A new welcome at the Centreville CafeJun 29, 2022 12:27PM ● By Tricia Hoadley
On the same day last year, Centreville resident Les Tronzo and real estate broker Ian Bunch separately suggested that Elizabeth Moro buy the Centreville Cafe.
Yes, Moro knew it: her brokerage office at Brandywine Fine Properties Sotheby’s International Realty is just 500 feet away. No, her LinkedIn bio lists no restaurant experience.
But the cafe meshes with her upbringing as one of 12 children and philosophies expressed in “The Civil Graces Project,” her 2020 book about sharing good food and ideas and building community.
“We need to make space for everyone at the table,” she said in an interview from the cafe. “Food is one of the things that connects us. It’s part of our heritage. Maybe we can rehumanize each other when we gather. You can’t be at war with each other when you’re sitting at the same table.”
So Moro bought it. She took over the cafe and Montrachet Fine Foods, its catering operation, on Nov. 1, and it’s a good thing she rethought the décor in such a homey way, filled with family treasures and items from bygone eras that she and her husband, Vince Moro, have collected.
That’s because she’s devoting a lot of time there. On one pressured evening before Christmas she stayed working until 2:30 in the morning – and then returned after just an hourlong nap. “We spent so much time here that we wanted it to feel at home,” she said. For customers, too.
‘The Civil Graces Project’
Tronzo, a longtime friend of Vince, made his suggestion when Moro stopped by his garage sale. Moro had recently made news running for Congress in Pennsylvania, a campaign that she dishearteningly ended because of redistricting. “She has so much energy, so much get-go,” he said. “She loves people, and she needed to have some forward motion. So I just threw the idea at her.”
Moro’s life at the time was far from empty. She was working a real estate broker and on Chadds Peak Farm, her historic home in Chadds Ford, helped by Vince’s ownership of a firm specializing in renovating older homes. (That’s a side gig: his day job is managing intellectual property in electronics.) Both have entrepreneurial backgrounds passed down from through their families.
She and Vince had also recently started a community organization on their 12-acre farm called the Little Barn of Big Ideas. “We wanted to create a space where people can come together and brainstorm about the big ideas in our community and how we can use our talents, build resources and make a positive impact in areas where we are passionate,” she wrote in “The Civil Graces Project.”
The gatherings build on a lifetime of advocacy and activism, plus her college degree and five years of work in public policy. They also build on one of Vince’s creations: Brandywine in White, a pop-up dinner party backing local causes and land preservation. They met at Brandywine in White in 2015.
Her book delineates 20 “uniting principles that uplift us and bring us together to pursue the common ground and make a more perfect union,” she wrote in the first chapter.
“You cannot drain the swamp; you can only find a way to redirect the water to be a resource. You cannot solve others’ problems until they are ready to accept your help,” she concluded. “We are not divided; we are diverse. It is this diversity that gives us all the options to find the solutions to the questions we are asking.”
New on the menu
At the cafe, Moro is collaboratively leading her staff of 11 to many goals, along with ensuring “it’s a fun place to work, for people who love food and people who love people.”
The cafe and catering menus are being rethought. The chalked menu board is losing many odd names, although some retain their significance, such as the Lucy (an omelette) for her mother, the Eddy (a breakfast sandwich) for her father and the Beau (a grilled chicken salad) for Beau Biden.
Both she and Vince create in the kitchen. She said her signature dishes are the brie soup (a chicken stock, with varying additions) and the Metro sandwich (brie and prosciutto on a baguette, arugula and cornichons optional). During the interview, she said several times that she wants to encourage customers to make requests. One request has already become a standard: French press coffee.
She has applied for a liquor license for the Centreville Cafe, and she hopes to host dinners pairing food and wine, and those initiatives build on Vince’s work at Collier’s of Centreville. In January, Linda Collier helped celebrate a wine dinner at the cafe.
She’s emphasizing local suppliers, gourmet items and what Vince calls “a world marketplace” (such as baguettes, butter, cheese, croissants and jam from France). She’s also making room for nostalgic food, like the “penny candy” recalling her Michigan childhood. “Everything has a story,” she said.
Local suppliers include the Delaware Nature Society’s Coverdale Farm for greens; D&W Microgreens of Kennett Square for what Moro calls culinary “confetti”; Phillips Mushroom Farms of Kennett Square and Dawn’s Kennett Square Mushrooms; Hy-Point Dairy of Brandywine Hundred and Woodside Farm Creamery of Hockessin; Baba’s Brew of Phoenixville for kombucha; Claudio Specialty Foods of Philadelphia for Italian imports; and La Colombe Coffee Roaster of Philadelphia for coffee. Moro believes that smaller suppliers are more responsive to cafe’needs, particularly as Covid-19 and other issues have frayed the global supply chain.
Since it was erected almost 200 years ago, the building has been a home, a tavern, an inn, a garden center and a fashion boutique. A historic designation limits some ideas, but Vince would like to square off the L-shaped 2,900-square-foot structure in the back of the half-acre lot to expand operations.
A custom table – by Ann Joyce of Springhouse Furnishings, out of old Chester County barn wood – dominates the main dining room. All told, she figures they can seat 80 indoors and outdoors.
Behind the scenes, Moro has been working to update the building’s infrastructure. She has created a meeting space upstairs but has no places to host live entertainment. The upstairs tenants – Body Ease Therapy and Ooh La La Makeup Studio – are remaining.
Eventually (and admittedly “that would freak people out”) the business will get a single name – Centreville Place – that evokes the newish philosophy of the “third place” for community building and social gatherings. “There’s so much potential,” she said. “It’s a fun place to be. It’s not like work.”