A 120-YEAR-OLD LONG BRANCH WAREHOUSE IS REBORN AS A VIBRANT, MULTI-PURPOSE DESTINATION, BRINGING THE COMMUNITY TOGETHER THROUGH FOOD, CRAFT BEER, AND CREATIVE EXPERIENCES
BY AMANDA MCCOY • PHOTOS BY VIOLET KARYN PHOTOGRAPHY OPENING PORTRAIT BY JESS MAXWELL
Where many might have seen a crumbling warehouse destined for demolition, Preston Casertano saw a mound of potential. Located at the corner of Broadway and Second Avenue in Long Branch, the 120-year-old complex had long sat vacant, a forgotten relic of a different era, but Casertano knew its story was far from over. Today, that complex is the Whitechapel Projects, a large, multi-purpose dining, arts, and entertainment destination buzzing with energy. It’s an urban farm-to-table restaurant, a nano brewery, garden, artist’s showcase, live music and private event venue, and community incubator for everything from pop-up farmers markets and cooking classes to group yoga and silent disco.
Though not a restaurateur by trade, Casertano had spent ample time in London’s Whitechapel District, a former industrial enclave in the East End that, once marked by poverty and destitution (history buffs will remember it was also Jack the Ripper’s stomping grounds), is now a vibrant neighborhood, brimming with urban beer halls, contemporary art museums, street markets, and a world-class culinary scene. The creativity and energy of the neighborhood inspired the Whitechapel Projects, in both spirit and name.
“As soon as you step foot on the property, you can immediately feel its energy,” said Marilyn Schlossbach, a seasoned chef and prolific restaurateur who joined Casertano as partner, executive chef, and head of operations in early 2020. “You feel grounded, which is what I love about a space. There’s so much soul and history here.”
After a meticulous reconstruction process which saw the harvesting of 72,000 bricks, three tons of timber, tin ceilings, doors, and plywood that were then used to reconstruct the courtyard, walls, furniture, bars, et al. the Whitechapel Projects opened its doors in December 2018. The owner knew Schlossbach through her many Asbury Park restaurants (the chef’s hospitality company, the Marilyn Schlossbach Group, operates several restaurants along the Shore, including Langosta Lounge, Pop’s Garage, Asbury Park Yacht Club, among others). He was looking to take this venue to the next level, and she, passionate about community focused ventures, also saw Whitechapel’s unlimited potential.
“Preston and I really took the time to get to know each other and make sure we were sympatico,” said Schlossbach. “He is such a wonderful man, and it felt so good to be able to come on board and help WCP take its next steps.”
Today, there are many facets to WCP. There’s the nano brewery, which was already well established when Schlossbach joined the team. Today, there are two or three proprietary beers on tap along with a rotating list of ten to 12 local ales. Schlossbach activated the bar and brought in an organic, sustainable wine list and seasonal cocktail menu.
The restaurant is a primary element of WCP, which blends the genres of farm to table and gastropub. While the dishes are globally inspired, the ingredients are as local as it gets. The beef is sourced from a meatery down the street, and many of the fruits and herbs are grown in on-site garden beds. As for the mushrooms, which top the fan favorite Hungarian Potato Flatbread, they are grown in a 40-foot container behind the restaurant.
“We are the only certified organic mushroom grower in the state,” explained Schlossbach of her Two River Mushroom Co. “We use a lot of the product on the menu.” The menu moves with the seasons, barring a few mainstays that will never hange (that aforementioned flatbread, for example, isn’t going anywhere). Summer options include sparrow poutine: house fries smothered with savory herb and black garlic glaze, crumbled cheese curd, praline bacon, and chopped spring onion; and beer braised short rib: pretzel crusted and served with aged cheddar mashed potatoes, honey roasted baby carrots, and mustard cream. In addition to pre-sets, there’s also a daily fish selection, vegan dish, and pasta.
While Schlossbach is the lead architect of the menu, she encourages her kitchen staff to collaborate on specials and new menu items. “I love the process of bringing people’s ideas together and fleshing them out as a team,” she said. “Once the menu is set, the staff has free rein to do whatever they want with specials. I want them to be passionate about what they do for a living. It takes a village to run a business, so it’s important for the staff to have a voice.”
WCP also regularly hosts kitchen takeovers, inviting chefs in from the community to feed guests for the night. Every Sunday is BBQ night with Salt & Smoke. Fostering community involvement is a major component of the WCP ethos, noted Schlossbach. The calendar is filled with somewhere between two and six events each week. There’s live music every Friday at 7 p.m. Local yoga studios host group classes in the courtyard, while local vendors gather for pop-up bazaars. The venue has even begun hosting silent disco during the week. Throw weddings, baby showers, engagement parties, and other private events into the mix, and there’s not a slow day on the books. “Personally, what makes me gravitate to a place to do business is the community around it,” said Schlossbach. “No matter what it is, as a business owner, it’s important to immerse yourself in your community and what it means to other businesses. We need to support each other.”
The Whitechapel Projects
15 2nd Avenue, Long Branch / 732.963.9218 / whitechapelprojects.com