By JOHN T. WARD
Restaurateur Marilyn Schlossbach is used to expectations: when she opens a new place, customers come looking for out-of-the-box creativity. Whether it’s been the casual fare of Langosta Lounge or Pop’s Garage, or the fine dining of now-gone Trinity and the Pope, foodies salivate when she introduces something new.
But with her latest endeavor, Schlossbach and her partners find themselves having to tamp down expectations. Why? Because the restaurant in question — What’s Your Beef, in Rumson — isn’t new, and its devoted, carnivorous fans aren’t looking for change.
“They have a very strong customer base here of loyal people who come every week,” Schlossbach told redbankgreen. “We don’t want to scare them away.”
Some of that clientele no doubt began visiting the steakhouse when it opened in 1969. Since 1982, they’ve been nurtured by Barbara Russell, who sold the business to retire, Schlossbach said. Russell could not be reached for comment.
Schlossbach; her husband, Scott Szegeski; her brother Richard; and a Fair Haven couple, Rob and Nicole Laub, are the new owners of the restaurant, its liquor license and the West River Road building in which they’re housed. Following approval by the borough council last week, the license is now held under the name “Russell and Betty’s” — not for Barbara Russell, but for the late Russell and Betty Ranney, founder of the Tinton Falls school where Schlossbach and Rob Laub became friends in the 1970s.
With their restaurants in Asbury Park (Langosta Lounge and Pop’s Garage), Shrewsbury (another Pop’s) and Normandy (the Labrador Lounge) gearing up for the summer season, there’s been no thought to making big menu changes at What’s Your Beef, Schlossbach said. She’ll turn her attention to that possibility in the fall, she said.
“We’re not looking to start a whole new concept here,” she said. “Just how to make this one run smoother, have a little bit of a fresher look and some minor changes to the menu.”
It’s a new position for Schlossbach and company — who are also gearing up to run the catering operation at the Asbury Hotel under construction in Asbury Park.
“We’ve never really come into a restaurant situation before that was doing such a strong, loyal business as this place is,” she said of What’s Your Beef. “Usually, when people are selling or retiring or whatever, it’s on it’s way out, or already out. Here, they have a lot of people who really love this place and have been coming for a really long time.”
Which isn’t to say the operation of the restaurant, which doesn’t have a stove, given that entrees come off the grill, can stand some modernizing and fine-tuning, she said. The longtime practice of having customers stand in line to choose their own slab of beef, for instance, is largely unnecessary, as most customers order the same sized cut of beef. So more emphasis will be put on table service, she said.
Schlossbach doesn’t eat meat, “so I’d never been here,” she said, and when she heard the business was for sale, looked at it first as an opportunity to invest in real estate and second as a vehicle to expand her restaurant empire. With Laub, a foodie, they toyed with the idea of a “neighborhood French bistro,” but were derailed by the evident passion the customers have for the existing concept.
“When people love something, that means a lot to me, and I want to protect that,” she said. And the challenge of protecting that is likely to make What’s Your Beef the “probably one of the most difficult restaurants we’re ever going to do. It’s much easier to just do a whole new thing.”
While the current staff is being retained, Schlossbach wants it know that she’s hiring cooks, bartenders and wait staff.
[Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified Schlossbach’s brother.]