Couple her boredom with traditional American fare and her passion to help others become healthier versions of themselves, Nicole Piazza, a dietician turned restauranteer of The Clean Plate Kitchen in Clinton, New Jersey dedicated her career to creating a space filled with nutrient dense ingredients even the pickiest eater will love. NJMOM had the chance to sit down with Nicole and dig into her inspirations for this husband-wife entrepreneurial endeavor, how unknowingly an internship on a farm in West Virginia affected her entire career path, and hear about some of the coolest spots this #NJMOMpreneur likes to visit with her family around New Jersey, including the Columbia Trail and Clinton Red Mill.
Owner of The Clean Plate & NJMOMPreneur: Nicole Piazza
NJMOM: What do you offer to your clients and how is it different than other professionals in your field?
Nicole: The Clean Plate Kitchen provides something for everyone, whether you are gluten-free and vegan or interested in eating organic food for the first time. Our menu offers clean, organic, allergy-friendly foods for vegans and meat eaters alike. Our food is healthy and wholesome, but we try to keep a subtle undertone and let the food speak for itself. We wanted to keep the menu approachable and not intimidating for those less concerned about the nutritional or dietary aspect and who are just looking for a great meal. Additionally, we source sustainably and locally whenever possible – we have partnered with over 20 different local businesses to source ingredients.
I truly believe that if you follow your passion, you can not go wrong. Our crazy, busy life is perfectly imperfect and I so glad that we faced our fears, took chances and created our dream. I encourage you to follow your dreams because it has made all the difference. – Nicole Piazza, founder of The Clean Plate
NJMOM: What inspired you to get into your line of work?
Nicole: I am a holistic dietitian with a longtime love of food and over 20 years of restaurant experience. I was counseling clients in my private nutrition practice when I started dating my now husband, Anthony. Anthony owned the previous restaurant in our current location, The Riverview – the food was good, but generic and traditional American fare. My husband and I eat very similarly and as I became more involved with the restaurant, we realized that we were putting in a tremendous amount of energy towards a restaurant that was lacking in passion and under-utilizing my expertise and talents. We were serving food that neither of us actually ate. My husband was ready to sell the restaurant but I convinced him to take a chance and give one more valiant effort at creating a restaurant where we not only wanted to eat at, but also a place where my clients (and so many alike) could eat. Using my nutrition background, we created seasonal menus with a different perspective than other restaurants.
The Clean Plate Kitchen’s motto is “Feel Good Food” and that is exactly what we provide, a place with food that makes you feel good consuming it because it tastes good, is made with local and sustainable ingredients, and can be consumed safely for those with dietary preferences. We also wanted to make the farmer’s market businesses that we consumed at home available to our customers.
NJMOM: What is your favorite part about your business?
Nicole: It is extremely rewarding to have countless customers thank us for existing and filling a void by providing a place where the whole family can easily, safely, and happily eat real food. It’s truly amazing how many customers tell us that they can never go out to eat because there is nowhere that can accommodate their entire group or that our restaurant is the only place that they can eat with confidence. Dining out is something that I love for so many reasons and I’m proud that we can provide a place for everyone.
NJMOM: What is your background in your business expertise?
Nicole: I have worked in restaurants for over 20 years since my first job in high school and have experience in both the front and back of the house. I have helped several restaurants start-up, develop menus and managerial roles – these experiences along with my husband having learned much from the restaurant he had started, gave me the confidence to combine my nutrition background to create something new. As a registered dietitian, my nutrition background and education gave me the experience to create menus using a different perspective than classically trained chefs.
NJMOM: What are you most proud of in your career?
Nicole: The Clean Plate Kitchen has been an overwhelming success and I couldn’t be prouder of my husband, myself and the incredible, creative, loyal team that we have in both our kitchen and providing service. We are living our dream and have some exciting plans for expansion in our future…it is so exciting to create something that others love as much as we do.
NJMOM: What is something few people know about you?
Nicole: I went to graduate school at West Virginia University and my master’s degree research was doing work with diets of organic chickens. As a purebred Jersey girl – working on a farm in West Virginia raising hundreds of chickens was more than a little bit out of my comfort zone. The first day that I showed up for my internship – I (literally) cried when I was holding a chicken and it pooped on me. The first girl that I met showed me to just wipe it off on the back of my calf and carry on – I was completely mortified that first day. Needless to say, I have grown a lot from that experience!
NJMOM: What can we expect from you next year – personally and professionally?
Nicole: 2018 is a very exciting year for us – we are expanding both personally and professionally. Our family welcomed our second daughter. Our daughter Zinnia is nearly 2 years old and having an infant is a very interesting transition and adjustment. Meanwhile, we are not slowing down professionally as we have plans for a pretty extensive restaurant renovation starting late fall of this year. We are building a brand new, larger kitchen, expanding our dining room to allow for private parties and building a covered outdoor space. There will be time for sleep in 2019!
NJMOM: What charitable cause are you most passionate about?
Nicole: Girls on the Run is an amazing organization to encourage girls to get active, build self-esteem, and treat other girls with kindness. I am a runner and had the opportunity to volunteer for several years – it’s such an awesome program, I highly recommend checking it out to support or encourage your daughters to participate. I have not coached in a couple years as life has gotten very busy, but I look forward to coaching my daughters and continue to support this wonderful organization.
NJMOM: Who is your role model? Why?
Nicole: My personal and professional accomplishments would not be possible without the tribe of women that surround me. I am supported by amazing women of varying ages and backgrounds – the women that I think of are mothers and creatives that help me to stay on my path through challenges and joys. I lost my mother last year and because of these women, I have been able to carry on knowing that I am surrounded by the love and support of my dear friends.
NJMOM: What is the best piece of advice a role model ever gave to you?
Nicole: This is very appropriate timing of this question and brought up a lot for me as this week is the one year anniversary of my mother’s death. Many experiences, memories, and words of wisdom have gone through my mind. Not being able to choose one, a common theme is present throughout most of them being the heart of our home – the kitchen. Being from a large, Italian family, cooking and feeding our family is how we show love. My memories of being in the kitchen with my mother continue to warm my heart as I seek solace in the kitchen and feel most connected to her. Providing food to my family and customers is my way of sharing love learned by my mother.
NJMOM: Do you have a favorite quote you live by? Why is this quote so important to you?
“One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.” – Abraham Maslow
Life does not go as we think it should and how we handle those circumstances and experiences is a choice. I have chosen to view challenges and obstacles as opportunities for growth and learning – the universe provides us with exactly what we need, even if it’s not what we expected. Facing fears and challenges head-on and being open to the idea of plans changing helps us to stay in the flow of life and love. The more that I can remember and live by this, the more of my dreams come to fruition in ways that I never imagined.
NJMOM: What are your favorite things to do in New Jersey with your family?
Nicole: We are very fortunate to live and work in beautiful Hunterdon County. Our restaurant is located along the South Branch of the Raritan River in the town of Clinton. Clinton is a gorgeous and picture-perfect town with incredible nearby reservoirs (Spruce Run and Round Valley), towpaths, and hiking trails. Our outdoor spaces are many and the scenery never gets old.
A favorite place is the Columbia Trail (we like to pick it up in High Bridge), it’s great for taking my daughter exploring in the jogging stroller. I especially enjoy the beautiful colors of the foliage in the fall and my daughter is always happy when she can find a muddy puddle or snow pile to jump in.
NJMOM: What is the best part about being a mom for you?
Nicole: My daughter, Zinnia is nearly 2 years old and continues to amaze me every day. I could never imagine our lives being so full and its hard to believe that we will find a way to expand our hearts even further with the arrival of our second daughter. Although having a toddler, an infant, and owning a restaurant may seem crazy, I am so in love with the life that we are creating both at home and the restaurant. This past winter, my husband has been a tremendous help, as I have been able to do a lot of my work from home and spend a lot of time with our family.
NJMOM: What are your favorite businesses in New Jersey?
Nicole: Our town of Clinton has some of my favorite spots including the Hunterdon Art Museum and the Clinton Red Mill. We love to walk around town and hit up the local coffee shops, and Fourchette and Heartstrings always have an irresistibly unique gift. Many of the vendors and businesses that we work with are at our local farmers market – I love visiting the Stangl Market and Dvoor Farmers Market in Flemington.
NJMOM: Where do you reside and vacation in New Jersey?
Nicole: With a restaurant, toddler and being pregnant does not leave much time for vacation. Fortunately, we are blessed to call such a beautiful place home. There are so many opportunities to take advantage of the outdoors in Hunterdon County.
NJMOM: What advice might you have for a fellow NJMOMpreneur who is just starting out?
Nicole: Just over 3 years ago we opened The Clean Plate Kitchen and since then got married, had my daughter and another on the way. Its been a whirlwind and I am so grateful for our continued growth as our restaurant and family expands. I truly believe that if you follow your passion, you can not go wrong. Our crazy, busy life is perfectly imperfect and I so glad that we faced our fears, took chances and created our dream. I encourage you to follow your dreams because it has made all the difference.