Asbury Park and Pier Village in Long Branch have been eating off Red Bank’s plate for too long.
That’s the message from a group of borough restaurant owners who have banded together in an effort to recapture a bigger piece of the Monmouth County dining-out pie.
After three years of slow build-up, the no-name group is ready to bust out of the Red Bank RiverCenter crib with its own marketing effort aimed at bringing some sizzle back to the downtown.
“Red Bank has really fallen behind,” says red and the Downtown owner Dan Lynch. “We have a really great grouping of restaurants that needs to be showcased.”
“There’s no name or structure” to the group, says George Lyristis, owner of Bistro at Red Bank and, for the past week, Teak. “It’s just a bunch of restaurants getting together, trying to figure out how to get Red Bank on its feet.”
But the group of 25 to 30 restaurants does have a plan, one that’s expected to yield visible results in coming weeks.
Armed with $35,000 in marketing funds, the restaurants have hired M Studio Design & Marketing – based in Asbury Park, wouldn’t you know – to create a butt-kicking website and social media campaign to juice interest in Red Bank eateries, and eventually, retailing and public events.
The firm has done splashy web and print work for the City of Asbury Park, Langosta Lounge, and the Bond Street Bar, among others clients.
The seed money comes from RiverCenter, but was generated not by the Special Improvement District tax on businesses downtown and on the West Side but by fees paid by customers of last year’s Food & Wine Walk.
Proceeds from the sale of $20 tickets to the event went into a segregated account held for the restaurants, which organized and managed the event, says Nancy Adams, RiverCenter’s executive director.
“They earned it,” says Adams, who adds she’s unaware of any prior use by the business-promotion agency of dedicated accounts. “But it’s also a new time, new economy,” she says.
Though all the participating restaurateurs – including Readies Fine Foods owner Tom Fishkin, who is vice chairman of RiverCenter – make nice with the agency, the restaurant breakout does reflect some frustration, not so much with RiverCenter as with the limits of what RiverCenter can do to generate interest in stores and restaurants.
“RiverCenter is not a marketing firm, it’s a Special Improvement District” that includes landlords, retailers, banks and other types of businesses, says Fishkin. “We’re just looking to coordinate things and not have to rely on RiverCenter so much. If we can do it with their assistance, that’s great.”
“Red Bank’s fallen off the map,” says Dish owner and chef Anthony Ferrando. “We don’t want to blame anyone. It just needs to be promoted.”
Lyristis says everyone involved “took their eye off the ball” as Pier Village, downtown Asbury Park and that city’s boardwalk came roaring out of nothing to steal the borough’s reputation as a diner’s paradise. Now, with an influx of new restaurants to Red Bank, including organic pizzeria Pizza Fusion, gourmet Chinese Temple, Vietnamese Pho Le and the soon-to-open Blue Water Seafood, it’s time for the restaurants to lock arms with other types of businesses, he says.
“We’ve got to own up to the mistakes we’ve made,” he says. Now, “we’re taking our destiny in our own hands.”
In addition to the website and more proactive and engaging use of Facebook and Twitter anticipated under the contract with M Studio, the restaurants hope to expand a roster of events that call specific attention to eateries and stores in town.
For starters, the group will be organizing a second Food & Wine Walk as well as a reprise of last year’s highly successful Oysterfest in a bid to stimulate appetites and replenish the fund, members say. Details to come.