SUMMIT, NJ - When Jerry Rotunno transformed the site of the former Broadway Grille into a new, hip comfort food establishment in Summit he kept his budget low. Opening a new business during the recession was not the time for lavish expenses. "You don't buy the $2,000 glass chandelier," said Rotunno, the managing partner of food. "You find the coolest, funkiest design on a website and that's what you use."
He bought IKEA tables, hung canvas paintings instead of installing expensive acoustic panels and enlisted the help of everyone he knew. "It was a little bit of luck, it was a little bit of timing, the concept was right. We opened up and we were full," he said of the restaurant's start in October 2009. His restaurant, food., is located at the corner of Springfield and Summit avenues.
For some entrepreneurs an economic downturn opens the door to new opportunities. Nearly 12 new businesses opened in Summit in 2009, according to Summit Downtown Inc., a non-profit organization representing all the retailers and businesses in the central business district. The businesses include a bank, bridal store, beauty salons, a pet shop, several restaurants, and more.
For new business owners, survival means making smart choices and putting in lots of hard work. "You must operate lean yet efficiently and productively," wrote Nanette M. Kryston, chairman of the board of trustees of Summit Downtown Inc. in an e-mail. "You must manage your time well and be very organized." Nanette and her husband Steve have owned Kryston's Paint and Hardware for 14 years.
"We didn't know that we'd be starting a business during a bad time but thank God we're still standing up," said Azar Valoozi, co-owner with her husband of Negeen Persian Grill at 330 Springfield Ave.
The hardworking couple opened their restaurant in February 2009. They stand out from other mom and pop restaurants in that they serve Persian cuisine which includes grilled meat and seafood, hearty chicken and veal stews, fresh salads, and steamed basmati rice.
To save money they cut a lot of their staff. When they opened they had three waiters and five to six other employees. Now Mike and Azar cook all the food themselves and they've retained one waitress and two other employees. "We focus on the kitchen and cooking for everything to be the best," Valoozi said.
Customer loyalty can make or break a business especially when the marketing budget is low or sometimes even non-existent. "The best advertising is when you make good food and the customers com and enjoy the food and tell their friends," Valoozi said.
One of the keys to a new business' success is offering exceptional customer service. The wait staff at food. have been known to strain the pulp from fresh orange juice to appease a finicky child. "It's going the extra mile in ways that don't cost us," said Jessica Fernandez, food. manager.
Sacrificing quality is never an option for the four business owners interviewed. Ashwin Premji, owner of Eco-Friendly Cleaners, 441 Springfield Ave, moved his business in December from a location down the street and switched to organic cleaning. "We did not increase the price," he said in spite of the $180,000 he spent on new equipment.
"We use high quality ingredients so it seems counter-intuitive to open during the recession," said Fernandez. Her restaurant trucks in fresh Balthazar bread and Pat La Frieda meat and is the only restaurant to carry the gourmet line of Jeni's ice cream, according to Fernandez.
There are currently 18 vacant stores among approximately 220 storefronts in Summit. Before the recession, the town averaged approximately nine vacancies per year, according to Summit Downtown Inc.
"One must remember that the economic challenges that the stores in downtown Summit are facing are challenges that are being faced by all retailers in all towns across our country—not just Summit," wrote Kryston from Kryston's Hardware. "Downtown Summit is a wonderful downtown and before you know it, we will be thriving again!"