Uncommon Grounds is located at 266 Myrtle Ave. in Boonton.  Call 973-316-0606 to find out about upcoming workshops or weekend live entertainment.  A Tsunami Relief Benefit show is being planned for Friday, February 11, 2005 and will feature a number of performers. Call the café for more details.  Reservations are recommended on Friday and Saturday nights.

Boonton, NJ

Even if you are a person who has both feet planted firmly on the ground, enter Uncommon Grounds in Boonton and you may be inclined to levitate, or at least float along as you imbibe the atmosphere in this new age coffee shop.  It’s soon obvious why the place prides itself on its sensory stimuli.  If the eggplant walls, beaded votive holders, and star-shaped lanterns don’t provide enough of a visual rush, then the fragrances of the aromatherapy bar definitely pack an olfactory punch.

The aroma bar, the first one of its kind in the country, according to owners Sandra Stokem and Anne Bryant, consists of a countertop with two stools set in a discreet corner of the cafe.  Here the stressed and the battle-weary can relax as diffusers blow scents in their faces.  Need something to calm frayed nerves?  Try a dose of soothing lavender.  Want to shake off those winter blues?   Invigorating peppermint might be the solution.  And yes, a sign assures those new to the experience: it’s OK to inhale.

“We always have a couple of things on tap”, Bryant said pointing out two diffusers filled with essential oils, the main ingredients of an aromatherapy session.  For $2, visitors can sit at the bar and try one of many stress relief blends.

All of this coupled with the café’s Lennon-esque appeals to “give peace a chance” has prompted comparisons to hippie establishments of an earlier era.  Though they are used to these comparisons and are not offended by them, Stokem and Bryant believe that some things are overlooked in the process.  For one, they say, the substances in their aroma bar are far more wholesome than those at the crux of the 60’s revolution.

“This stuff is legal”, Bryant said, while Stokem emphasized that they are “not into pharmaceuticals”. 

Aromatherapy involves the use of “pure essential oils” from plants, flowers, and seeds, to achieve psychological and physical wellbeing.  Though far from a mainstream practice, it is growing in popularity as interest in holistic healing has spiked in recent years.  “People are more open to [the idea] now”, Stokem said.  Bryant nodded and added with a wry smile, “Ten years ago I think we were viewed as witches”. 

Now, the women said, there were some converts even in the normally skeptical medical profession.  Morristown Memorial Hospital was using diffusers with essential oils in its complementary medicine program and a study conducted by St. Barnabas Hospital in Livingston has established that chamomile and lavender are effective in treating insomnia.

Though all this may appear to be groundbreaking research, Stokem and Bryant pointed out that aromatherapy “has been around forever” with ancient Egyptians having used similar oils to combat many types of illness.

Stokem and Bryant were introduced to aromatherapy by a mutual acquaintance back in 1990 when, as Bryant puts it, they were both in “corporate jobs that they hated”.  Stokem worked in the Personnel department of a company that operated school buses while Bryant was Operations Manager in a large company that sold hair accessories, among other things.

So impressed were they by what they saw, or more aptly, by what they smelt, that they went into business as wholesale vendors of aromatherapy and related products.  But it wasn’t until 2000 when the current Boonton location became available that the idea for a place that could be dubbed “a multi-sensory experience” took root.  Thus was born Uncommon Grounds – a café, aroma bar, gift store, and music club all rolled into one.

As the café’s chef, Bryant is the creative force behind the menu that includes a selection of gourmet, healthy wraps and some delectable desserts.  Some items bear the unmistakable stamp of the place.  Where else can one get a Buddha Wrap, a meditative mix of hummus, portabella mushroom, and avocado rolled up in a tortilla?  Alternatively, one can delve into a “multi-sensory salad” with its palate-pleasing assortment of organic greens, fruits, nuts, cheese, artichokes, and olives. Specialty coffee or one of many varieties of tea provides a satisfying finishing note.

“One thing we did not want to do was to go out and copy [other restaurants]”, Bryant said, describing how they worked hard to give the place its individuality.  And they are justifiably proud of what they have created.  From the stripped down, unattractive space that they first started out with, the duo created the current environment that they describe variously as “art in motion” and “very embracing”.

On Friday and Saturday evenings, Stokem and Bryant book musical talent to provide live entertainment in their place’s Buddha lounge.  In this cozy space outfitted with some comfortable sofas, images of the Buddha coexist with eye-popping artwork such as the gem-studded depiction of mermaids by West Milford-based artist, Lalainya.

The weekend entertainment is a big draw and the two nights represent the busiest of the week for the duo.  “People don’t want to leave [after the show]”, Stokem laughed. 

Along one side of the room, shelves and tables are used to display the gift store selection.  It includes oils from their wholesale business as well as certain one-of-a-kind pieces crafted by artists around the world.  There is a rain stick from Mexico, rosaries from Brazil, incense sticks and silk scarves from India, and organic soaps from Vermont.

James Giordano, 38, of Boonton Township comes to the café at least once a week for lunch and to browse through the gift store.  Giordano said that he liked the food and the music in the place describing it as “chill-out, trance music”. 

Though they are pleased with the following they have built so far, the women realize that there are certain liabilities to being located in a non-prime area.  Their café is in an unpretentious section of Boonton where their fellow merchants are largely automotive and hardware shops.

“It’s not a place where people who are walking by, see your store and decide to come in”, Bryant said.   “Now people come to Uncommon Grounds only after [planning to do so in advance]”.  And so they are looking for a second location, they say, preferably in ‘a walking town” where they can draw some more of the impulsive lunch and dinner crowd.  But for now, Bryant, who also lives in Boonton and Stokem, a Lake Hiawatha resident, are happy with the success of their venture.

“If you do the right thing, good things come back to you”, Bryant said.   She laughed as Stokem groaned at the hackneyed phrase.  Even for a place that is unlike any other, a cliché sometimes says it better than anything else.