan Janoff and my sister Ronni Janoff Weinstein. Our father Harold was in the business before us. We are the third generation of the Janoff family to be involved in the catering business.
I often tell people who I meet that my grandfather dealt with their grandfather, my father dealt with their father, and that their children will work with my children to plan events at The Crystal Plaza.
In May, my son Max, 21, a graduate of Hobart College with a degree in business will be joining us here to help run the facility. My other two children Hunter, 24, who works in the hospitality field in NY and Nicole, 18, who attends Maryland University, also plan to join me in the family business one day.
I am excited to have my children come join me at the Crystal Plaza, but have told them not to come unless they love this business and are passionate about it. I want them to love working here as much as I do.
Max is definitely coming here with that kind of passion—he has worked here in vacations and during the summers, without being asked. He has done it because he loves it here.
I love coming into work each day and seeing who is calling back that I spoke to previously. And I want my children to feel like that when they join me here.
My wife Debbie Janoff is very involved in our philanthropic efforts.
My sister Cherie, though not involved here, is married to Barry Herman of Barry Herman Entertainment. So, she is involved in the event planning industry too.
Q: What is the atmosphere like at The Crystal Plaza?
A: Known for hosting only one affair at a time, we offer a private and personalized experience in a beautifully restored turn-of-the-century mansion. Renowned for its cuisine, European service and ambiance, The Crystal Plaza has become a popular and exclusive setting for social, organizational and corporate affairs. The mansion's sparkling crystal chandeliers, Juliet Balcony, well-appointed dining room, open-air-terrace, picturesque gardens, chapel, bridal suite and priceless antique collection combine to create an atmosphere of refined elegance and sophistication.
Q: What is different about The Crystal Plaza now?
A: We used to only hold Kosher events, but 18 years ago, we added another kitchen. Now we do non-Kosher events and offer Kosher and Glatt Kosher events too. We also do parties and events for people of all ethnicities and lifestyles. We hold all kinds of wedding showcases and will be holding a same-sex event showcase soon. This is a very welcoming place.
Q: What makes The Crystal Plaza unique?
A: Out staff and service. We are successful because most of our staff has been here for double digit years. People often come here asking for specific staff members who they have enjoyed working with in the past. Even our porters and dishwashers have been here for that long. We are a real family here. In fact, our former executive chef, who is now 85 wanted to retire and I wouldn’t let him. Even just having him here for a day or just for a few hours a week is important to us. We have loyal employees and we are loyal to them.
In addition, we have many Ipads located throughout our offices so clients can view photos and menus quickly. We can add and remove photos easily this way. It is much easier and more effective than photo albums. It is very today—and people love it.
Q: Tell us about your chefs and the food.
A: We do all in-house and off-premises catering for all occasions. Paul Fonte, who has been with our family for twelve years, leads a staff of 21 chefs who have all graduated from the Culinary Institute of America.
The cuisine is unparalleled. Award-winning offerings such as: an herb encrusted veal chop, baby rack of New Zealand lamb, pan seared red snapper and a tempting array of desserts such as a painted sampler plate presentation and the sweet delicacies on a Viennese dessert table are all perfectly created.
We are well-known for our baby lamb chops and are now also becoming recognized for our short ribs, which are a new addition to our menu. For fish lovers, adore our black bass in a bowl of Asian broth.
An additional specialty is The Crystal Plaza Raw Bar, overflowing with Fresh Jumbo Tiger Shrimp, Jonah Crab Claws, Little Neck Clams, West Coast Oysters, and Chilled Maine Lobster Tails, all presented amidst outstanding ice sculptures, which are perfectly carved in the shapes of huge seashells and full lobsters.
All The Crystal Plaza food selections are customized to each event. The menu is enormous.
We can do any type of ethnic cuisine. We do our own baking. We make wedding cakes and ceremony cakes. All we need is a photo of a cake, and we can create it.
Our staff is friendly and gracious. A friendly and smiling host, waiter or waitress in any venue can make the party—and at The Crystal Plaza, we pride ourselves on having a stellar staff.
Q: In your opinion, what makes a good event?
A: The entertainment is paramount, as are the space, quality of food and service.
Q: Do you have preferred vendors that you can recommend to clients?
A: Yes, we have a host of great vendors to offer to clients, but we can and will work with anyone they desire, from entertainers, bands, deejays, photographers, and videographers, etc.
Q: What do people say about the Crystal Plaza when they see it for the first time?
A: When they open the ballroom doors, they say, “Wow, this is breathtaking.” Also, people say they really feel comfortable here.
Q: What are your recent renovations?
A: We are doing the final renovations of the interior and are upgrading the Grand Ballroom staircase, which will also have a new exquisite runner. We have also brought back the grandeur of the living room and library original floors, and are doing the same on the Grand Ballroom staircase. Our brides are loving this.
Q: What are the grounds like?
A: Our gardens are perfect for a stroll, for viewing from the ballroom or for outdoor ceremonies.
Q: What do you like about being located in Livingston?
A: Having a Livingston address is elegant. Livingston is associated with quality, so when people come here to plan or attend events, they know they are coming to a quality place.
Q: What are some of the recent philanthropic events you have been involved with?
A: There are so many—but off the top of my head: Livingston’s 200th Anniversary, The American Cancer Society, Susan B. Komen, The American Heart Association, Turning Point, the Crones and Colitis Foundation, the Rachel Coalition, the JESPY House, the Kidney Foundation, The Mental Health Association of Essex County, UJA events, and the Jewish Community House.
Q: If The Crystal Plaza had a theme song, what would it be?
A: “I’m So Happy,” by Pharrell.
Q: What is your favorite play?
A: Ragtime, which many people don’t know, has to do with many locations in The Crystal Plaza.
Q: What is something that people may not know about you, personally?
A: I collect Lionstone Decanters, which are ceramic figures that are filled with liquor. The company only makes so many of a kind and then they break the mold. I have thousands at home and they decorate my office and others at The Crystal Plaza. My father started collecting them 60-70 years ago and I have carried out the tradition. Now they make about 15-20 a year and I get one every time they are made. I also like collecting antiques—they intrigue me.