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Sep 15, 2022

Colts Neck Residents Open Café on Naval Weapons Station Earle

By Lauren Lavelle

For Colts Neck resident and full-time Rutgers University student James Menake, keeping his plate full has never been an issue. So when he had the opportunity to add the title of cafe owner and part-time chef to his growing list of responsibilities, he jumped at the chance. 

“It’s very hard,” Menake said. “I will admit, there are days where I’m exhausted but, at the end of the day, I think about why I’m there and why I’m doing all of this and I’m not doing it for myself. I’m doing it for them.”

Menake is referring to the military members and civilians that live and work at Naval Weapons Station Earle, a naval base in Colts Neck. In January 2022, Menake opened Navy St. Cafe, a 600-square-foot eatery that serves breakfast and lunch to those on the base. 

Menake’s mother, Lori Menake, discovered the empty space while working her part-time job with the Colts Neck Transportation Department. 

“Earle Navy Base was part of the route that I was on, and that’s how I found out about this opportunity for the cafe,” Lori Menake said. “I knew I couldn’t handle it because I’m busy taking care of my kids and running a household, so I presented the idea to James.”

Although being a restaurant owner was never part of his plans, James Menake cited his love of cooking and his respect for the military as his reasoning behind accepting the challenge. 

“I’ve always loved cooking,” he said. “I was raised in an Italian and Greek-American family, and there was always a lot of food. I’ve also always cared about our troops. Whenever I would see them out in public when I was younger, I would thank them for their service, so when my mom told me about this opportunity, I knew that it would be hard, but I knew I had to do it for our troops.”

Now, six months later, James and Lori Menake, who refers to herself as her son’s “wingman,” run a successful cafe that has been met with rave reviews since its grand opening. 

“Our day starts pretty early at 6 am,” James Menake said. “We open at 7 am and we close at 2 pm. We open with breakfast which usually lasts until 10:30 am, and then the whole time we’re serving breakfast, we’re preparing for lunch because that’s our busiest time.”

Some of the cafe’s most popular items include a hearty breakfast burrito with eggs, a choice of meat and a hash brown; a savory chicken sandwich and quesadillas, a crowd favorite among the troops, according to the Menake’s. Specials are also introduced weekly to keep the menu fresh and exciting.

“It’s nothing too crazy,” Lori Menake said. “We keep it basic and simple, but we like to give them different options and be creative.”

The cafe has also given those living on the base the opportunity to get cooking themselves. 

“Whenever we’re looking for a new employee, we always ask people we know at the base first,” James Menake said. “Because it’s such a small community, we try to give them the opportunity, so if anybody wants to come work, the door is always open for them.”

When asked what his future holds, James Menake was sure of one thing; he wants the Navy to remain a part of his life.  

“At this point, I can’t picture myself doing something that isn’t Navy-related. They really are a second family to me,” he said. “Joining the Navy is definitely a possibility for me after college.”

Both James and Lori Menake agree that, while the military members they serve are thankful for their enjoyable food and fast service, the Menakes are even more grateful for their customers and the sacrifices they’ve made. 

“They’re very happy with what we’re doing, and they thank us a million times, but we’re the ones thanking them,” Lori Menake said. 

James Menake added, “I’m always telling people that they should go up to them and say thank you. I’ve spoken to so many of them, and they haven’t said it, but I know they’ve sacrificed a lot and I know they’d happily do it a million times over. I would like to see more people giving them the recognition and respect they deserve.”