Sugar and olives don’t often mix.
Except on Lois Street in Norwalk.
There — in an industrial zone across from Al’s Auto Body, and just down the street from (of all things) McDonald’s — Jennifer Balin runs a green, healthy, unadvertised yet wildly popular organic, sustainable breakfast-lunch spot/private dining room/dessert place/lounge/cooking school.
Called “Sugar & Olives.”
The Westport resident came by her hybrid business serendipitously. A tennis-playing stay-at-home mom with 4 kids, she found life “boring with a capital ‘B.'” After her divorce, she had 2 choices: “move, or do something fun.”
She stayed put, and had fun.
Jennifer started with cooking classes. She soon wanted to expand, but couldn’t sell food from her home.
She found a 2000-square foot empty warehouse just over the town line in Norwalk — the only place she looked — and started classes for adults and kids.
She opened for breakfast and lunch Tuesday through Friday, plus Saturday brunch. She added “private dining” at night, for groups ranging in size from 12 to 100.
Morning menu items include “the porridge of champions” and a breakfast trifle of fruit, lemon curd, yogurt and granola.
Midday, Jennifer serves the likes of lobster chop salad with rows of ratatouille, mache and asparagus; a crepe with veggies of the day and a rolled egg, and chocolate fajitas with flank steak.
From 9:30 p.m. to midnight every Saturday, Jennifer serves “Sweet Treats”: plated desserts and drinks.
She did it all without a business plan. Sugar & Olives grew, um, organically. “I don’t know what I’m doing,” she says. “But it’s working.”
All food is sourced locally. She buys whatever she finds fresh at farmers markets: vegetables, eggs, cheeses. Lobster comes from Westport’s Jeff Northrop.
All materials are compostable. Jennifer uses no plastic.
Except for the plastic in an iPad. Last week she bought several. Now each dinner table orders off an iPad menu. (Diners also enjoy free WiFi.)
Jennifer still runs cooking classes, of course. Adult topics include “Instant Dinner Party,” “Sensational Seasonal Vegetables,” and “Oy Vey, My In-Laws Are Coming!”
Kids classes cover “Marshmallows and Other Sticky Treats,” “Dinner in a Bag” and “Homemade Chinese Takeout.”
Sugar & Olives does not advertise. Everyone who comes is referred by word-of-mouth. The referral should include directions — there is no sign in front, just a distinct orange door.
“I’m having fun,” Jennifer says. “This place is always full of people.”
So why “Sugar & Olives”?
“They’re 2 things everyone should have in their pantry,” Jennifer explains. “It’s a little bit of sweet, a little bit of savory. Besides, a lot of my recipes use olive oil.
“They don’t sound like they should go together,” she adds. “But they work for me.”
Just as Sugar & Olives works for anyone who tracks it down.
(Tonight [Saturday, April 10, 7-9 p.m.] nearly 2 dozen Staples students will perform a benefit concert for Haiti at Sugar & Olives. Admission is $10; all admission proceeds, and a portion of food proceeds, go to the American Red Cross Haiti Relief and Development Fund.)