Timing is everything. Running a restaurant through a pandemic is a challenge in and of itself. Opening a new restaurant is nothing short of incredible.
That’s just what Willow & Whisk owners Rich DiBenedetto, AJ DiBenedetto, Evan D’Auge, and General Manager, Anna Bischoff, managed to pull off.
“We were gearing up to open in February 2020 and building out the space when we began hearing about this thing called COVID,” says Anna. “The pandemic shut down the delivery of furniture and appliances and slowed down construction. The whole project was put on hold.” In June, the team got back to work and opened in July of 2020 with all safety measures in place. “It’s been a wild ride,” says Anna.
Originally from West Virginia, Anna’s expertise in hospitality grew from working in restaurants since the age of 14. “I started as a dishwasher in a nursing home,” says Anna. “I was the first 'girl' they allowed to do the job, and I loved it. Eventually, I worked my way up to serving and managing at the age of 19.”
As an art history major, Anna became disenchanted with pursuing a career in her field. She returned to her first love--hospitality. “I truly enjoy the camaraderie and meeting great people,” she says.
She was mentored by Ric Orlando, the renowned restauranteur/chef of New World Home Cooking Company in Saugerties, New York, and a two-time “Chopped” winner. “He taught me so much about being community-minded,” she says. Throughout her professional career, she worked at several other establishments, including Five Points in Manhattan.
When it was time to slow down and start a family, Anna looked to Bergen County to begin her new endeavor. “I worked at L’Arte in Ramsey, and it was a great experience and a big transition. I went from managing 198 employees to 13, and from dealing with celebrity guests to hosting suburban moms,” says Anna. “It allowed me to see things from the perspective of a small, family-owned business.”
Anna met the owners of Willow & Whisk while working with them as a consultant for CARS Sandwiches and Shakes in Ramsey. She was impressed to see that their business was run with thoughtfulness, a positive work culture, and good leadership. She soon took on the task of developing the Willow & Whisk concept alongside them, and a new business was born.
“Willow & Whisk features comfort food that is elevated in execution. Thought and soul are put into every bite,” she says. The exceptional menu delivers a new approach to traditional breakfast and lunch favorites to provide a unique culinary experience.
High-demand dishes include avocado toast with poached egg and pickled red onion. Customers also crave their French Toast Bites, crafted with a cornflake crust, dusted with cinnamon sugar, and garnished with strawberries, bananas, and whipped cream cheese topping.
Other favorites are the So-Cal Breakfast Bowl, Lemon Ricotta Pancakes, and the Goddess Chicken sandwich. Specialty coffees, beverages, and mocktails are always on deck. Bring your own spirits if you want to add a kick to your brunch!
Willow and Whisk is now a sought-after spot for breakfast, lunch, or brunch in Wyckoff. Be prepared--you may have to wait for a table. However, don’t plan on visiting Anna for dinner. “People always ask us why we aren’t open in the evenings. My answer is that we are small business owners who need to be at home for supper and bath time! We know where we fit in. Our niche is providing an incredible breakfast and lunch.”
Willow & Whisk accommodates private evening events, so if you are in the market for a venue for a bridal or baby shower, birthday party, or mitzvah, give Anna a call.
The concept of providing outstanding cuisine along with impeccable service sets Willow & Whisk apart from other eateries with upper echelon service accompanied by great food with a family atmosphere. “People feel like they are in the City here. We provide a Manhattan-style brunch.”
“Community is so important to me. The people are amazing. They have high expectations, so I enjoy exceeding those expectations. Guests can see that you take care of your employees and work to develop an outstanding staff. When guests are happy, they will be more supportive of your business and make your investors money. When the tide rises, all ships rise.”