Edward Strojan: Fish-and-chip lover, thrill averse
by Suzi Nash
Sep 01, 2011 | 1226 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Historic Haddonfield is a quaint New Jersey town a mere 15 minutes away from Center City. The second-oldest historic district in the state — behind Cape May — it’s a town with grand old houses, the second-oldest continuously operating volunteer fire department and the site where the world’s first nearly complete dinosaur skeleton was discovered in 1858. There’s a lot of history there, but there’s also a bright future. Haddonfield has been chosen by Philadelphia Magazine as one of the best places to live in the Delaware Valley. With more than 200 shops, galleries and restaurants on tree-lined streets, its shopping district has won accolades from The New York Times, Courier-Post and Philadelphia Magazine. Haddonfield is a trendy place with Old World hospitality. Courtesy is the norm, friendliness is common. This week, we spoke to one of the friendly restaurateurs, Edward Strojan, from the British Chip Shop.

PGN: Are you from Haddonfield?

ES: I’m originally from Cherry Hill, and I lived in Philly for a while after college. Then I moved back to South Jersey to open the restaurant. My mom owns the store across the street, the English Gardener Gift Shop. She also works for Brooks Brothers, and my dad has his own company as well.

PGN: So, the entrepreneurial spirit is in the genes.

ES: Yeah, my grandfather also owned his own businesses. He had a number of auto-repair shops and gas stations.

PGN: You guys don’t like working for the man ...

ES: [Laughs.] No! I’ve had too many bad bosses.

PGN: What was the worse job you ever had?

ES: I worked at Express for Men one summer, and it was awful. It was so monotonous. You stood for hours folding clothes, and then hordes of people would wash in and completely destroy the store and then leave, and you’d have to start all over again. It was mindless, and I don’t do well with that. I thrive better with unknown factors.

PGN: What were you like as a kid?

ES: I will say I was a little bit nerdy. I read a lot of books and was pretty studious in school.

PGN: Any siblings?

ES: Two younger sisters. I probably tortured them, but we were still always tight. We still are.

PGN: What was your favorite game?

ES: I did everything from playing with Legos to playing kick the can. I was pretty rambunctious. We spray-painted our street with goal lines and played hockey outside, and we spent a lot of time in the woods.

PGN: How old were you when you came out?

ES: When I was in my senior year of college I realized that it was time to come out. It was a lot of pressure and stress trying to ... not be someone you’re not, but to keep suppressing a big part of your life. It was a huge weight off my shoulders, and then I was like, “Why didn’t I do this sooner?” It went exactly as I hoped it would. I came out to my dad first, and it was easy. Then the rest of the family and friends, there was never a problem.

PGN: What’s your ancestry?

ES: My family is Italian, my mother’s family is southern and my dad’s family is from Trieste, which is northern, right near the border of Croatia.

PGN: So how did a nice Italian boy end up owning a British chip shop?

ES: I actually get a lot of flack from that. [Laughs.] My grandfather keeps trying to sneak biscotti into the bakery case, and he doesn’t understand why I won’t let him do it! My stepdad’s British, and he and my mom opened the store across the street about four years ago. When this location presented itself, he pitched the idea of doing a fish and chips shop, and I thought he was totally nuts. I thought there was no market for it. But he encouraged me to do a little research, and we went to New York and tried a few up there. And I realized that it was not that there was no market but that the market was untapped. There’s an Italian restaurant on every corner, but this was something different. I went to London for research, and we’ve been open for over a year now. I’m sure there’s an Italian restaurant in my future someday, but not just yet.

PGN: What was your favorite part of London, other than trying out restaurants?

ES: Well, I’d been to Italy 12-13 times so I went to London — not with low expectations, but not expecting it to be what it was. It was totally amazing, it blew my mind. The transportation system with the tunnels and the efficiency of it all was absolutely mind-boggling. The people were accommodating and nice, and I got invited to home-cooked British dinners. The markets were gorgeous and well kept. and it was just a cool city overall.

PGN: You mentioned college, where did you go?

ES: I went to Ursinus College and studied neuroscience and biology.

PGN: Say what?

ES: I know! But I always had a passion for cooking as well. It’s led me naturally to here.

PGN: What’s your best dish?

ES: Oh, that’s like asking a mother who her favorite child is. I get into phases where I’ll cook a lot of one type of food for a while. I was on a Korean kick for a month and then, for the summer, I’ve been doing a lot of Mediterranean food — whole fish with really fresh flavors.

PGN: So do you cook just for yourself. or is there a significant other?

ES: There is, his name is Perry. I still do a lot of the cooking at home when I’m not working, I just enjoy it, though I have to say, it’s not usually British food since I do that all day.

PGN: How did you meet?

ES: He’s from here in Haddonfield. His sister is one of our cooks, and she set us up. We met, and that was it. It’ll be a year in December.

PGN: Does he ever get pressed into service here?

ES: Yes, all the time. He’s indentured here. Thankfully, he’s really good at the technical stuff I hate doing, like designing the menus and doing all the marketing — the social media, the website and Facebook. I hate all that stuff, but he loves it. I couldn’t be happier.

PGN: Anyone else in the family work here?

ES: My sister helps out on occasion, and my grandfather comes in almost everyday. He likes buffing the tables and peeling the potatoes. It’s his thing, that and organizing the walk-in.

PGN: That’s so sweet. What was the hardest thing about getting the business started?

ES: In the restaurant business, something goes wrong or breaks every day. The hardest part was adjusting with that and learning to go with the flow. Personnel is a huge challenge. Finding good people to work for you is probably the hardest thing to do in business, more so than any technical or electrical problem. The food was the easiest part.

PGN: The English are known for having some dishes that are a little ... let’s say, challenging. What’s the most unusual item on your menu?

ES: We were doing traditional Sunday suppers with dishes like steak and kidney pie that most Americans wouldn’t consider eating, but we have some people who are willing to try. I try to do some Indo-British things with curries and such that people absolutely love. But a lot of the British food is what I call quiet cuisine: It’s not really in your face, it’s more of a comfort food.

PGN: Yeah, I had the stew, and it was enough to take me through the winter. What’s the most exotic thing you’ve ever eaten?

ES: A friend and I went out partying, and the next day we went to Penang. I think because we were still hung over and not thinking clearly, we ordered the duck web salad. It was not a good choice — very unpleasant, especially hungover. They have good food there, but I don’t think I’d try that again.

PGN: Did you do anything special for William and Kate’s wedding?

ES: Oh yes, that was the longest day of my life! We did a special breakfast and watched it televised live. We had three news stations show up, one of them who came at 4:15 in the morning! They were waiting outside for me so they could do the weather report from the restaurant. By 5:45, we had a crowd waiting to get in. It was nuts, I had to take a nap in my car in the middle of the day. Later that day, we did a three-course menu with beef Wellington, and people loved it. They were super excited about the whole event. I had life-size cutouts of William and Kate that you could stick your face through and take a picture. Everyone got a big kick out of that.

PGN: Any family traditions?

ES: Because of my stepfather, we’ve adopted some English holiday traditions. On Christmas Eve we do the Feast of the Seven Fishes, which is Italian, but the day after Christmas we celebrate Boxing Day, which is very English.

PGN: You’re listed in the Independence Business Alliance; what role do you think an LGBT business person plays in the community?

ES: As society progresses, I think it’s important for gay business owners to do what they’re doing in the mainstream community. It helps integrate the LGBT community with the rest of the population, which should be a goal — that we can all get along together.

PGN: You recently had a Gay Day here in Haddonfield.

ES: Yes, it was our first one. I was excited at how many businesses, gay and straight, got on board. The weather wasn’t great so we didn’t have the best turnout, but we’d ordered a keg of beer, so there was plenty left over for us to enjoy!

PGN: What do you do to give back to the community?

ES: We try to do a lot. In addition to giving money, we raise funds by doing things like our Beatles sing-along. We have a guy, Sir Beatle, who comes in with all these different outfits and hosts it once a month. Everyone has a great time, and the proceeds go to the Food Bank of South Jersey.

PGN: What are other events you do here?

ES: We do our Sunday supper, which has become really popular. We did a Harry Potter trivia night, which was insane. All of the food on the menu was from Harry Potter, even our pastry specials. We had Harry Potter fans everywhere! It was so successful we’re going to do a Harry Potter extravaganza in October. We’re going to do an apple day, a pumpkin party, a lot of themed events including a Victorian Christmas in December.

PGN: Anything with soccer?

ES: It’s called football around here!

PGN: I stand corrected.

ES: [Laughs.] Yeah, we play the football matches on the big screens perpetually. We have a lot of Chelsea club fans who come in every Sunday to have brunch and watch the games. They bring beer and hang out — it’s awesome.

PGN: I noticed that a lot of the music you play is by British musicians ...

ES: They’re all British, except for one: Sometimes I’ll play “Give Me One Reason” by Tracy Chapman. I love her, and she sings it with Eric Clapton, so it counts as English, sort of.

PGN: What was your biggest business blunder?

ES: Trying to figure out the pricing. It was trial and error for a while. You don’t want to overcharge people, but you have to make sure you can pay your bills and your staff. [Laughs.] We went a little too long without making a decent profit, but I think we have it down now. I plan things now before I put items on the menu and make sure they’re cost effective and that the customer is still getting a good product at a fair price.

PGN: What’s your favorite thing on the menu?

ES: Our fish and chips. We get our fish fresh every day, and we fry it so that it’s light and flaky and delicious.

PGN: Random questions. What book is essential?

ES: “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan. A crazily good book about the food we eat. He follows each of the food chains — industrial food, organic food, etc. — from the source to a final meal and writes about how our eating choices affect not only our own health, but the health of the environment as well. It was really informative. It was part story telling and part scientific facts: I love reading those kind of books.

PGN: What is the scariest thing you have ever done for fun?

ES: Oh, I am so totally not a thrill seeker. I hate amusement rides; I do not like to be scared. My father got me one of the “Swim with the Sharks” gift certificates for my birthday. I was like, “Do you even know me?!” I would never, ever do that. I’m very vanilla. I might be able to be convinced to go skydiving — wait, what am I saying? No, I don’t know what I’m talking about. I would never do that either, who am I kidding? I don’t ever do anything that’s scary.

PGN: Motto?

ES: There’s a Japanese proverb, “The reputation of a thousand years, can be determined by the conduct of an hour.” I think that’s so poignant and true.

PGN: Do you use it as a business model?

ES: Yes, you have to watch how you carry yourself and what you say. You’re leading people, and they are looking to you for answers. Sometimes I don’t even know what I’m talking about, but I have to put up a strong front and find a way to make things work. So far, so good!

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