By JOHN T. WARD
Restaurant-crazy Red Bank’s ethnic pot is getting stirred again.
For Francophiles, the news is bad, as Bienvenue, the only French restaurant for miles around, has closed.
Those hankering for another Thai choice, though, will get their wish, as one moves into the space Bienvenue vacated last month, at the corner of East Front Street and Wharf Avenue.
Bienvenue’s chef, Marc Fontaine, meantime, plans to open a pastries and crepes café at 8 Monmouth Street.
Farther west on Monmouth, work has resumed on yet-to-open Peruvian restaurant after months of inactivity.
And, for dessert, a homemade ice cream shop plans to open before summer begins on White Street, in the space held by the short-lived Nina’s Waffles.
Fontaine has ended the longish run of French cuisine at 3 East Front Street, where Bienvenue succeed Le Petite France six years ago. Fontaine took over Bienvenue from Frederic and Audrey Vidal in 2010.
The closing means there isn’t a French restaurant anywhere in the vicinity, says Fontaine. “People were very upset that I closed,” he said.
Fontaine tells Retail Churn that the space turned out to be too small for the demand he’d get on Friday and Saturday nights, and that the rent turned out to be more than he could handle.
Landlord Don Chetkin says Fontaine knew from the outset that Chetkin preferred to have a tenant who would serve lunches, to help draw foot traffic to other stores he rents out at the corner. But Fontaine said the prices for French dishes made it uneconomical to compete for the lunchtime crowd.
So Fontaine has wrapped up his lease and is planning to open an as-yet-nameless café at the former home of Frozsürt, owned by his buddy, Danny Natale. Like Natale, he’ll also offer some frozen yogurt, said Fontaine, who frames the business as “a fancy Starbucks.” He plans to open this month.
“It’s a very different business” from Bienvenue, said Fontaine, adding that he’s looking forward to working six days a week. “For me, it’s going to be a vacation.”
Also possibly opening this month is Muang Thai, an eat-in and take-out restaurant, taking over the Bienvenue spot. Borough records indicate the owner is Chanaroong Pongnoo, and Chetkin says the tenant already has a Thai restaurant in the Old Bridge area. Pongnoo could not be reached for comment.
Muang Thai’s most direct competition for Thai food will be Siam Garden, at the Galleria at Red Bank on Bridge Avenue.
Plans for Marita Lynn’s Runa Peruvian Café, which we reported on last July, went awry for months after construction was stopped over permit issues. But the borough building department has cleared the resumption of work, and Runa has had signs in the windows in recent weeks seeking cooks and servers.
Lynn tells Retail Churn that fingers crossed she now hopes to open in mid-April.
Jennifer Braker “will be making ice cream right in the store, right in the open, where everybody can see me” when she opens the Shore Scoop at 15 White Street, perhaps as early as May 1 but no later than Memorial Day, she said.
The Tinton Falls resident is embarking on her first retail venture after a career in computer technology. But she’s got experience, having worked on the Ocean City boardwalk making ice cream at a shop owned by an uncle.
How much does she love ice cream? “I think it should be its own separate food group on the pyramid,” Braker says. Plus, everyone who buys it is happy. “They usually enter with a smile, and they always leave with one.”
Shore Scoop will be takeout-only, offering 16 flavors, including a “super-chocolate” she calls Frankenstein and a vanilla counterpart she dubs Bride of Frankenstein.