Newark has long catered to the business-lunch crowd. Now, it is aiming to get commuters to hang around for dinner. New York City restaurateurs are devouring New Jersey's largest city with plans to transform the nine-to-five culture into a late-night hub as Newark's once struggling downtown continues to undergo a renaissance.
For newcomers such as Barcade, a craft beer, videogame lounge and gastropub with locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn, that means staying open until 2 a.m. on weekdays and 4 a.m. on weekends.
Restaurateurs move to transform Newark's nine-to-five culture into a late-night hub.
“We looked at is as a great opportunity to get in while the city was in a comeback period and hopefully to recreate a nightlife scene,” co-owner Paul Kermizian said.
A restaurant-sized retail space under 5,000 square feet in Newark costs about $100,000 annually. That is a fraction of the cost in Manhattan, where the same space would average $550,000 a year, or Brooklyn, where it could run $350,000 a year, according to real-estate firm CoStar.
About 36 new restaurants have opened in the downtown area alone in the past year, according to a representative with the mayor's office. They are keeping up with an influx of people moving in. More than 1,000 multifamily units have been built in Newark since 2014, and another 900 units are under construction, according to CoStar. Total investment for residential, commercial and industrial projects is $1.7 billion since 2015, said Newark's Department of Economic and Housing Development.
Newark got its first Whole Foods on the ground floor of the Hahne & Co. building in March. The former department- store building underwent a $174 million renovation and will house celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson's new restaurant Marcus B&P in November.
The Ethiopian-born chef, who got diners to travel above 96th Street in Harlem to his high-end soul-food restaurants Red Rooster and Streetbird Rotisserie, sees Newark as a similar opportunity. “We're not a restaurant that's going to close once the businesses are closing,” Mr. Samuelsson said. Newark has come a long way.
In 2015, WalletHub released a list of its 150 best and worst cities to start a business and Newark ranked as one of the worst due to its limited employee availability and high local cost of living. In 2013, it had the third-highest murder rate in the nation. The city's overall crime rate decreased by 13% in 2016, according to Newark officials.
“When I was back in school, Halsey Street was empty. There was nothing there,” said Luis Valls-Amabile, who opened his first restaurant Ono Grinds Poke, a fast-casual spot on Newark's Raymond Boulevard serving Hawaii aninspired bowls of sushi-grade tuna, salmon and tofu.
“Everybody was saying, ‘You've got to open up in Jersey City or Hoboken.' Those places are saturated. We'd rather be a part of something that's on its way up,” he said. Some lunch spots are beginning to extend their hours, too. Middle Eastern eatery Green Chicpea, serving fastcasual kosher falafel and shawarma, will stay open until 7 p.m. on weekdays starting next month. Newly opened Playa Bowls on Bleeker Street in Newark serves as a latenight healthy-food hangout offering smoothie and açaí bowls until 10 p.m. And the Ainsworth, a luxury sports bar with locations in Manhattan and Hoboken serves halfpriced steaks on Monday nights at its newly opened space in the Hotel Indigo.
Newark's downtown, however, is a long way from becoming an evening dining destination. Many restaurants still close at about 5 p.m. on weekdays and shutter entirely on weekends. “It's mostly commuters. There's really not a lot of business,” said Manny Beovides, owner of Cuban buffet- style restaurant La Cocina on New Street.
|Old-School Enclave Attracts Millennials|
|Newark's Ironbound district is known for two things: Its hard-working immigrant community and no-frills, good food. The city's culinary crownjewel neighborhood east of downtown and Penn Station is rich in diversity and economic activity, with about 200 restaurants and markets reflecting a melting pot of Portuguese, Spanish, Brazilian, Ecuadorean and Mexican cultures.
The enclave that often is overlooked, is preserving the old despite new development. “There's a gentrification that's happening because all of the companies coming into downtown Newark,” said Tony Martinez, owner of Mompou, a Spanish- style tapas restaurant that has been around for more than a decade. “We have a modern, yet rustic feel. We tend to appeal more to millennials these days that are working in the area and coming to us for happy hour.”
The main drag of Ferry Street is a feast for the eyes. Portuguese flags hang inside windows of tiny markets with terra-cotta style rooftops in the neighborhood that feels a bit like Lisbon. Fare such as Mexican tortilla soup, seafood paella, calamari and spicy chorizo entice patrons all within a one-block radius.
In the early 19th century, the Ironbound became a powerhouse for urban development, amid an industrial boom that shaped the neighborhood as a result of the completion of the first railroads. With more job opportunities came an influx of European immigrants who brought culinary traditions with them.
Today, 72 percent of Ironbound residents are foreign born, according to a report by East Ward councilman Augusto Amador. A new wave of people are discovering it—mostly Brooklyn and Manhattan transplants. “It's a good investment because it's trending up,” said Seth Grossman, director of the Ironbound Business Improvement District.
BY JEANETTE SETTEMBRE