By JOHN T. WARD
By his own admission, and as his wife gently reminds him, Tim McCloone did not give it a lot of thought six weeks ago when he embarked on a plan to open a restaurant in downtown Red Bank.
Among other locations, he’s already got eateries on the boardwalks in Long Branch and Asbury Park; recently took over CJ Montana’s in Tinton Falls, rebranding it as CJ McLoone’s; and is readying new places in Hoboken and Hillsborough.
So where does his plan to open a restaurant in the Broad Street space long held by Murphy Style Grille fit in strategically?
“I’m not thinking strategically, or I would not do this,” McLoone told redbankgreen with a laugh Tuesday, one day after he signed a lease for the space. “I’m devoid of strategy.”
“I just think being in Red Bank is such a cool thing,” he said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”
In addition to securing the space, at 26 Broad, with a 20-year lease, McLoone also bought the liquor license, which recently went from Murphy’s to building owner Onyx Properties for $500,000, according to borough records.
McLoone said the restaurant, which he has not yet named, will be open in about 120 days, and will feature a wide variety of burgers, from “upscale” black bean and infused burgers to vegan burgers. Though many of his restaurants are located on water and feature seafood-heavy menus, burgers are the number one seller, he said. Second place: salads.
McLoone, of Little Silver, said he plans to have a wider-ranging menu at lunch, which he sees as key to his presence downtown. The location is a high-profile address with outdoor seating for more than a dozen diners opposite the intersection at Mechanic Street.
“We’re hoping to do a really steady lunch business there,” he said. “It’s important to be seen as part of the downtown.”
It’s a downtown, though that is increasingly a magnet for restaurants, even with high-profile departures, such as Blue Water Seafood and Biagio.
But rather than being deterred by the pending arrival of well-heeled restaurants like Patrizia’s, which plans to open a 198-sear family-style Italian place right next door to McLoone’ new place, McLoone said he’s encouraged by the presence of other restaurants.
“When a town becomes a restaurant destination, it’s the old thing: a rising tide lifts all boats,” he said. “One thing I’ve learned in 27 years of doing this is that people like to hop around.”
Rather than having one or two go-to restaurants as families of a generation ago did, they now have five or six, which they rotate, he said. The key, he said, is to hold onto those customers so that even if they only come to your place a couple of times a year, they at least come.
And retailing is getting killed by the likes of Amazon.com, he notes. His own Running Store is closing this month after 22 years in the Grove at Shrewsbury.
“All you need to fail as a retailer is to drop 10 percent in sales,” he said. That’s it.”
And though he’s anxious to see a parking garage built downtown, McLoone doesn’t believe tight parking puts a limit on the potential dining population.
“When there’s demand, people have a way of getting there,” he said. “They just do. They find a side street.”
Another key? Liquid refreshments.
“It’s tough to make money if you don’t have the liquor license,” he said. “I would not be doing this” if not for the license, he said.