As Montclair’s reputation as an epicurean hot spot has grown, one woman and her PR firm have been behind the scenes to help curate this reputation. Karen Schloss, the founder of hospitality PR firm diaz*schloss, is a longtime Montclair resident with decades of experience in media relations. Over the past 15 years in Montclair, the team at diaz*schloss has represented, consulted for, and helped shape the reputations of beloved restaurants like Samba Montclair, Fascino, Amanti Vino, Java Love, De Novo, Pharmacie Bar + Kitchen, Plum GF Bakery, Miss Nicky’s Gourmet Toffee, Montclair Social Club, and dozens more. Read on to learn more about Karen’s career journey in Montclair and her favorite local picks.
The Montclair Girl: Tell us about diaz * schloss communications.
KS: I’m the co-founder/owner of diaz * schloss communications, a Montclair-based public relations, marketing communications, and social media firm focusing on hospitality and the food and beverage business sector. Our strengths include communications strategy, traditional media relations, launching new venues, promotions + community involvement, digital and social marketing, digital ad programs, and refreshing/reinvigorating “tired” brands.
MG: What inspired you to start your business?
KS: In the ’90s, my boss and mentor launched a food and beverage division within her boutique public relations firm and asked if I’d work with her. It was a prescient move because, at that time, NYC was thrumming with bold young chefs, cocktail creators, and owner/managers. After I left the firm, I worked for a big agency and cried every day on my way to the office. Literally cried. My ex-husband was an entrepreneur and made me a deal: he’d teach me how to be a small business owner if I taught him food and beverage PR. That’s how diaz * schloss communications was born.
MG: How long have you lived in Montclair?
KS: We moved to Montclair around 25 years ago from Huntington Long Island. We fell in love with our Trinity Place apartment as soon as we walked in! It had 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, a stately dining room, and the rent was something like $800/month.
MG: Who or what is your biggest source of inspiration?
KS: I am fiercely proud of the entire hospitality industry, especially after two years of COVID. The pandemic forever altered business-as-usual for every foodservice entity: restaurants, bakeries, pizzerias, coffee bars, bagel stores. I’m still marveling at how they met the challenges of closing for months, then opening for delivery and takeout, then morphing into mini-markets for basics like milk and toilet paper, using QR codes for menus, normalizing outdoor dining in freezing weather, and now, a critical staffing crisis. The resilience and willingness to pivot over and over inspire me. And by the way, thank you, legislators, for allowing the sale of cocktails-to-go early on; it was a significant revenue generator for many venues.
MG: What’s a typical day look like for you?
KS: It’s always varied. We’re a four-person team and work virtually, but the one thing that’s sacrosanct is a weekly two-hour staff meeting where we assess client activity and brainstorm on creative opportunities and other deliverables. We respond to bloggers’ and journalists’ queries; write, edit, design, and blast out press announcements; we’re in daily contact with clients about upcoming events or media opportunities; we handle social media and coordinate ad campaigns as needed; we measure results and report back; we even consult on staff uniforms and music selection. But the best part of the job (of course!) is friends + family, media, and influencer dinners and tastings. It’s the most delicious part of the gig.
MG: What is something that has stuck out most to you in your career?
KS: The most impactful, life-changing period in my career happened on September 11th. Windows on the World, the spectacular restaurant complex on the 106th + 107th floors of the World Trade Center’s North Tower, was our beloved longtime client. We shut down the agency for two months to be of service however we could. The first task we took on was providing channels like CNN with text for their crawls. Ours read something like, “If you were an employee at Windows on the World, please contact this phone number and let us know where you are.” There were no survivors. In the months that followed, we devoted ourselves to fundraising for Windows of Hope, which raised millions to provide college tuition for kids of food service workers in both towers.
MG: What advice would you give to women who want to start their own business?
KS: When I was debating whether to go out on my own, an old-time Hollywood PR pro gave me the following advice: Do it, but specialize. The work will come. And (gratefully) it has. The second piece of advice is if you have the chance to hire staff, choose smart, kind, enthusiastic moms who want to get back into the workplace.
MG: What is your favorite restaurant in Montclair?
KS: Bluestone Coffee Company in Watchung Plaza. It’s my #1 go-to. I always order the same thing: Greek omelet or Breakfast Burrito with Turkey Sausage, super crispy potatoes, and whole-grain toast. The food is consistently good and the coffee is as well. Service is friendly and conscientious. What more can you ask from an endearing local spot?
MG: What is your favorite boutique in Montclair?
KS: Dot Reeder. Ahh that jewelry!
MG: What do you love most about Montclair?
KS: Our public schools. My daughter graduated in 2020 – she got a really solid education at Bradford, Glenfield, and the high school. A STEM girl from the start, she enrolled in the extraordinary Civics + Government Institute small learning community. What she took away from there will inform everything else she’ll do in life; I have no doubt.
MG: What is your favorite thing to do in Essex County?
KS: I love tooling around Newark, especially The Ironbound and Newark Museum of Art. We’ve had several clients in Newark over the years, NJPAC for example, and the city is vibrant and compelling. The creation of NJPAC was visionary. It’s a magnificent asset to our state.
MG: Tell us about another business in the area you admire.
KS: I’m blown away by the stunning re-do of Claridge Cinema, the non-profit run by Montclair Film. In fact, my boyfriend and I are headed there tomorrow to catch one of the many Oscar-nominated films.
MG: What is your favorite outdoor place to spend time in Essex County?
KS: I have to give a shoutout to Grover Cleveland Park in Essex Fells. It is a terrific playground for kids and offers lots of serene green paths to walk. And Branch Brook Park, especially at Cherry Blossom time, is glorious. So lush and romantic!
MG: What is your favorite place to work out in Essex County?
KS: Everything changed once COVID hit. Now my salvation is my first-floor family room, yoga mat, lightweights, and streaming classes.
MG: Where do you go out with friends in the area?
KS: DeNovo is always top-of-mind. Full disclosure: they’re a former client, but the truth is, it’s a feel-good restaurant with a lively bar scene, fun cocktails, and scrumptious bar bites. Everyone always looks like they’re having a blast at DeNovo. I’m also a big fan of Halcyon: it has excellent service, sophisticated cocktails, and well-prepared food.
MG: What is something you think needs to come to Montclair?
KS: First and foremost, a superb steakhouse: high-end (ish), unrivaled quality, and classic accouterments like crabcakes and wedge salad. We could also use a recreational cannabis dispensary; long overdue.