When they signed their lease at Bell Works, the chefs and partners of RBC Hospitality Group knew there was no customer data to project from. There wasn’t even any foot traffic. Just a few tenant companies and many more promised to the under-construction live.work.play space. Part office building, part retail center, part pedestrian gathering place, Bell Works is the brainchild of developer Ralph Zucker who wanted to create a little city in the suburbs, now called the metroburb.
Now just a year later, the building is home to 2,000 workers from more than 75 tenant companies and every week welcomes hundreds from the local community who use the Holmdel Library, visit the Wednesday farmers market and now, come for breakfast and lunch at Bell Market, RBC Hospitality Group’s first venture.
“We’re trying to build a restaurant group that is going to sustain us all,” Chef Chad Spencer says. “We want to nurture these people to be owners of their own restaurants someday. So we’re building a family that can grow as we grow.” Read more about the chefs, sommelier, and of course, the food of Bell Market.
The restaurant group owners join a growing retail community that includes fast casual restaurant Hummus & Pita Co., coffee shop Booskerdoo, home decor store City Barn | Country Penthouse, a convenience store and Salon Concrete. Plus a long list of retailers prepping to open.
What’s new: Hummus & Pita Co.
For cofounder Dave Pesso, there was only one logical next step for the evolution of his restaurant franchise chain, Hummus & Pita Co. With three NYC locations and one in Connecticut, expansion to his home state of New Jersey just made good sense. But when he stepped into Bell Works it was awe and inspiration that replaced logic.
“It’s like the eighth wonder of the world. It’s a beautiful behemoth and at full capacity it will be as busy as any skyscraper in NYC,” Pesso said. “Bell Works is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
The Mediterranean restaurant opened its doors in late 2018 to a warm welcome of customers lined up out the door and onto the indoor pedestrian street. Since then business has been brisk and franchise owner Kaushal Shah has begun tailoring his offerings to the 9-5 tenant community, now offering delivery to your office and American and Mediterranean breakfast options, a first for any Hummus & Pita Co. location.
The 2,300 sq. ft. restaurant serves up dishes like falafel, gyro and meatball pitas cooked fresh daily on the premises and offers seats for 45 inside the restaurant and al fresco on The Street (that’s the indoor promenade beneath the glass ceiling of the atrium here). The eatery also offers plenty of vegetarian and gluten free options.
“I love the concept of the metroburb at Bell Works. You have offices, retail, residential, commercial, health, wellness, entertainment. That concept amazed me. That is the thing that sold this place,” Shah said. “You have everything you need in a whole day right here – you don’t need to go outside of this place. I like to say it’s a small city in one small place.”
What’s next: Fitness, food, flowers and more
Six more retailers are under construction with openings planned for 2019 including The Alchemist, a jeweler; Holmdel Florist; restaurants Mezzaluna and Estrella Azul; and fitness concept, The Bar Method. About 10 more retail leases are expected to be announced in the coming weeks.
Almost fully leased are the boutique fitness components of Fit Lab. Branded a fitness experience, Fit Lab will include a modern 10,000-square-foot gym and divide an adjacent 9,000-square-foot area among a group of boutique fitness businesses. The plan is to also convert an existing Bell Labs-era fitness facility, located on the lower level, into a locker room area. To a passerby, Fit Lab will look like four small storefronts on the ground floor. What they’ll actually be seeing is the three boutique facilities and a fourth door to the full-service gym, which will form the shape of an L behind them.
According to Sean Pyle, Senior Associate with Sabre, Bell Works’ exclusive retail broker, the team is still actively looking for a large format gym operator to occupy the 19,000 sq. ft. space that spans two floors.
A place to grow: Salon Concrete
New retailers will make their home along The Street at Bell Works, a quarter of a mile piazza located within the 2 million square foot building, where a handful of businesses are already thriving. One of the first on the block was Salon Concrete.
Christine Zilinski had been on the lookout several years for a place that felt right for location number two of her successful Red Bank business Salon Concrete. The metroburb vibe was a powerful draw, as she knew right away it was where she wanted to be.
“One of the reasons I wanted to be here is that there are so many inspiring entrepreneurs and so many people doing progressive things,” she said. “I want to be around those people.”
Among the top of her list is Somerset Development President Ralph Zucker. Zilinksi recalled a conversation she had with him around the time she signed her lease, when he congratulated her and shared his own story.
“One of the things he said was, As an entrepreneur, there are going to be a lot of naysayers. Hold your vision. Because that’s what he had to do here,” she said. “It’s so important to do that when you’re taking risks and doing things that are out of your comfort zone.”
A place to market: City Barn | Country Penthouse
Husband and wife team Carrie Carretta and Rick Giambastini have always shared their love for eclectic design and sophisticated materials. The couple recently opened City Barn | Country Penthouse a high end home, bed, bath and gift store at Bell Works.
When Carrie, a former nurse, and Rick, a financial services professional, looked for a location for their new business they shied away from strip malls and traditional shopping centers. “We knew the first time we toured Bell Works that it would be the perfect fit for us,” Rick said. “The building is unique and unconventional, just like us.”
“One of my favorite sayings is ‘Lose respect for the status quo.’ Bell Works is the antithesis of the status quo. It represents who we are as a new store concept, and who we are as people,” Carrie said.
A place to gather: Booskerdoo Coffee & Baking Co.
At the center of The Street at Bell Works is the atrium, an expansive light filled space where tenants and visitors meet for coffee, lunch or just to take a quiet break on the custom Italian furniture called The Tubes.
Many of those tenants and visitor enjoy their coffee at Booskerdoo Coffee & Baking Co., the metroburb’s first retail tenant who followed iCIMS on its move from Matawan. Co-owner James Caverly oversees the business, but also focuses on the wholesale program which includes finding new clients, working with current clients, creating new products, and working with their roastmaster to find new coffees.
“There’s a bunch of reasons why I love being a part of the metroburb. Frankly, I just find the place impressive, cool, and it’s exciting to be a part of something this interesting. A lot of things that are going on today isolate us, like with our phones and working from home, and this whole concept brings everybody together. I think it’s a great model for hopefully, what is to come.
“When we first came to Bell Works it was a big question mark of, that sounds cool, but can we pull it off? They’ve done exactly what they were hoping to do, and then some. They set the culture for it being a really nice, down to earth place. There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors out there but this is real. It’s not trying to be something it’s not, it’s exactly what it is.”
Wednesdays from 2 – 6 p.m. (except during January break) the metroburb hosts Bell Works Fresh, the latest edition of the Asbury Fresh farmers market group. More than 30 farmers, artisans and small food businesses turn out to sell everything from the usual fruits and veggies fare, plus wine, pickles, gourmet mushrooms, chocolates and array of artisan goods. Bell Works Fresh draws crowds from both tenants and the public.
That same day, Bell Market holds a happy hour and pizza night inside the social house. Adjacent to the Corbo & Sons pizza ovens is the bar where Beverage Director, resident sommelier and RBC partner Chantelle Corbo serves up cocktails, beer and wine that run the gamut on price, taste and provenance with everything from a $4 Miller Lite to a $10 French Rosé to accompany your pepperoni or fig and truffle honey pizza.
So far the public reception has been great. At the grand opening Corbo turned out 100 pizzas, selling out before 6 p.m. “It was like cardio,” he said.
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