At Jimmy Mike’s Cafe at the YJCC in Washington Township, the owner is likely to break into song.
James Michael toured in the national companies of several Broadway musicals – including “Camelot,” “Meet Me in St. Louis,” and “Fiddler on The Roof” – before turning to his other love, food.
“Food is another form of entertainment,” he told The Jewish Standard.
At a recent visit, he sang songs from “Camelot” and “Ragtime” in his rich baritone, accompanied by the karaoke program in his laptop.
|The cafÃ© prepares 75 pizzas each Wednesday for area Jewish day schools. Also on the menu are calzones, spanakopita, quiche, muffins, and more. Lloyd de Vries|
“I thought that I could bring something a little bit different here, not only great food, but a lot of great music as well,” he told the Standard.
Some visitors to the Y hear the music, but don’t realize it’s live until they enter the cafÃ©.
One time, he recalled, he was entertaining customers when a man opened a case, pulled out a trumpet, and began to play a soaring obbligato accompaniment.
Michael still performs outside the cafÃ©, but then he’s accompanied by a pianist.
He doesn’t seem to miss being on the road. “That was another life,” the 50-year-old Michael said.
After leaving the stage, Michael worked for a while in the food industry, and still acts as a consultant, helping restaurants thread the maze of kosher certification.
In 2009, he took over the small cafÃ© at the YJCC, serving members of the seniors group, swim teams, basketball players, and those working out in the fitness center across the hall.
But he also has been working to expand its menu.
The previous owner, Michael said, was more interested in the catering part of the business – providing food for functions at the Y and elsewhere. Michael still does that, as well as supplying 350 to 400 bag lunches for nursery school children at the Y each week, and 75 pizzas each Wednesday for Jewish day schools outside the Y.
However, he’s also trying to make it more of a destination for eat-in and take-out customers. He’s added “tuna sliders” (burger-like sandwiches with tuna croquets), calzones, spanakopita, vegetarian specialties, and chocolate chip cookies. For breakfast, there are omelets and fresh-baked muffins.
Despite the cramped quarters, nearly everything is made on the premises, even the pizza dough.
You don’t have to be a YJCC member to eat at Jimmy Mike’s CafÃ©, but if you prefer, Michael and his staff of three will deliver your food to your car.
He recently switched from ice cream novelties (such as pops and sandwiches) to tubs of ice cream, frozen yogurt and sorbet, which allows the cafÃ© to offer shakes and sundaes. The coffee is now a recognizable brand, and there’s a freezer case with Zaydee’s challah on Thursdays and Fridays.
Michael noted that the cafÃ© – the only place to buy a kosher meal in that part of Bergen County – is not subsidized by the Y.
“We’re our own business here,” he said. “We’re separate from the Y. I run this like a business, but there is a definite need here for the cafÃ©.”
Since Jimmy Mike’s Cafe isn’t a storefront or even visible from the street, marketing it is a challenge. Michael has a Facebook page (http://tinyurl.com/277knpj). He also has a small signboard outside the Y on Pascack Road.
Michael said that he is there at least 12 to 13 hours a day Sunday through Thursday, and another 8 hours on Fridays. Jimmy Mike’s Cafe opens when the YJCC does (8 a.m.) and closes at 7 p.m. (3 p.m. on Fridays).
Luckily, he said, his wife Ornit works upstairs at the YJCC as coordinator of the Kehillah Partnership’s education project, or he might never see her.
“The day goes by so fast, between singing and the food,” he added.
To hear Michael sing, go to www.jstandard.com/media/C4