Wildflowers owner Ken Mather opened the restaurant in the mid-80s following a successful restaurant venture in Toms River. (Photo by Lynn Robbins.)
Widlflowers, in Pennington, has been a local landmark for almost 30 years. (Photo by Lynn Robbins.)
When Ken Mather opened Wildflowers in the mid 80s, he had a vision. He wanted a place where people could come together and have a good time.
“ ‘Cheers’was my vision,” said Mather from a table at his restaurant.
It was the same vision that guided him when he opened his first restaurant some 15 years earlier, Ken Mather’s Place in Toms River. Mathers enjoys knowing that he opened his restaurant before the first episode of the TV show “Cheers” aired in 1982.
Mather’s venture into the world of restaurants began after completing a hitch in the Navy in 1961. He took a position in customer support and sales at Mettler Instrument, and during his off hours, worked at his father in-law’s bar and restaurant, the Corner Inn on Laylor Street. He managed the kitchen making the restaurant’s specialties, fish and chips and pizza.
A keen business sense and a love of learning led Mather to explore different professions over the next several years, but preparing and sharing food was always part of his life.
Realizing that he could make more money at Sears, he joined the company selling carpeting where he became the number one salesman in North America. He became friends with Lou Guida (owner of the famous race and harness horse Niatross) who persuaded him to become a stockbroker. Acting on his friend’s advice and his own instincts, he enrolled in a six-month program in New York studying corporate finance. He became an account executive at Merrill Lynch where he worked at the West State Street office in Trenton for about three years in the 70s.
One of the social traditions among the executives was having house parties. It wasn’t long before everyone learned that Mather knew how to cook.
“When the stock market went to hell in the 70s,” said Mather, “my friends said, ‘If I had your talent, I would open a restaurant’.”
That’s when he decided to act on his vision, and opened Ken Mather’s Place. After 15 successful years in Toms River, Mather wanted to move back to the Trenton area and sold the restaurant which is still open today as Rivoli’s. His kitchen manager Lori came with him to the Pennington restaurant.
In 1986, Mather met with Paul Rosenthal, the owner of Wayside Inn, and after many friendly conversations, he and his wife Lorelei purchased the restaurant. The bartender Jan stayed on and is still with them today.
“I couldn’t believe I was able to buy it,” Mather said.
He and Lorelei renamed the restaurant “Wildflowers,” inspired by a trip they took together in California. Today locals call it “The Flower.”
“Since we’ve been here, we’ve added two patio rooms and a second seating area, and flat screen TVs” Mather said.
The second room is often used for private parties and wedding showers. Customers are charged for the food they order but are not charged rent.
“The most popular items are pizza and pasta dishes,” Mather said. “Everything in here is cooked to order.”
The menu includes beef and seafood dishes and sandwiches. New items include smoked and barbecued pork and beef ribs, pulled pork, and sliced beef brisket. For vegetarians, the restaurant offers vegetable and vegan soups, eggplant dishes, and a larger variety of salads.
For Valentine’s Day, they are offering a lobster tail and steak dinner. In March, they’re planning special March Madness menus for the sports crowd.
Wildflowers is truly a family run restaurant. Before Mather’s wife passed away, she worked as a hostess. Today, his daughters Jacquelyn and Victoria help manage the place and keep it running. His granddaughter, who recently graduated from Johnson and Wales, is learning the business.
Mather said his only issue with owning the restaurant is having to maintain a private sewer system. It’s very expensive, he said. ELSA (Ewing Lawrence Sewerage Authority) has given him permission to hook up to their line. Mather and other close-by proprietors are communicating with the township hoping to come to a resolution that is agreeable for business owners, the township, and all Pennington residents.
When Mather isn’t managing the restaurant, he’s busy with another passion, building. He’s in the process of building his new house in Pennington, and planning a new horse arena to be built in Wertsville.
But Wildflowers still represents his vision.
“I’d like my children to keep Wildflowers,” Mather said. “The restaurant is my passion.”
Wildflowers Restaurant is located at 2572 Pennington Road in Pennington. On the Web: wildflowersinnrestaurant.com. Phone: (609) 737-2392.