The Unknown Remembered Gate (for Dawn Raia)

Posted by on Aug 25, 2013 in Lambertville-New Hope, Local-Sustainable Living | Comments Off on The Unknown Remembered Gate (for Dawn Raia)

The Unknown Remembered Gate (for Dawn Raia)
Staff clean-up after flood

Staff clean-up after flood


Entering the new Caffe Galleria on Bridge Street in Lambertville is a strong reminder that all things do pass, even the worst of times, and with a little hope and a lot of effort, life can rise from the ashes, or in this case, outa deep water.

Summer of 2011 Dawn Raia’s Caffe Galleria Restaurant on Lilly Street, Lambertville was flooded from Hurricane Irene.

While Dawn quickly scrambled to get a new space to employ her team at the Lambertville House, on Bridge Street, getting this spot did not deter Dawn from establishing a permanent home for her restaurant down the street, in the old Church parsonage building, on Union Street.

When the new Caffe Galleria opened November 16, 2012, on Union Street, it was a well-timed encouragement to all of us still reeling after getting hit yet again just months earlier, from hurricane Sandy.  It was a big sign that said, no matter what happens, Dorothy, you will return home.


Opening of the new Caffe Galleria, Bridge Street, November 2012

If you are not from here, it might be hard to understand why this restaurant coming back was such a big deal, what the previous Caffe Galleria on Lilly Street was for people.

It was small, just 8 or so tables, and the service was bad, and by bad I mean it took a while to get your food.  This got better as the years went on, but sometimes they had a relapse with a frazzled new waitress.

But the comfort of just being there cancelled out its flaws.  Part of it was the food: delicious, fresh and always perfectly cooked, and the aroma of garlic that filled the place.  But it was also the atmosphere.  The place was cozy being small.  Throw pillows on its built-in banquette seating made it feel comfortable.  The location was out-of-the-fray being on a side street.  In a relaxed town, it was a place locals could really relax, like take a load off with friends, eat and linger and no one would rush you out the door.

Ironically, it was also a place a local could truly eat alone.  I have several friends that did so there, weekly.  No one would try to chat you up.  This is rare in our friendly town where you cannot go two blocks without being stopped for a catch-up.

Indeed, it was a place where you could burst into tears, break-up, or argue.  No one blinked, bothered or came by to ask an ill-timed, “Can I get you anything else?”  

In this tiny, delicious space, you could come as you are.

Dawn Raia & Hernan Guerra, Chefs

Dawn Raia & Hernan Guerra, Chefs

Dawn’s warmth and candor set this overall tone for Lilly Street Caffe Galleria.  Many of us went there to see her, a bonus with the great meal (she often cooked on weekend nights).  Her warm table-side-visits, booming hello, and big hug made the place feel like home.  She’d come out from the kitchen and saddle up to your table, stained apron and all, to take a break.

For all these reasons, when this spot was gone, until it came back, Lambertville did not feel like itself.

Being inside the new Caffe Galleria on Union Street, when it reopened last November, was nothing short of comforting.
Its interior was warmed with candles and the dim light of Victorian light fixtures.  The tables, slabs of sanded squares of planed whole trees, within burgundy walls gave the otherwise formal Victorian building an organic, natural feel.  The banquette seating, this time, old church pews, was strewn with throw pillows like the old place.

As well, the new place, like the old was filled with the delicious scent of simmering sauces, garlic, and wine.  But the sound was almost difficult to bear, the place was packed with so many people.  Our shared happiness at Dawn’s reopening made the noise a small price to pay.  Eventually with some well placed sound proofing tiles, months later this problem was solved and conversation at the new Caffe Galleria, like the old spot, was hushed and intimate.


What set this new spot apart from so many local restaurants was its sharp entrance.  Running the expanse of the hostess area was a gorgeous white marble counter reminiscent of a classic New York soda shop, stacked with shiny white espresso cups, cakes, and at one end, a glass case filled with gelato and homemade sorbets, free for tasting.

Behind this front counter, patrons can see into the kitchen, just like in the old place, and say hello to the chef or if you are lucky, Dawn.


Dawn Raia, Caffe Galleria opening, November 16, 2012

At the opening, the sweet sight, of Dawn’s determined, open-hearted face was the best part of all.  Always dreaming of her next move.

You can never go home again.  The new place is certainly not a facsimile of the old, but it does recapture the cuisine, aromas and warmth of its former self.  With the larger scale, what is lost is obvious, not the least of which is Dawn’s presence.  But I like to think us regulars from the old spot have a “locket” we can keep, of that special memory of the Lilly Street Caffe Galleria.

All things change.  This only makes memory sweeter.

And this season, after the new Caffe Galleria has now been established for a full year, a fresh hurricane hit.  And by fresh I mean downright rude.   Dawn got suddenly sick with cancer.  I can only believe this magnanimous, creative, and loving spirit will once again find a way to overcome the deep-water.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning   -Excerpt from T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding

Its easy to explain what a place means to a community; far more difficult, a person.  

In Dawn’s case it can only be shown by reflection: the dozens of people who have stepped up to volunteer to raise funds to pay for her medical bills due to a cap on her health insurance benefits.  A group led by Herb and Joan Spiegel are planning a dinner down Union Street next June, 2014 (yes, down Union Street, more details to come).

After all the dinners Dawn has given us, the least we can do is throw one for her!

I attended a meeting of the group this past week.  There are many committees being formed to take care of various aspects of planning.  

This show of our resources, and enthusiasm to help Dawn are a reflection of how this woman has deepened our hearts and contributed to our community.  I thought it was impressive to see the three hundred-or-so people who came to support her opening the new place, at her Zoning Board hearing .  Just wait to see the thousand that will attend her dinner next June.

Onward outa deep water!  Will you grab a paddle?

Interested in making a donation to Dawn’s medical bill fund or volunteering with the dinner, please email:  Herb & Joan Spiegel <>