Interview with Little by Little Magazine

Deborah Hernandez has one mission: bringing beauty into the world. Whether she’s writing, traveling, gardening or decorating, creativity is always the focus and she documents this on her website, Italy: Little by Little. Deborah’s latest project is her own magazine: Little by Little Magazine that incorporates all of her creative endeavors. We were thrilled when she asked us to be in her debut issue! See our excerpt below or subscribe here for your own copy!

Italy Little by Little: Now that you’ve created so much success from your retail and restaurant career, can you tell us where your story began and how it has evolved?

Matt Trotter: I grew up on Water Street during my teenage years and had a lot of positive influences from the business owners that made their home there.  I was so intrigued by the flurry of creativity and imagination and the different things they brought about - be it food, product or displays - all those experiences created an attraction to Water Street. After college, and having worked mostly for independent retailers up to that point, I decided it would be fun to have a shop of my own back in Princeton.  My family still owned a building at the time in town and it was the one my great-grandparents housed their textile business in (including Muk Luks).  So I set up shop in the storefront and named it after the horses we had growing up that I remember often escaping their pen and wandering downtown.   That was the beginning of Teak & Soxy

That went about for 3 years until my partner, Jeff, decided I should operate a food truck outside the store and offer the kind of food I would cook for him at home. (It would be easy like in the movie “Chef” we watched together!)  So in 2015, with lots of help from friends and family, we transformed an old school bus into a legitimate food truck. We were able to utilize Green Lake Kitchens at Town Square instead of investing in expensive equipment and they offered support to us as well. 

After a couple years in, we started to get good feedback, a regular following and things started to grow.  And that eventually led me to my current business partner, Alex Pearsall, who brought his family and friends to the bus on a regular basis.  In the Fall of 2016, we started joking about a restaurant and then one day after lunch and a couple cans of wine, he bought the building we now call home. We spent the majority of 2017 and early 2018 renovating, designing and creating our current space and two Airbnb dwellings above. 

ILBL: I understand that entrepreneurs run in the family.  What can you share about your Grandparents family legacy?

They inherited the Muk Luks business, and even though sold off the Muk Luks name in the 1970s, continued manufacturing knitted footwear and socks into the late 90s. I spent my childhood in that factory, collecting candy as a 6 year-old from the women who decorated the ankles of the golf socks they designed. And playing with the heat transfer machines, adding logos and business names to mine and my friends clothing after hours.  And I suppose a lot of all that exposed me to what running a business was.  What I remember most is the hours my Grandpa devoted to his business as I was growing up. He was always there and always took great care of everyone.  Including the community.  

ILBL: Most successful folks have experienced some challenges along the way, what were your greatest obstacles and how did you overcome whatever stood in your way? Have things gone according to your plans?

I think a lot of people can relate to having a “job” and then having a “passion” on the side they wish could be their job. Deciding when to let those 2 things, the “job” and the “passion,” be one in the same is challenging. Teak & Soxy was just a part-time gig for me. I never expected it to evolve into what it has. But I did decide to pursue it full-time and that commitment was maybe the most terrifying. But it’s also been the most gratifying.  

ILBL: In terms of Horseradish , what would you say sets you and your food apart?

MT: I always joke that the photos people take of us or share socially are 10% of the food and 90% of everything else.  And I’m okay with that because I always imagined the food to be part of a larger picture. The music, the props, the environment - they all lend a hand to the experience and those details are just as important to me as the food. And I think that’s what sets us and our food apart. That when you leave, all your senses are fed. 

ILBL: What’s next and what big plans can you share with us? 

MT: Gosh, we’re kind of on a high right now with the rush of Summer and humbled by the buzz of our first few months.  Our plan is to carry on into Fall, and introduce what we’re calling, “Family Meal,” where we’ll announce the menu and prebook the dinner ahead of time for seats at the table. In addition to that, we are continuing to book private events/parties which have been a great deal of fun for us.  While we can accommodate groups of all sizes, the “Family Table” seats 15-22 beautifully and makes for a wonderful shared meal.  

Thanks for having us Debtwo

Matt Trotter