When Steve Scro was a child visiting and working at his grandfather's auto shop at Lake Mohawk, he marveled at the billboards he saw on Rt. 15 and dreamt of having his own business in Sparta one day. That dream took on another shape Tuesday, Sept. 24 when Mohawk House owners Steve and Rachel Scro broke ground on their second restaurant in Sussex County: Modern Farmer.
With friends, family, elected officials and business associates on hand, Scro, with hand to heart, expressed gratitude for all that they had achieved. He thanked Senator Steve Oroho and Assemblyman Hal Wirths (R-24) who was at the groundbreaking ceremony along with his District 24 colleagues, and Assemblyman Parker Space (R-24).
“I always wanted to do good,” he told a small crowd of supporters at the groundbreaking. “I wanted to do more than dig ditches. So, I rolled up my sleeves, and here we are."
The Mohawk House has become known as the area's premier farm-to-table restaurant while also fostering a sense of community. The Scros regularly sponsor teams and events, donate to local and community organizations, and host charity events at the restaurant. Scro expects to continue and extend his support of the community with Modern Farmer.
Scro said Modern Farmer will offer "approachable" dining with lots of easily recognizable dishes, with ingredients fresh from local purveyors. He envisions a menu that includes signature twists on farmhouse favorites, such as pot pies and meatloaf.
The interior design will include iron-framed historic photos of farms around the area, including some donated by the Sandford Lockwood family, who previously owned and farmed the land that Modern Farmer will occupy.
While Scro intends for Modern Farmer to continue in the farm-to-table traditions of Mohawk House, the two restaurants will have distinct personalities. Mohawk House will remain a benchmark of fine American dining, while Modern Farmer will be a tribute to the farmers and laborers that built Sussex County. Calling himself self-educated, Scro said he is a particular student of the great industrialists and inventors, using their ideas and principles to drive his businesses.
“If I can take what I’ve learned to pay an intimate homage to history, and to keep history alive, that’s what I want to do,” Scro said, “I want to move into the future and still keep that history relevant.”
Modern Farmer will be a "different" experience from the Mohawk House, according to Scro and his cousin Michael Scro, who is the architect for the project. With an industrial farmhouse theme, the building itself will evoke the memories of Sussex County’s agricultural and manufacturing past, including reclaimed and material from throughout the local area. The restaurant will also feature a 110-foot-long bar, one of the lengthiest in the northeast, which will be staffed by up to six bartenders at a time. Indoor dining and patio seating will be available, as well as private party rooms. Stylized smokestacks will give the building a unique exterior silhouette.
Michael Scro said that designing Modern Farmer along with his cousin is a tribute to the work ethic and values instilled by their grandfather at the auto shop when they were children.
"I’m really hoping that with its visibility along a major highway, Modern Farmer will become a landmark," Michael said. "It will be a vibrant place that can both anchor the community and become a destination for people outside the area.”
It's about more than food, the history and the design, Scro said.
"It’s about growing people and growing relationships.” Scro said that while he has very little staff turnover, he wants to ensure that his employees have the skills and knowledge to work in any restaurant should they need to move on.
Scro said his drive to be the best comes from his childhood. He grew up in a family that valued hard work and industriousness. Though short on money, his home was filled with love, and as Italian-Americans, lots of good food.
“I always had to be an entrepreneur, had to be innovative and creative to make a little money,” he said. “I would work from morning until night, shoveling snow and raking leaves, and I think those early money struggles trained me well. It taught me the value of hard work and the value of helping others...We would have meals when I was a kid that would last for hours."
“It's so important for them to know where their food came from," Scro said. “I have such love for what I do, and I have a burning desire to do more. Modern Farmer is becoming a reality because we felt it was the right time to branch out.”
“Knowing what a fine establishment Mohawk House is, I just can’t wait to see Modern Farmer open its doors and to have another destination restaurant here in town.” - Sparta Mayor Molly Whilesmith
“I have no doubt this endeavor will be another success; a success for them, but more importantly, as they would say, a success for Sparta.” - Sparta Police Chief Neil Spidaletto
“I’m excited for Steve and Rachael to see this dream come true. But I’m more excited for the community and to see all the good they’re going to do here.” - Freeholder and former Sparta mayor Joshua Hertzberg
“It’s so rare to see a business that comes into town looking to do for the town versus asking what the town can do for them. But Steve and Rachael- everything they do is tied back to the community.” -Sparta Councilwoman Christine Quinn.
“My grandmother was raised here and my great-grandfather was involved with the Farm & Horse Show at its origins," Milliken said. "At one time, they kept 3,000 chickens and would send the eggs by train into New York City, and they also kept dairy and beef cattle. The land where the restaurant will be used to be the cattle pastures.” -Debbie Milliken, attended the groundbreaking with her father, Brian Sandford Lockwood.
“It’s great for the county to have new eateries, and for the Scros to bring more jobs,” John Drake of the Sussex County Economic Development Partnership.