Modern Farmer will rise on old farmland
Bar/restaurant to be part of North Village

Computer-generated image: Smokestacks will pay hommage to industrial-era factories in Sussex County

By Joseph Picard
Sparta — Steve Scro relishes the challenge.
“Where some people say ‘Why?’, I say ‘Why not?’”
As in, why not build another restaurant and bar just a mile or so from your hugely successful Mohawk House? That is what Scro is doing, with plans approved by Sparta Township in June for the construction of Modern Farmer as part of the North Village at Sparta, the commercial and residential mixed-use development now under way on Route 15.
“Two restaurants, two different animals,” Scro said. “The Mohawk House lends itself to big dinners, private parties and special occasions. I envision Modern Farmer as more of a meeting place, where people can come together, unwind and be themselves. Modern Farmer will have a more approachable air, but both places will be known for quality food and drink. I have been in the restaurant business and have studied it for 17 years. I knew it was time to build another restaurant and, when this nearby space became available, I knew this was the place.”
Scro and his wife Rachael are partnering on the project with Tom and Kathy Pepe, owners of Green Acres Farm in Wantage.
Modern Farmer, which is being designed by Scro’s cousin, Michael Scro of Z+ Architects of Allendale, NJ, will be one of several commercial spaces in North Village, in a plaza anchored by a new ShopRite and also featuring a Verizon store, a Starbucks and two other retail establishments. The 65-acre site will also include residential areas for single-family homes, townhouses and an apartment building, an assisted living center, a daycare, a large park and several smaller green spaces.
Modern Farmer will be positioned near the Route 15 entrance to the village, roughly across the parking lot from the ShopRite. It will have a 9000-square foot footprint, but will purposely not be a rectangle to allow for more nuanced spaces and décor within. There will be an outdoor seating area and garage-like doors that roll up and connect inside with outside. The structure will be one story, with ceilings varying from 17 to 20 feet and high windows feeding the space with light.
“The bar will be over 100 feet long, winding in a gigantic loop,” Michael Scro said. “The bar will be an open space, a democratic approach. The idea of community drives the design of the bar, and the bar drives the design of the building.”
Michael said that being able to work with family made this job special.
“A good architect needs a good client who can lead with his vision,” he said. “Steve does not micromanage. He lets you out on a long leash, but still maintains control.”
Steve returned his cousin’s compliment. “It is an honor to work with Mike. He is passionate about his work and offers that ‘something more,’ that a person looks for in a professional partner.”
Michael Scro explained that his design for Modern Farmer is a throwback to 19th and early 20th century brick and steel factories and warehouses in northern New Jersey.
“The dynamic of the place speaks to the history of Sussex County,” Michael said. “Brick, glass, industrial steel panels, the smokestacks. It will be an homage to those types of industrial buildings, and it will be an homage to the county itself. A lot of light, a lot of room. People are not on top of each other in Sussex County. Modern Farmer will feel like it was born of the farmland where it sits.”
The idea of giving meaningful nods to the history and traditions of the region is key to the thinking of both Scros. Steve is regularly deploying cultural artifacts, re-purposed relics and other found or donated items of Sussex County history throughout the Mohawk House. He has already started collecting similar materials for Modern Farmer.
He explained that the land where North Village is taking shape was once the farm and cattle ranch of the Sanford family. Steve came upon an old sign declaring the Sanford farm. The Sanford family, who have been in touch with Scro, said the sign was in too poor a shape to be good for anything. But Steve had a craftsman from Newton repair and rework the thing and now it’s ready to be placed on a wall at the Modern Farmer.
“This is another example of how we’re embracing the history and evolution of farming in Sussex County, the progress, the life style,” Steve Scro said. “At the Mohawk House we’re proud of our farm-to-table ethic and how we maintain relations with over 30 farms and independent suppliers. These relations will continue and expand with Modern Farmer.”
Steve said he is anxious to re-purpose artifacts and materials for the interior design of the new restaurant.
“I’m calling all trades people in the area for re-purposing work in the restaurant when construction reaches that point,” he said, and added that interested trades people should contact him at the Mohawk House regarding future work.
“What drives me is the responsibility I feel towards the community,” Steve Scro said. “I want to make a difference in lives, to help people grow and develop positive self-images and be successful in what they choose to do. That’s how I approach my staff, my customers and the community. The restaurant business is really the entertainment business. Our job is to make people happy. I am always in competition with myself to improve, to be better at my job. In life, it’s not what you get. It’s who you become.”
Modern Farmer will become an operating restaurant and bar next summer, possibly as early as July.