Sandra McNeil Rogers wants to serve you bite-sized pieces of jerk chicken, fried fish and peach cobbler.
“I’ve always dreamed of opening a restaurant,” Rogers told the Morristown planning board on Thursday.
And why not? A $211.7 million Powerball jackpot can make a lot of dreams come true.
Rogers bought her winning ticket in 2010 at Gene’s II Deli in Morris Plains and chose the cash option, worth $101.6 million after taxes.
At the time she was a member of the Morris School District board. Rogers also has worked for the Morris County Sheriff’s Office, she told the planning board.
In 2015, Rogers got approvals from Morristown to convert the former Orchard’s Glass repair shop at 51 Bank St. into a three-story liturgical dance studio.
But she changed her mind. Rather than knock down that building and start from scratch, she now seeks permission to re-purpose the structure for Sandi’s SoulBites. In a town full of restaurants, she says hers will be the only one serving Southern-style soul food.
Rogers and her daughters plan to handle the cooking.
“My grandmother was a chef,” Rogers said. “The whole concept is grabbing a bite to eat on your way home from work.”
When board Chairman Joe Stanley asked how many patrons she anticipated, Rogers cheerfully replied: “All of them!”
AROMAS OR ODORS?
Plans call for a total of 182 seats: 84 inside, 28 in front, and 70 more in back, with a fire pit. Garage-type doors would be in the front and back of the restaurant. Hours would be 11 am to 6 pm Tuesday through Friday, and 11 am to 8 pm on Saturday, Rogers said.
Variances are needed for parking, front and side yard setbacks, and a rear patio. Jack McDonald, owner of the building leased next door by RevHealth, has raised questions about parking, and cooking odors.
“To me it’s an insult to the people who work there to have the smell of food over the parking lot,” said McDonald, who asked if a planned exhaust stack could be re-located farther from his building.
The project’s attorney, former Mayor Jay DeLaney Jr., said the Morristown Parking Authority has indicated it has adequate parking to accommodate the restaurant.
And architect Robert Scialla said the exhaust stack could be moved, if the board requested it.
Scialla expressed great enthusiasm for the project. “It’s a very nice re-use and re-cycling of an existing building. We really like recycling a building and bringing ‘breathing life’ into it,” he said.
More testimony is scheduled for June 22, 2017.