Rolling With The Punches in North Jersey

It’s no secret that New Jerseyans are resilient. Over the past few weeks, several local restaurants have been making adjustments to their business model to accommodate the ever-changing situation. 

Business owners are making changes that they could not have dreamed up just a few weeks back. Bakeries, ice cream shops and cafes have transformed into pop-up grocery shops and meal delivery services. Fine dining restaurants are now offering quick-service concepts, like take-out sandwiches and rotisserie chicken. 

It might not be ‘normal’ but it’s the ‘new normal’, and the creativity is inspiring! Let’s take a look at some of the innovation that we’ve seen. 

Skopos Hospitality Group

Skopos Hospitality Group has four concepts in North Jersey — Cowan’s Public (Nutley), The Barrow House (Clifton), The Vanguard (Harrison) and Franklin Social (Jersey City). We heard from owner Tom Maroulakos about the changes that they’ve made.

‘The COVID-19 pandemic has presented numerous challenges not only to the hospitality industry but more importantly to the health and safety of our guests and community.  With four unique concepts at Skopos Hospitality Group, we saw this as an opportunity to help our community while experimenting with new concepts and business models.  In addition to donating meals to local hospitals and first responders, we currently offer ‘market’ items at each location that have been difficult to find at grocery stores, including pantry items, produce and proteins.  

Understanding that many of those in our community are operating on tight budgets, working from home, and caring for their families, we offer family-style packages at The Barrow House, value-driven sandwiches at our Franklin Social pop-up ‘Benny’s’ and casual, authentic Mexican cuisine at our Cowan’s Public pop-up ‘Señor John’s’.  We will also be launching a market and takeout menu at The Vanguard in Harrison, with a focus on donating meals to those in the community who are food insecure.

We see many of these adjustments as permanent or semi-permanent changes to our business model, as the effects of the pandemic will linger well into next year.  We believe that the highest levels of growth come from challenging situations, and we view this as an opportunity to serve our community while emerging as a stronger company.’ 

Ani Ramen

Ani Ramen is a ramen staple in North Jersey, and it’s no surprise that they have continued to open new locations and grow their brand. They have locations in Jersey City, Montclair, Summit and Maplewood. We heard from Team Ani Ramen about their new pop-up concept.

‘When the Ani Ramen team found themselves facing the pandemic, they decided that they couldn’t serve their delicious Ramen to-go in a way that would meet their high standards — or those of their guests. In the spirit of hospitality, and with the support of their generous suppliers like Sun Noodle, they took their remaining supplies and shared thousands of ramen meal kits with anyone in their communities in need. Then they shuttered their Ani Ramen locations for the short term, looking forward to the day when they can open safely.

Now, Montclair HospitalityGroup, owners of Ani Ramen House, are introducing short-term, nonprofit 501(c)(3) pop-up take-out and delivery concepts at four of their existing Ani Ramen locations. The first opened April 24th in Jersey City, to be followed by Montclair in May, and Maplewood and Summit in June.

These temporary, nonprofit pop-ups will not only provide guests with delicious pizza and Thai rotisserie chicken, but are also a way to give back: when guests purchase take-out/delivery (at a lower than normal price point), they will be encouraged to add a little extra to their tab to cover a donated meal for first responders, frontline medical staff, displaced hospitality workers in their communities. These pop-ups also allow Ani Ramen to rehire a good portion of the staff they furloughed.’

Sip’N Swirl

Sip’N Swirl in Little Falls specializes in all things sweets! Well, at least they used to. Now, they are serving up a ton of new and exciting dishes. From homemade mac and cheese and French toast donut souffle to homemade pancake mix and syrup, there is so much to enjoy. Let’s take a look at what their head of operations, Jed had to say.

‘In early March we were supposed to go to California for a specialty ice cream trade show that was canceled. On March 13th we were getting paid to wrap the truck for a Billie Eilish concert in Philly and that was also canceled. Everything started to get very real. I was looking around at my employees, who I care about alot. I said to myself, how am I going to pay everyone? How are we going to pay for anything. Covid was here. I said to a coworker John, everyone is quarantined… What if we deliver? People were laughing at me. I said for real. They said you’re crazy (I said I know). But I was dead serious, and I know people love service, quarantine or not. We started small. The phone rang off the hook the first day. I said I’d be happy with five deliveries. They all said I was nuts, and that we weren’t going to get any… WE GOT 50 DELIVERIES! I can’t express how happy I was that first day. Since then we have slowly been adding items. We started doing some cooking — Mac ‘n cheese with smoked gouda, spinach lasagna pesto roll ups, French onion couscous soup. My personal favorite is the french toast doughnut souffle — I get to repurpose the day old donuts!  

We also recently started making pancake mix. I went to Target, Whole Foods and Food Town and saw that they were all out of pancake mix and flour! Aunt Gerry’s pancake mix has become our biggest sellers, and we are even starting to make homemade syrup. We are also donating some money back to a good cause, full details on our website. We are donating $2 a pint for two different flavors to Micky, a local resident who is printing face covers for local hospital workers. It makes me really happy that we can help Micky help others. So far we’ve helped him buy two more 3D printers.  

I can’t leave out how much the staff and key members have stepped up. They appreciate the huge tips that the community is leaving for them. Our local community has been so supportive as we always try to support them, and it’s nice for a small business to feel the reciprocation. We have received so many nice notes.’ 

The Love Of Grub

The Love of Grub in Clifton prides themselves on cooking house-made dishes from scratch with the freshest ingredients around. While they normally serve up cafe fare like salads, soups and sandwiches they have added a bunch of new concepts into the mix. Owner Tracey Travers gives us the scoop on the latest.

‘At the beginning of the Covid-19 plague, I worried how I would keep my still very young business afloat. I couldn’t let a virus be the reason my business failed.  Members of the community started to come in and ask if I would be able to survive this and wished me well saying “we don’t want to lose you!!”

When the State of NJ began to shut down, people were no longer getting up for work so we totally lost our breakfast crowd.  After a lot of worry, thought, and discussions with my family, we decided together to totally switch up our business plan. The first mission was: how do we keep our doors open and survive this? The second: how can we better serve our community?  

Our first pivotal decision was to change our hours to be available to our customers’ new schedules. Next, we decided that we could help the community and our business by offering deli items (specifically our house made roast beef and turkey breast), and other sliced meats and cheeses, as well as fresh rolls from our bakery wholesaler. The simple idea of offering our existing items as something other than prepared food gave birth to the concept of offering our community the opportunity to “skip the store”. We began increasing inventory on essential grocery items such as milk, bread, butter, and eggs. As the community rallied behind us, we increased the variety of items and now have essentially become a small grocery store as well as a fully functioning restaurant.  

In an effort to help people feel safe and comfortable, we offer curbside no contact pickup and no contact delivery free of charge to those residing in Clifton and neighboring Passaic. Deliveries outside of those areas incur a nominal $5 delivery fee.

The support and gratitude I have received from the community is astounding. I would like to thank everyone for their unwavering support… It is the greatest feeling that the community has allowed me to be of service to them. The future for The Love of Grub looks promising and it is my hope that I can be there for everyone once life gets back to normal!’

We’d love to hear more stories from you, and we’ll continue to share them. Tag us on social media @yelpnorthjersey.