Cravings opens in style on Halsey Street, with help from Rutgers and the Profeta Foundation

Friday, November 12, 2010

Marisa Blackwell realized a personal dream Friday with the opening of Cravings, a gourmet catering, eat-in and take-out spot in downtown Newark. Funded in part by the Rutgers Business School’s Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development (CUEED) and The Profeta Urban Investment Foundation, the new business moves the city another step forward in its efforts to create a thriving commercial and residential area adjacent to Newark’s university community.

Under an outdoor tent decorated for Halloween, over 100 guests enjoyed a full buffet dinner, sipped Blackwell’s signature curried eggplant soup and nibbled on chicken teriyaki dumplings to celebrate the grand opening, the culmination of two years’ hard work by Blackwell, her business partner and staff.
“It’s been a very challenging experience, but I wouldn’t change anything,” Blackwell told the crowd.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Rutgers-Newark Chancellor Steven Diner, Rutgers Executive MBA Director Farrokh Langdana, CUEED Director dt ogilvie, Paul V. Profeta, CEO of Paul V. Profeta & Associates and his CFO Steve Coleman were on hand to applaud Blackwell’s accomplishment and present her with a check for $155,400, from the Profeta Urban Investment Foundation.

From left, Jordan and Olivia Blackwell, Harold Heath, Marisa Blackwell, Paul Profeta, dt ogilvie, Farrokh Langdana and Newark Dep. Mayor Stefan Pryor.

Profeta, who started the Foundation in an effort to make Newark a “24/7” city, heaped praise on Blackwell and her work ethic. “That’s one courageous lady,” he told the crowd Friday. “She’s put it all on the line. She works 20 hours a day and she deserves everything she’s going to get from this.”

The partnership between CUEED at Rutgers Business School and The Profeta Urban Investment Foundation provides funding, resources, and business expertise in an effort to attract minority-owned businesses and entrepreneurs such as Blackwell to Halsey Street. The partnership’s aim is to create “destinations” that will make people want to visit, return and ultimately live in Newark, said CUEED Director dt ogilvie. (sic)

dt ogilvie and Paul Profeta present Marisa Blackwell $155,400 check to help launch business.

Blackwell was a perfect fit for that vision, ogilvie said. “She is now on the frontier of where we’re going.”

Newark Mayor Booker thanked Blackwell for investing in the city. “This is just such an extraordinary contribution to what I believe is one of the most critical streets in our city,” Booker said. “So much energy is going into making this street a success, making this street a reflection of where Newark is going. And today is yet another amazing jewel in the crown that is Halsey Street.”

Newark Mayor Cory Booker enjoys one of Blackwell's delicacies.

Blackwell, a South Orange resident and mother of two, has a culinary resume that includes managing food services on the VIP floor at New York Presbyterian Hospital and Windows on the Hudson, a fine dining restaurant and banquet hall in Dobbs Ferry, NY. She has catered events for the Rutgers Executive MBA (EMBA) program for several years. 


Rutgers EMBA connection

Farrokh Langdana, the director of the Rutgers EMBA Program, was one of the people who encouraged Blackwell to open her own business. “The real recovery in this country is going to come from the Marisas of this nation,” Langdana said, noting how Blackwell starts cooking at 3:30 in the morning for his program. “This has been a labor of love for Marisa.”

The partnership between CUEED, the University, the City of Newark and private investors is the first of its kind in the nation to incubate small and mid-sized minority businesses in urban areas. The idea was first hatched by Profeta in 2007. He convinced Michael Cooper, Dean of Rutgers Business School, to form CUEED, which he funded in order to get it off the ground. Entrepreneurs apply to CUEED for capital to launch, grow, or expand their businesses. Students in the MBA program review applications, suggest which ones to fund to Profeta’s Foundation and then mentor the businesses, offering cutting edge analysis and advice to enhance the prospect of success.

This is exactly the kind of community engagement a university should be involved in, said Rutgers-Newark Chancellor Steve Diner while congratulating Blackwell on the opening Friday. Ultimately, he said, “It’s just going to make the university that much greater to be in a vibrant, 24/7 downtown.”

Cravings is the fourth business born out of this collaborative effort. The Coffee Cave and Porta Print Publishing, both on Halsey Street are the first two. The third is Raise Hope Capital at One Washington Street, a financial services firm founded by people with disabilities.

Profeta, who was raised in Maplewood but spent his childhood in Newark, has funneled $1 million of his own money into the Profeta Urban Investment Foundation to provide capital resources through the CUEED project. Blackwell received an interest-free loan to help her launch Cravings. It is payable over a five year period.

Blackwell said Profeta had not only supported her through the foundation, but also provided her with friendship, support, advice and guidance for two years.

“Who says there are no knights in shining armor?” Blackwell said, choking back tears of gratitude. “I only hope one day that I, or my children, or my children’s children, are in a position to do for someone what you have done for me.”

Cravings will be open for breakfast and lunch. The daily menu will include freshly prepared gourmet soups, salads, sandwiches and cookies. It will also serve fresh brewed gourmet teas, coffees, lattes and cappuccinos.

Cravings also caters seminars, business meetings, cocktail parties, conferences, weddings and other special events. For informal gatherings, it can provide gourmet lunch boxes and snacks and beverages for early morning and late afternoon coffee breaks. Blackwell’s menu will feature international cuisine, using fresh ingredients selected from markets and specialty stores around the region. In addition to making food from scratch, she places a special emphasis on presenting the food artfully.

- Pam Goldstein

TAGS: Cravings Restaurant Halsey Street Profeta Urban Investment Foundation The Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development