ZEBU OUT, WOOD-FIRED PIZZA IN

Zebu will close next week and a new restaurant will take over its space at 12 Broad Street. (Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

Just five months after a high-profile relocation up Broad Street, Red Bank’s Zebu Forno plans to close next week to make way for a new wood-fired pizza restaurant.

Zebu owner Andrew Gennusa tells redbankgreen he’s partnered with borough resident Biagio Schiano, owner of Mossuto’s Market in Wall Township, to create a new pizzeria at 12 Broad that that they plan to franchise as Biagio Wood-Fired Pizza.

Meantime, Gennusa said he’s hopeful that Zebu itself will reopen elsewhere in town under new ownership, though no buyer has yet been found.

Biagio Schiano, left, and Andrew Gennusa are partners in the new Biagio Wood-Fired Pizza. (Click to enlarge)

His reversal of course isn’t as sudden as it seems, said Gennusa, who said the change marks the attainment of his dream of returning to the franchising business.

With his brother Jason, Gennusa co-founded Manhattan Bagel Co. when he was 21 years old and grew it into a chain of nearly 400 stores before it went bankrupt in 1997 and later re-emerged with new ownership.

When he co-founded Zebu Coffee, named for a hump-backed ox, on Bridge Avenue in 2001, Gennusa dreamed of franchising that business as well, and eventually opened stores in Freehold, Hoboken, Holmdel, Morristown and Sea Girt.

But the concept never jelled, said Gennusa, who’s now 46. Zebu had too many offerings – bagels, bread, muffins, pizza, sandwiches, gelato  –  all of which store owners were required to make fresh on premises.

“It was too much to learn,” he said. Except for the Red Bank store, all the Zebus have closed.

Still, even as he shuttered Zebu for six months last year over a rent dispute with his former landlord and reopened the cafe in March, Gennusa said, he was on the hunt for just the right type of restaurant that could be replicated nationally. He said he found it near his home in Wall at Mossuto’s, a former Italian deli that evolved into a restaurant and, more recently, a source of thin-crust, all-natural Neapolitan pizza.

The deal came together in the last two months, the partners said.

Schiano, who will run the operation while Gennusa develops the franchising side, plans to install a 6,000-pound wood-burning oven in space, reopening by early September.

Though Biagio will keep some of the trappings of Zebu, it will be a waited-table establishment with a simple menu anchored by 12-inch pizzas, Schiano said.

Based on a Naples tradition that dates back hundreds of years, Schiano said the pies will be made with stone-ground flour that’s unbleached and unprocessed, topped with sauce made on-site from imported Italian tomatoes and mozzarella the business will produce itself.

“The whole idea is fresh,” he said in an interview at Zebu on Wednesday.

A 37-year-old graduate of Christian Brothers Academy, NYU and the Albert Einstein School of Medicine (he never practiced), Schiano grew up in an Italian-American family filled with restaurateurs, transforming his father’s A&S Deli into Mossuto’s and opening several restaurants of his own. He and his wife, his wife, Maria, a graduate of Red Bank Catholic, live on Buena Place. They have twin three-year-olds.

“I’ve always had an affinity for this town,” said Schiano. “I’ve always loved the eclectic nature of it. Now I can ride my bike to work here.”

Gennusa said the franchising opportunity for the concept is wide-open, with the largest wood-fired Neapolitan pizza chain having just 17 stores.

Meantime, he’s in talks with a couple of potential buyers for the Zebu name, though no agreements have yet been reached, he said. Gennusa said he’s hoping the next owner of Zebu will agree to preserve the store’s distinctive paintings of famous artists, done by muralist Gregg Hinlickey.

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