FRANK AND JEANNE CRETELLA RESCUED THIS HISTORIC ESTATE IN 2012, FULLY RESTORING ITS OLD-WORLD CHARM. TODAY, THE POWER COUPLE IS EXPANDING THE LEGENDARY PROPERTY EVEN FURTHER
BY JESSICA JONES-GORMAN • PHOTOS BY AMESSÉ PHOTOGRAPHY
Somewhere in the gentle hills of Whitehouse Station, occupying a bucolic ten-and-a-half acre parcel of land, is the Ryland Inn, an elegant, 220-year-old equestrian estate with a historic and significant heritage. Charming, refined, and polished, the former four-star dining space has quite a legacy—a dining experience, fabulously formal and French-inspired, that literally put this otherwise sleepy section of New Jersey on the map. Now, after nearly a decade of dormancy, the Ryland is once again full of activity.
“The Ryland has been in existence since 1796,” said Thomas McAteer, the property’s general manager. “At one time it was a stagecoach stop, but as the roads passing here evolved throughout the years, it morphed into a high-end restaurant, garnering most of its fame during the 1990s under the direction of James Beard Award-winning chef Craig Shelton.”
Shuttered in 2007 after a burst water main caused widespread damage and an eventual foreclosure, the sprawling plot and the intimate inn that occupies it was purchased in 2011 by Landmark Hospitality owners Frank and Jeanne Cretella, who made a consistent effort that revived the property’s old-world charm by creating a hospitality program that embraces the Ryland’s history.
“Frank has an incredible eye and saw the potential here,” McAteer said. “As grand as it once was, this property had been vacant for five years, and had suffered much decay. But Frank and Jeanne—who are true artists and visionaries—saw past that and were able to revive its rural elegance.”
The Cretellas gutted the entire structure before restoring centuries-old beams and Gothic windows, among other original features. They added an al fresco dining terrace, new banquettes, and a private party “tasting room,” which features a wide window that enables diners to see into the kitchen. The restaurant reopened in 2012.
“They wanted to make the Ryland stylish but approachable,” McAteer said of the venerable fine-dining destination that now provides customers with gourmet farm-fresh cuisine in an elegant country setting.
They recruited renowned executive chef Chris Albrecht, who uses farm-to-table, local, and sustainable ingredients to design menus full of fresh food and flavors that change according to the season.
“The small artisanal farmers of New Jersey provide us with our meats, while our seafood comes from Barnegat Island,” McAteer said. “We host a series of farmer-to-family dinners that feature the most delicious offerings from the area.”
For the Cretellas, reopening the Ryland was simply an extension of the hospitality empire that they patiently built over many years.
“Our first official business was operating the food and gift shop at the Staten Island Zoo,” Jeanne Cretella noted, tracing her background in the hospitality industry to a smallish food stand in one of that borough’s most popular attractions, where the young couple used to sell hot dogs.
There was also a concession stand in Central Park, not to mention the Boathouse snack bar—where a then-19-year-old Jeanne sold homemade slices of carrot cake and pita sandwiches as a way of differentiating her husband and herself from other more run-of-the-mill food vendors. They were young newlyweds in 1985 when they turned the snack bar into the acclaimed Boathouse Café, the park’s only full-service restaurant. A succession of business opportunities followed in rapid order.
“We progressed from fast food into catering rather quickly after hosting a few special events,” Jeanne Cretella said. “We really loved the excitement and all of the creative options that we concocted for each and every event. We knew we wanted to continue to grow in the special events business, and were fortunate enough to start planning events at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center on Staten Island.”
That was 25 years ago, when Snug Harbor had just been taken over by New York City. The Cretellas were chosen as the venue’s exclusive on-site caterer.
“At that point, the Cultural Center was still in its infancy, and so were we,” Jeanne said. “During that whole process, we really got to spread our wings, because the venue was so different. We hosted a multitude of events, from very small dinners for 20 to 30 people in the Governor’s House to huge outdoor parties for 600 guests at the Neptune Ball. It was a great experience and really gave us a lot of wonderful opportunities.”
Next the Cretellas revived a Brooklyn seafood mecca, Lundy’s. Then, in 1998, they opened American Park at the Battery, at the southern tip of Manhattan. In 2000, the pair acquired an old rusted steel foundation in the middle of the Hudson River near Liberty State Park and turned it into Liberty House, a wedding hotspot known for its expansive views of Lower Manhattan. It was the first of several hospitality businesses to be developed under the umbrella of the couple’s Landmark Hospitality Corporation.
“We’ve kept our roots in special events, but we’ve grown into the restaurant business as well,” Jeanne said. “We are predominantly in New Jersey, operating a number of differently styled restaurants and event venues throughout the state.”
In addition to the Ryland Inn and Liberty House, which opened in 2001, the Cretellas also operate the Stone House at Stirling Ridge, in Warren. They are currently in the midst of expanding Ryland even further.
“We are in the process of finishing another ballroom on the grounds,” McAteer said. “And what was once a barn will become a bridal suite and small hotel.”
When completed, the Ryland’s various buildings will total almost 80,000 square feet—space that is being heralded as a valued addition to New Jersey’s hospitality landscape.
“It has always been important for us to find a venue that is in a great setting, something with great bones,” Jeanne said. “The Ryland Inn has great history and design—exactly what we look for when we scout out a new setting and space.”
And the Cretellas’ success has been self-made. “Neither Frank nor I studied hospitality,” she continued. “I always thought I would have a career in fashion and studied at FIT. And since he was young [the pair met in middle school], Frank has always been an entrepreneur. But that’s one of the great things about the hospitality industry. If you have the passion and drive, really understand and listen to your customers, and surround yourself by a wonderful team, you can achieve great success.”
The Ryland Inn
115 Old Highway 28, Whitehouse Station
908.534.4011 / rylandinnnj.com