A standing-room-only crowd packed the most recent Jersey City Tech Meetup, which took place in the Sky Lounge, located on the penthouse level, 52 flights above Journal Square. The evening’s topic: “Foodie Frenzy.”
A highly engaging and interactive discussion was moderated by Dave Trotta, founder of Whealth (Jersey City) (@whealthandco), which bills itself as “a modern-day grandma’s kitchen.” Trotta’s cozy café is on the ground floor of Journal Squared, a mixed retail/residential three-tower complex still under partial construction in Jersey City. The buildings are adjacent to the PATH station.
The diverse panel members, all from the Hudson County food and beverage scene, included:
- Cameron McCarthy, of WeStock, a Fort Lee-based food/beverage brand discovery platform that’s available at the App Store.
- Nur-E Gulshan Rahman, of Korai Kitchen, part of a mother-daughter pair that runs this Bangladeshi restaurant in the Journal Square section of Jersey City (@koraikitchen).
- A trio from Hoboken’s Antique Bar & Bakery (@antique_bar_bakery) – Chef Paul Gerard, Rocco Ancarola and Joseph Castelo. AB&B is located on the former site of a revered local bread-baking company, and the more than one-century-old coal oven is still churning out delicious food.
- A duo from Misunderstood Whiskey, an up-and-coming creative craft alcohol brand with stores all over New Jersey (@misunderstoodwhiskey) – led by childhood pals, Chris Buglisi and JD Recobs.
- Djenaba Johnson-Jones, of Hudson Kitchen, a Kearny-based community collective serving food/beverage-focused entrepreneurs (@thehudsonkitchen).
- Andrew Martino, founder of Ghost Truck Kitchen, a brand-new restaurant concept inspired by food trucks, offering exclusively takeout fare in downtown Jersey City(@hellogtk).
Perhaps the most tech-focused business represented at the event was WeStock. As implied above, its goal is to enlighten foodies about brands that should be on their radar, and it’s largely powered by social media marketing. McCarthy, who’s cofounder and CEO, had worked as a waiter and sous chef during college, but he hated the long hours and stress.
With a “crowdstocking” focus, WeStock is cleverly designed to support the entrepreneurs behind food and beverage businesses (100-plus craft brands, and counting) and to encourage retailers to consider stocking these particular stock keeping units, in order to satisfy consumer demand.
For example, recent WeStock Instagram posts promoted O’MY, a dairy-free gelato brand; and a red ginseng, caffeine-free energy shot known as Supherb.
McCarthy emphasizes that food is emotional. He subscribes to the Gary Vaynerchuk school of documenting your journey. WeStock also has a podcast to help tell the stories of their brands. During its app onboarding process, people input their zip code and preferred food store, and select a variety of relevant preferences regarding dietary likes and dislikes. Monetization is through the brands’ payments of monthly fees to access app analytics.
If you’re seeking a great founder story, look no further than family-run Korai Kitchen, a rare Garden State-based Bangladeshi restaurant. According to cofounder Nur-E Farhana Rahman, she and her mom, Nur-E Gulshan Rahman, faced mountains of skepticism from doubters and naysayers – including a nervous landlord – when they unveiled their plans to open on Summit Avenue near Journal Square.
There are more than 20 Indian restaurants situated on nearby Newark Avenue, but the Rahmans purposely chose a different street to further set themselves apart from any potential competition. Their strategy is working, and not just because of the location.
A former tech consultant and USAID contractor who was “ducking and covering” in various countries before entering the restaurant business, Nur-E Farhana exudes charm, and she is clearly a key reason for Korai Kitchen’s tremendous success.
In its inaugural year of business, the all-you-can-eat casual buffet spot (with a different menu every day, at the chef’s discretion) ranked #1 on Yelp’s list of “Top 50 Places to Eat in New Jersey 2018,” with a perfect five-star rating. The New York Timesalso wrote them up.
Antique Bar & Bakery
Speaking from experience, the owners of Antique Bar & Bakery (four stars on Yelp) stressed that it’s often unusual for partners in a restaurant to get along together; but, fortunately, that is not an issue for them.
They credit much of the uniqueness and popularity of their food to an over-100-year-old coal oven, the same one used to bake the famous Hoboken bread once enjoyed by Frank Sinatra and countless other residents of the mile-square city before the original establishment, called “Antique Bakery,” closed its doors for good in 2016.
For the record, the historic coal oven weighs a whopping 30 tons and covers 400 square feet, and its cooking temperature exceeds 1,000 degrees when fully stoked.
Less than 5 miles from Hoboken sits Kearny Point, a new coworking hub on the scene where freelancers and entrepreneurs come to congregate. It is also the home of Hudson Kitchen, a business incubator founded by CEO Johnson-Jones.
Boasting an 8,000-square-foot space, Hudson Kitchen hosts culinary business workshops and networking events, and provides food biz consulting services. It will also soon offer 24/7 kitchen rentals, cold/dry storage and its own coworking space.
Cofounders Buglisi and Recobs have known each other since the age of seven, both hailing from Montclair. Their launch was anything but easy, taking them approximately four years to perfect the distinctive taste of their whiskey. In fact, they were sued by another brand, but lived to tell about it.
According to the brewmasters, their goal was to create a whiskey for people who like craft bourbon.
Ghost Truck Kitchen
Disappointing his mom with a questionable post-college career choice, Martino took a job managing a nightclub on Long Beach Island, off the Jersey Shore. Superstorm Sandy forced him to relocate back to the West Coast. Then his marriage brought him back to the East Coast, where he jumped into the food-tech business.
A recent Kickstarter campaign for the launching of Ghost Truck Kitchen raised close to $8,200 from 61 backers, ahead of his $7,777 goal. Note: Martino was a bit downcast at the Meetup event, as it looked as if his fundraising effort was coming up short, so it was great to see the late rally in contributions!
According to the company’s Instagram page, Ghost Truck Kitchen is slated for a rough opening on the weekend of March 16-17, with pick-up and takeout hours of 5 -10 p.m.
The ultimate goal: create food that tastes good, not just picture-worthy for social media platforms. Martino calls it a “virtual restaurant” because it’s exclusively takeout, but he emphasizes the importance of forging human connections with customers who will drop by to retrieve their orders.