DONOVAN’S DEAL DEAD IN THE WATER

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By LINDA G. RASTELLI

Just two weeks after a controversial go-ahead for Sea Bright officials to try to buy Donovan’s Reef, negotiations have come to a halt.

Mayor Jo-Ann Kalaka-Adams tells redbankgreen today that the sellers have rejected the borough’s offer for the beachfront property.

Though she declined to immediately disclose how much the borough offered, she says the sum matched an appraised value for the property, which has 82 parking spaces the borough covets, among other assets.

The sellers, members of the Bowler family, are asking $4.5 million.

“It was much ado about nothing,” Kalaka-Adams says. “We offered them the appraisal price, not the asking price, and they turned down our offer.”

Chris Bowler, a co-owner who also owns Brannigan’s Bar & Grill in Red Bank, confirmed that the deal talks are over.

“We’ve received offers above that,” Bowler says of the asking price.

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FAIR MARKS SUMMER’S BITTERSWEET END

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By LINDA G. RASTELLI

The end of summer, when the season is in its final flush of glory, is like no other time. And the Firemen’s Fair in Fair Haven celebrates it with gusto.

On a typical warm night, fairgoers savor the late August air, the whir of excitement at games of chance, the delighted screams of children on garishly painted rides, the canned music punctuated by fire sirens, and — transfats be damned — sizzling, artery-clogging treats redolent of fryer grease.

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TWO DIE AT HOLMDEL OZZFEST

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Even amid a summer-long crackdown on underage drinking at the PNC Arts Center in Holmdel, two concertgoers in their twenties died last night from a combination of booze and drugs, authorities say.

The deaths came amid “mayhem” at the all-day, heavy-metal Ozzfest that also saw 83 people arrested, according to the Star-Ledger.

Raymond Guarino, 26, of Forked River initially passed out about 3:15 p.m. but was resuscitated by paramedics and taken to Bayshore Medical Center, police said. He died there at 11:25 p.m.

Troopers were told Guarino had ingested cocaine, marijuana and alcohol prior to passing out, the State Police said. A search of the vehicle Guarino arrived at the concert in yielded small amounts of cocaine and marijuana. police said.

A second concertgoer, Patrick Norris, 24, of Coram, N.Y. passed out about 10 p.m., the State Police said. Norris was also taken to Bayshore where was pronounced dead. As with Guarino, troopers were told Norris also had injected cocaine, marijuana and alcohol before and during the show.

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SOGO SUSHI: WHAT BROWN CAN DO FOR YOU

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By LINDSAY SAKRAIDA

To a foodie, the news that the owners of Sogo Sushi on Monmouth Street spent four years preparing for the opening of their new restaurant wouldn’t be terribly surprising.

After all, there are so many factors to consider, not the least of which is, well, the menu.

But it might astonish even diehard gourmets to learn that Sogo owners Irving and Saufen Chen devoted most of those four years to the perfection of just one item: brown rice.

They had a good excuse. Brown rice sushi is a very tricky staple, indeed.

“Most restaurants have failed at brown rice sushi because it’s hard to make, and people only buy a little and don’t always like it,” says Irving.

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STEPPING UP TO THE BAR

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By LINDA G. RASTELLI

Buying Donovan’s Reef for Sea Bright borough’s use is either (choose one) a “great investment” in the town’s future or a “nutty” waste of taxpayer’s money.

Battle lines were drawn in firm but civil tones last night as the Borough Council passed a resolution to begin negotiations to buy the Ocean Avenue restaurant and bar, with an asking price of $4.5 million, although a vocal contingent of three council members oppose the purchase outright.

Mayor Jo-Ann Kalaka-Adams, who touted the plan and voted in its favor, prevailed in a 4-3 vote.

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TALKING FAIR HAVEN, AND WALKING IT, TOO

Fair Haven embarks on round two of its public brainstorming effort over how best to utilize its public spaces along River Road tomorrow night.

A workshop, to be led by Cynthia Nitikin, vice president of the nonprofit New York-based consultants Project for Public Spaces, will begin at 6p.

“We’re looking for a positive attitude and some great ideas,” Nitikin tells the Asbury Park Press (which uses a different spelling of her name from the one that appears on the Project for Public Spaces website). “People should bring elements of qualities of towns they’ve been to and how they (would) like to see (them) brought to bear in Fair Haven.”

Walking shoes and bikes might also come in handy.

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MON DIEU! YOU CALL ZAT FRENCH?

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By LINDSAY SAKRAIDA

Though the name would lead you to believe otherwise, the erstwhile La Petite France on East Front Street was not French cooking. Not, at least, according to the new chef and owner, Frédéric Vidal.

“I don’t say it was bad, but it wasn’t French,” Vidal says in his thickly accented English. “The problem now is that many people confuse French food and French restaurants.”

Gallic atmosphere may go a long way toward fooling American tastebuds, but the reality, as Vidal sees it, is that “a lot of ‘French’ restaurants don’t serve French food.”

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YELLOW HAS SHARMA BACKERS SEEING RED

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In a move that embattled Best Liquors owner Sunny Sharma and many of his customers see as a blatant attempt to harass him out of business, the borough of Red Bank painted the curbs at Leighton Avenue and Catherine Street yellow on Tuesday.

Borough officials say the paint job underscores what was already illegal: parking too close to a corner. But Sharma says the move is a thinly disguised attempt to drive away customers by ticketing them for doing something they’ve been doing without police interference for some 80 years.

“I don’t know how they found only one corner in all of Red Bank to paint yellow,” Sharma railed from behind the counter of his store early this afternoon, as a steady stream of customers offered a chorus of supporting comments.

“There’s a school crossing just one block away. They didn’t paint that. They didn’t paint the curb in front of Yogi’s yellow. They didn’t paint the curb in front of On the Rocks yellow,” he said, citing two nearby liquor stores.

“They couldn’t find a legal way to shut us down,” he said, referring to the recent dropped-charges case alleging the sale of beer to a minor. “So now they’re going to harass the customers. Every customer is complaining, ‘what the hell is this shit?'”

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PUTTING OYSTERS BACK TO BED

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Today’s Star-Ledger takes a look at the efforts of NewYork/New Jersey Baykeeper Andy Willner to restore oyster beds in the New York region, including in the Navesink and Shrewsbury Rivers.

The article offers some historical perspective on the economic importance of oysters, and the roles of overharvesting and pollution in killing giant oyster beds by 1920.

Then reporter Tom Hester turns to the Baykeeper’s efforts. They’re being funded in part by a $1 million settlement with Chevron over a 10,000-gallon crude oil spill off Perth Amboy.

The effort entails dropping “millions of dime-size young oysters attached to clean clam shells into the Navesink River at Red Bank, the Raritan Bay near Keyport, and off Liberty Island in the Upper Bay.”

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MUNCHMOBILE VISITS, AND WE’RE ON IT

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It’s as Jersey as the Sopranos: the Star-Ledger’s Munchmobile, a van with a giant polyurethane wiener on the roof that tours the state every summer in search of the best eats — ice cream, burgers, Italian, seafood, whatever.

Well, yesterday was a special ‘blunch’ edition of the weekly tour to which a half-dozen of the state’s independent bloggers were invited. And even though redbankgreen rankles at the ‘blog’ label, we set aside our semantic tic and climbed aboard, not wanting to miss out on what some people consider the ride of a lifetime.

Also on board? Two other hyperlocal news sites — Hoboken411 and Baristanet, which serves Montclair, Glen Ridge and Bloomfield — and two foodie sites — Off the Broiler and Go Out Jersey.

On the menu? Pizza.

First stop? Brothers Pizza on West Front Street right here in Red Bank, followed by a handful of other places scattered around north Jersey.

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STUNNER: BORO DROPS SINGH CHARGE

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Just hours after a municipal court hearing on the latest allegations of an alleged sale of alcohol to a minor, Red Bank police are dropping the charges, redbankgreen has learned.

Borough attorney Tom Hall tells us that Javier Lopez-Ruiz, the 19-year-old Middletown man arrested for buying beer from the store on July 10, has recanted his story about not being carded by store employee Balvinder Singh.

That leaves the borough without any testimony linking Lopez-Ruiz to Singh, and thus, no case.

“We had to do the right thing,” Hall told redbankgreen early this afternoon. “I can’t prove any further violations of the law.”

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SINGH: ‘IT’S ON THE TAPE’

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By LINDA G. RASTELLI

The case against Best Liquors clerk Balvinder Singh, accused of selling beer to a 19-year-old two weeks after the Borough Council revoked the store’s alcohol license for sales to minors, was adjourned in Red Bank Municipal Court this morning.

A date for the trial, which is to be prosecuted by borough attorney Tom Hall instead of the borough prosecutor, has not yet been scheduled.

Singh, in an interview afterward, said he would plead not guilty to the charge.

“He had a Mexican ID, and it’s on the tape,” he told redbankgreen, referring to customer Javier Lopez-Ruiz, the Middletown resident who was arrested July 10 for illegally buying beer. Lopez-Ruiz implicated Singh, police contend.

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CAN WE GET A DECAF BON JOVI, PLEASE?

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Pop star Bon Jovi is suing the Ocean County-based maker of an energy drink called Mijovi for trademark infringement, the Asbury Park Press reports today.

The suit against was filed after the singer and Middletown resident previously known as Jonathan Bongiovanni from Sayreville came across the product at Zebu Forno, the Press’ David Willis reports.

From the story:

But after Bon Jovi saw a can of Mijovi for sale in a Red Bank cafe in January, his lawyers sent [Marcos] Carrington, the founder of Manchester-based The Mijovi Co., a letter demanding that he stop using the name Mijovi.

“It is just unfair,” said Carrington, 37, of East Brunswick. “It is unfair because Mijovi has nothing to do with Bon Jovi.”

The name was inspired by his girlfriend, Jovita Saenz, he said.

The suit continued even after Carrington introduced himself and Saenz to Bon Jovi at an unidentified Red Bank restaurant “to try to clear up the matter and explain the company’s origins,” the Press reports.

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CAN PISCOPO KEEP STRIDE WITH THIS?

Here’s pianist Tony DeSare playing some electrifying stride piano on ‘Fly Me to the Moon‘ during his Jazz Arts Project show earlier this month at the River’s Edge Café.

DeSare, along with Bruce Williams on alto sax, will back Joe Piscopo (yes, you read that correctly; click on his name for more) for his two sets Saturday night at the café, at 35 Broad Street.

A multi-instrumentalist himself, Piscopo includes a straight vocal tribute to Frank Sinatra, not to mention some comedy, in his performances, we’re told.

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SHARMA GOES ON OFFENSE

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By LINDA G. RASTELLI

Feeling intense heat as a result of last week’s bust of an employee for the alleged sale of beer to a minor, Best Liquors owner Sunny Sharma broke his months-long silence this morning to defend the employee and his store.

“I do check IDs,” Sharma told redbankgreen. Referring to a security videotape of the July 10 incident involving 19-year-old customer Javier Lopez-Ruiz, which he did not show us, Sharma said, “You can see on the camera that he had a Mexican consul ID, issued by the Mexican embassy. He showed legal ID.”

That’s not what the police report says. Lopez-Ruiz (who police Capt. Steve McCarthy says is a Middletown resident, not a Red Bank one, as previously reported) was arrested, and Best Liquors clerk Balvinder Singh was issued a warrant for selling Lopez-Ruiz a 12-pack of Modelo Especial beer without asking for any proof of age.

The police report said Lopez-Ruiz had no ID in his wallet when he was stopped on his bicycle or on his person when he was searched later. (Download supplemental_charges_and_specifications_71207_with_exhibits_redacted.pdf)

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MINGLING AMID THE BLING

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Taking a lesson from art gallery openings, a Broad Street jewelry store is planning to bring a party atmosphere to nighttime shopping this summer with the addition of in-store live music, food and special events.

Hamilton Jewelers is hosting a series of Thursday-night events over the next four weeks with focus on wine, cognac and fine fashion. Two of them, including this week’s, are open to the public; the others are invite-only.

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NEXT STOP FOR SUNNY: TRENTON

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The front in the battle between the Borough of Red Bank and Best Liquors shifts to Trenton later this month, when the state Alcoholic Beverage Control division will decide “whether there is an overriding public interest” in immediately terminating the store’s liquor license, according to a notice sent to lawyers for each side yesterday.Download 71607_abc_order_scheduling_hearing.pdf

The hearing is scheduled for 10a July 25 at the office of the ABC director. The burden of proof is on the borough, a deputy state attorney general wrote in the notice.

Meantime, store employee Balvinder Singh is due in Red Bank Municipal Court on July 19 to answer a summons for selling beer to a 19-year-old on July 10. The store was under surveillance at the time. Download supplemental_charges_and_specifications_71207_with_exhibits_redacted.pdf

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ANOTHER BUST IMPERILS BEST LEGAL CASE

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You’d think, as one wag at Borough Hall puts it, that anybody who works at Best Liquors “would be carding his own grandmother” these days, with the store’s license revocation up on appeal before the state Alcoholic Beverage Control division.

But just two weeks after the Borough Council unanimously voted to yank its license, Best is in trouble anew for exactly the kind of alleged practices that have landed it in its present legal jeopardy.

On Tuesday night, Red Bank police arrested a 19-year-old borough man “as he had just purchased alcohol” at the Leighton Avenue establishment, according to a statement issued by Capt. Stephen McCarthy. Police also cited store employee Balvinder Singh for making the sale. Both men are due in municipal court July 19.

The episode has prompted borough officials to move for an immediate end to liquor sales at the store.

“Simply put, this licensee cannot be trusted to run its business in accordance with the law,” borough attorney Tom Hall said in legal papers filed with the ABC yesterday.

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LESSONS LEARNED, HE’S BACK IN THE GAME

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Andrew Gennusa was just 21 years old when he and his brother, Jason, founded Manhattan Bagel Co. with a single store in in a Middlesex County strip mall.

It turned out to be a the start of a heady ride. The company went public and saw its stock soar as the business grew to a chain of nearly 400 stores, most of them franchises.

The flame-out was nearly as spectacular. A decade into its run came millions of dollars in losses, a called bank loan, bankruptcy and a sale to new owners.

Two years later, the Gennusas were out, and the company they founded sailed on to become part of a food company that last year did $390 million in sales.

But Andew Gennusa has come back, too, only much more quietly. In 2001, he and his brother became partners with Basil T Leaf’s Victor Rallo Sr. (now deceased) and Victor Rallo Jr. in a tiny shop on Bridge Avenue called Zebu Coffee, named for a hump-backed ox.

Today, the business is called Zebu Forno, and it’s no longer just a coffee shop. And having bought out his partners, 41-year-old Andrew Gennusa is ready for a return to the… well, not exactly the big time, but something bigger than what he’s got, and yet smaller than what he once had.

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DON’T HONK IF YOU LIKE THIS ONE

Having adopted a measure to cut back on nightlife noise from restaurants and bars in the business district, the Red Bank Council last night turned its attention to a quality-of-lifer in residential areas: late-night car honking.

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The problem, given the tenor of the comments by councilmembers, appears to be largely, but not exclusively, one of taxis — both legit and gypsy — blaring horns for fares.

“It’s been increasing, especially in West Side neighborhoods — taxicab companies waking up everybody at all hours of the night,” said Mayor Pasquale Menna. “People have a right to expect quiet in their homes at night.”

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MARRY US, RED BANK!

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Tom Labetti and Eileen (nee Weller) Labetti of Elm Place got married recently at St. James Church on Broad Street.

The red-haired bride beamed magnificently, the wedding party looked youthful and happy, and the newlyweds headed off for their reception in a classic red Corvette.

A perfectly nice affair, to be sure, but not exactly the kind of thing that usually merits media attention beyond the wedddings & engagement page in a local paper.

Except that redbankgreen is hyperlocal media, and the Labettis are a hyperlocal pair — in one significant sense, at least. They wanted their wedding to reflect not only their tastes, but their values. Which in this case meant that they were determined to keep as much of the money they’d be spending on their wedding in Red Bank.

They didn’t want it spread among the malls, Manhattan’s diamond district and some unbelievable-discount-on-Vera Wang-outlet in Brooklyn. They preferred that it land in the cash registers of the stores not far from their house. Thousands of dollars.

Now that’s what we call a civil union.

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NEVER-ENDING McGREEVANCES AT MOLLY

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By LINDA G. RASTELLI

OK, let’s get right to it: How could she not have known?

“I didn’t have time to listen to rumors,” Dina Matos McGreevey told redbankgreen last night, shortly before she took the floor at a posh dinner event in her name at the Molly Pitcher Inn.

She had a busy job, she had a new baby. “Also, I wasn’t looking for it,” she said. “There was nothing in our private life that indicated he was homosexual.”

For more on that enticing tidbit, check out the early pages of her recently published memoir, in which she writes — cryptically, and just to “get it out of the way” — that “the sex was good.”

Anyway, in cases of infidelity, “the wife or husband is always the last to know,” she said.

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