RED BANK — After a lengthy vacancy, the site formerly occupied by Ashes restaurant will re-open as restaurant and bar.
The site has been vacant since July of 2010.
The new operation won approval at the borough planning board meeting Monday night.
Developers plan to establish a primary food business and bar on the first two floors of the three-story location, utilizing about 7,118 square feet of the site on the two floors, according to information submitted to the borough planning and zoning office.
Owned by the Good Fork Restaurant Group, LLC, Raritan, it has brothers Matteo and Luciano Ingrao as its owners.
The two own and operate another location, their first Char, located in Raritan, and this week Matteo said he had been planning another location for some time and considered Red Bank or Livingston as possible locations.
“It was calling for us to open and expand,” Ingrao said on Wednesday.
Ingrao previously owned a restaurant in Freehold, and was familiar with Red Bank’s downtown. Ironically, in the early 2000s, he was approached to join a partnership with one of the then owners of Ashes, ultimately passing on the offer. “I always liked the location,” he said, noting when the spot became available he entered into negotiations with the property owner.
The property owner is listed as 29 Broad Street Realty, LLC, with a Red Bank post office box as an address, and John B. Anderson II listed as manager.
The restaurant’s designer, Jeff Cahill, Tinton Falls, who designed the Raritan location, said of this spot, “This one we took a more contemporary approach.” By that, he meant, “It still has very warm colors, a lot of wood,” the traditional trimmings of a steakhouse. But the Broad Street spot will have “a lot of modern accents to it,” Cahill explained.
“It’s just fun and more energetic and kind of drawn for a younger demographic than your traditional steakhouse,” he explained.
As part of that more modern design, one wall would lose its four windows and be replaced by two large glass ones that would reach from floor to the second floor, creating a mezzanine-style area where the building had a sort of atrium area. This, according to Mayor Pasquale Menna, was a bit of a sticking point for the borough’s historic preservation commission.
Edward Zipprich, who sits on the board, borough council and the historic commission, said he was concerned about making that change. “It changes the look of the historic building, makes it even more modern,” in what is the borough’s historic district, Zipprich said. Zipprich, however, did vote on Monday to approve the plans.
But Menna on Wednesday dismissed those concerns believing what Cahill and Ingrao were doing “will enhance the appearance of the old building.”
“It’s going to give new definition to that whole block,” Menna said.
And the look of that block has been an issue since Ashes closed nearly two summers ago. With that large building dark for as long as it has been, “It definitely had a negative impact on the businesses, both retail and restaurants, on the north side of Broad Street,” said Nancy Adams, executive director of Red Bank RiverCenter, the management and advocacy organization for the borough’s business special improvement district.
Given the site takes up so much space on the corner of Broad and Mechanic Street, probably as much as what three stores would use, “”It’s very noticeable when there’s nothing in there,” Adams observed.
“It has been a bleak and dark spot,” Menna acknowledged. “This is essentially a half-a-block that’s been closed for two years.”
What had been there previously, had been a problem, too, officials had conceded. Menna called Ashes “a troubled and problematic night club that was in litigation all the time.” And indeed it had its share of legal battles, with state tax and alcohol officials, and among its various partners. Those battles eventually led to the business being put into receivership and eventually closing the doors.
“To replace it with a sit-down restaurant, that already has a track record that is well received and is busy and popular,” is what Menna called “a no-brainer.”
“We’re not looking to be a nightclub,” Ingrao said. “But on the other hand, if we have a full bar, we’re certainly not going to close, tell people to leave.”
The Raritan Char does about $6 million a year in business, according to Cahill. And the owners are looking to spend approximately $2 million renovating this site. “That’s a big commitment in the restaurant industry,” especially given they don’t own the building, Cahill said.
The construction, Cahill explained, is expected to commence in pretty short order and should take roughly five months to complete, with the restaurant ready for opening in the latter part of the summer.
“It’s a little bit more than a paint job,” Ingrao observed.
For Menna the project appears to be a boon for the borough. “Let’s focus on what’s important,” he said, indicating there will be 25-30 jobs associated with the new business and renovation of an aging structure. “You have people who want to invest a lot of money in the town and bring people into town,” he said.