Architect Steve Fenwick will transform the small garage into a debut eatery from pizzaiolo Greg Camia, while Collingswood will retain a pocket park in place of the parking lot at Woodlawn and Haddon.
By Matt Skoufalos | July 23, 2020
For the past six years, Collingswood has sought to redevelop the former Warner Landscape & Patio property at 641 Haddon Avenue.
In 2014, it was slated to be converted into a mixed-use property with a first-floor commercial space and residential units above.
Two years after that, the property was headed back on the market, with the borough government considering demolition of the low-slung garage at the rear of the property as an enticement to redevelopers.
In 2017, new concepts were hatched that would have revisited the mixed-used residential and commercial design, but those again fell through.
Now, however, a smaller-scale project proposed by Ocean City architect Steve Fenwick could convert the building into a chef-driven restaurant, with his son-in-law, Greg Camia, serving wood-fired pizza and small plates.
Camia is “a gifted chef” who was looking for a place to open “a small, boutique restaurant,” Fenwick said. When they happened upon the property at Haddon and Woodlawn Avenues, the site seemed a perfect fit.
“I think [Collingswood has had] a great resurgence,” Fenwick said. “You’ve got the train into Philly, and it’s a nice Main Street setup.”
Fenwick said the building’s existing garage doors will be able to help the restaurant bridge the indoor dining restrictions of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic by creating canopied outdoor seating along with al fresco tables.
“I want to make a cool little building,” he said. “It’s going to be sharp-looking, hip-looking, and upscale.”
He’ll also work to tie the restaurant in with a borough-owned pocket park that will replace the current parking lot at the corner of the property.
Collingswood plans to shift some of those spaces onto dedicated street parking along Woodlawn Avenue, with dedicated pick-up and delivery spaces for the eatery, Fenwick said.
Those little changes will preserve the utility of the space in keeping with the urbanist design principles that have fueled the borough’s redevelopment, he said.
“It’s a nice, symbiotic project,” Fenwick said.
Although renderings are still being generated, Fenwick said he’s planning to use a variety of building materials in revitalizing its exterior.
Keeping the smaller-footprint garage offers a transition in building elevation from the residential neighborhood along Woodlawn Avenue into the bigger downtown structures on Haddon.
“It’s a breath of fresh air,” Fenwick said; “it gives a little meter to the street façade; a little pause, a little break.”
‘Simple, fresh, straightforward food’
Camia, who trained at the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan, has worked at the three-Michelin-star Veritas in New York, as well as at the Captain Lawrence Brewing Company in Elmsford, New York. His background includes a degree in information technology, and time spent as a mechanic with Trek Bikes.
But for the past few months, Camia has been honing his pizza craft with a portable, propane-powered Roccbox oven (the same kind Pizza Crimine founder Arnab Maitra used in launching his Haddonfield pizza startup).
It’s given rise to some tasty experiments, like his cold tomato pie with olive oil, burrata, and parmesan, or the Neapolitan-style pie topped with sungold tomato, mint pesto, tomato sauce, and parmesan.
A seasonal variety with morels, mozzarella, and garlic scapes reflects Camia’s homage to the local ingredients that he hopes to present in weekly specials, complementing a staple of house recipes, salads, and antipasti.
“It’s going to be really simple but really fresh, straightforward food,” the chef said.
Camia’s connection to Italian cuisine extends beyond his training and love of food; he also traces his family ancestry to Northern Italy. The restaurant will take its name, “Balo,” from one of his grandfather’s favorite terms of endearment.
“As long as I’ve been alive, he’s used that term [to mean] a pal, a friend, a buddy,” Camia said. “It’s been a slang word in my family for as long as we can remember.”
Camia and his wife are also hoping to relocate to South Jersey from the East Falls neighborhood of Philadelphia ahead of a planned opening in early November. Their love of the borough’s “Main Street vibe” and restaurant-friendly culture were big attractions.
“It’s just a nice town,” Camia said. “We love the location where we’re putting the restaurant.
“From the beginning, we were hoping we could find an old service station,” he said, “and the pocket park will be great for the restaurant, surrounding restaurants, and the coffee shop [next door].”
Collingswood Borough Administrator Cass Duffey said the project importantly preserves a valuable multi-use space in the community business district.
“It’s wonderful to have a hybrid space in the downtown,” Duffey said.
“We want it to be used in so many different ways, and w>e’re looking at that new urbanism style that can be adopted for many different uses,” she said.
“It’s really hard in an inner-ring suburb because we’re really built out, and we’re always sensitive to trying as much as we can to maintain the fabric of the neighborhood.”
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