Salt Gastropub celebrates 10 years

Food, drink, music and community

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  • Laurie and Bradley Boyle, owners of Salt Gastropub, talk about their upcoming 10th Anniversary Week. Photos by Mandy Coriston

  • Memorabilia above the Salt Stage at Salt Gastropub in Byram

  • A bicycle adorns the sign outside Salt Gastropub in Byram, just a hint of the eclectic atmosphere inside the pub

  • Saltphocles and Wavin' Willie

By Mandy Coriston

— Stepping through the door of Salt Gastropub in Byram is a bit like stepping into another world. From being greeted by a large statue of the Greek playwright Sophocles (affectionately dubbed “Saltphocles,” of course), over which hangs a black and white portrait of Byram legend Waving Willie, it’s quickly apparent that Salt is not your average pub. Taking in the rest of the eclectic décor, which lines every surface in the building, is a bit like taking a trip through a museum dedicated to the restaurant’s individuality. Salt, New Jersey’s first gastropub, is on the cusp of its tenth anniversary, and owners Bradley and Laurie Boyle recently took some time to look back on the decade that has passed since they welcomed their first patrons on April 28, 2008.

When the decision was made to leave their previous restaurant, Bula World Cuisine in Newton, in 2007, the Boyles had a vision of creating a model unlike any in the area- a gastropub, in the old-world style. They imagined a place where people could come together, drink good beer, eat creative, chef-driven food, and enjoy great music in a comfortable atmosphere. Thus, Salt was born.

Laurie likened the new venture to “walking a tightrope, we just couldn’t look down.” Bradley added, “We had to have confidence in our product. We didn’t leave any room for failure.”

The Boyles credited Byram Township with being very supportive and open to their ideas, and said the town continues to be a great source of support, even through hardships such as the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. Even as they plan Salt’s ten-year anniversary, the Boyles say they still get asked what a gastropub is.

“When we explain it, some people get it and some people don’t. But we want them to come see for themselves,.” Bradley said, “We have four focuses here- food, drink, music, and community- and we treat them all equally.”

The driving force behind the food is Bradley himself. Trained at the Culinary Institute of America and having worked under the tutelage of renowned chefs such as Daniel Boulud, Bradley claims to have not yet made his all-time favorite dish. For him, he said, “the fun is in the creating, the playing with ingredients.”

Looking at Salt’s menu, Bradley’s playfulness shines through. With dishes that speak to every taste and appetite, even familiar pub items such as wings and burgers take on new flair. Vegetarians won’t be disappointed with the option to substitute tofu into many of the entrees, and even the children’s menu has some delightful twists. Bradley even finds ways to incorporate some of the pub’s craft beer offerings right into the dishes, and the dinner menu offers suggestions on drink pairings for each food item. For the anniversary celebration, Bradley is planning throwback specials, offering items that were on the menu when the restaurant opened its doors.

When he isn’t cooking with the beer, Bradley is more than happy to talk about the brews they offer. Each tap boasts a different craft beer, many from New Jersey breweries. From lagers and stouts, to Belgian-style whites and IPAs, the drinks are chosen with as much care as the ingredients in the food. There is also a wide variety of bottled beer available, as well as wine, spirits, ciders, and cocktails. To mark the anniversary, Milk Street Distillery in Branchville has created a small-batch whiskey, distilled to exactly 42.8% alcohol by volume, an homage to Salt’s opening date of 4/28. There will also be commemorative beers brewed by local producers Angry Erik’s and Czig Meister, as well as rare kegs from some of SALT’s other suppliers. To kick off the anniversary week, representatives from some of the distributers will be on hand on Friday, April 27th when the first of the kegs are tapped.

Live music will also mark the beginning of the celebration on the 27th, and music on the Salt Stage has played a huge role in the success of the pub. Referring to the musical guests over the years, Bradley said, “Sometimes I have to pinch myself. When you have guys you grew up listening to and admiring, and they are right here in your restaurant, it doesn’t feel real.”

Bradley said highlights for him include hosting David Johansen of the NY Dolls, and Denny Laine of Wings. He said having Chris Barron of the Spin Doctors was also a special moment, noting there was some “disbelief from the school when his daughter was interviewing rock stars for the grade school paper” and adding with a laugh, “That was pretty cool.”

Memorabilia from artists who have played the Salt Stage grace the wall above the curtain. There are signed photos and guitars, along with posters and album covers, leading to the corner where a miniature marquis announces the upcoming acts. The week-long anniversary celebration will feature several nights of live music, including Jon Wozniak and an evening with Todd Sheaffer.

The fourth pillar of Salt is community, and the Boyles light up when they talk about it. Pride is apparent in Laurie’s face when she speaks about how they now have generations of patrons.

“We even had a wedding at the bar!” she said, explaining that the bride and groom had met at Salt.

“We have original customers bringing their children in, and it’s just wonderful,” she said.

The Boyles have hosted both celebratory meals and memorial repasts.

, and say, “We feel honored to be included in peoples’ important moments,” Bradley said.

They also say one of Salt’s greatest assets is the staff, for sharing their vision and being the public face of Salt on a daily basis. They praised manager Jennifer Hornung, who has been with them since Salt’s inception, with helping create an atmosphere of trust and solidarity. Laurie also pointed out that Jennifer’s husband, local multi-media and tattoo artist Eric Hornung, designed the now-familiar logo as seen on the menus and on the sign outside the bar.

“Eric was just amazing,” Laurie said. “He really has a way of taking an idea and bringing it to life.”

Beyond the familial bond of the owners and staff, there is a feeling of kinship that has grown within the patronage. A running club, which sprung from a handful of customers with a shared interest, has blossomed into a group which now boasts three subdivisions- Salt Shakers for running, Salt Movers for walking, and the Pepper Grinders, who challenge themselves with evening training sessions in extreme weather. Outside the pub, the only thing that stands between the parking lot and the Allamuchy Trail is a small stream, and as the popularity of the running club grew, so did the need for their own trail access. In 2013, after a two-year application and training process, Salt was recognized as an official trailhead by the NY/NJ Trail Conference. Inside the pub, a collage of dollar bills adorns every inch of the overhang atop the bar. Like the running club, no one seems to know exactly how this tradition started, and Bradley frequently uses the word “organic” when describing the growth of the relationship between his patrons, his staff, and the pub itself.

In addition to the community within the pub, the Boyles are determined to give back to the community around them. Salt serves a drop off location during charity drives, including coat and food collections. They have hosted Boy Scouts Gift Trees at Christmastime and they maintain a Little Free Library by the walkway leading to the pub. Laurie is happy to serve as a founding member of the board of the nearby community garden at Westby Farm. But perhaps their greatest commitment to philanthropy is the “Giving Tap.” For every beer drawn off Line 9 at the pub, $1 is given to a local organization. Bradley emphasized, “When you have a business model like ours, it is so important to give back, and to make the relationship between the pub and the community reciprocal. It’s such an honor to be the facilitator of all this.”

Salt’s first ten years have given Bradley and Laurie a great sense of accomplishment and they’ve beaten the odds in the restaurant industry, where often just surviving the first year is monumental. Bradley, who considered a career in law enforcement after culinary school, looked reflective as he said, “If I had done that, I might be getting ready to retire by now. But here I am, working on my own terms with people and a community that I love, with no regrets.”

Having chosen the path that led him and Laurie to build Salt from the ground up, Bradley said, “We’re proud to have become a culture, not just a restaurant.”

As to the next ten years? The Boyles can’t wait to see what the Salt community grows into moving forward. But of the first decade, Bradley said, “It’s been a lot of fun!”

Salt Gastropub is located at 109 Rt. 206 in Byram Township. The pub can be reached by phone at 973-347-7258. For more information about Salt and details on its 10th Anniversary Week activities, visit their website at <URL destination=" ">

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