The news broke on Thursday afternoon that Chris and Albie Manzo are adding yet another business venture to their quickly-expanding resumes: They're going into the restaurant business by opening up Little Town New Jersey in their own town of Hoboken. The eatery (hopefully opening in or around November) will focus solely on iconic dishes from all over New Jersey, and will also source as many ingredients and products as possible from Garden State farmers, brewers, vineyards and producers. It will be a part of the growing Little Town franchise, which also has two spots in Manhattan with a New York-based menu.
The Dish hopped on the phone with Chris Manzo to discuss the news and pick his brain about the restaurant plans, his restaurant pet peeves and also what his cooking skills are like. Check it out:
So how did restaurant business all come about?
The guys over at Little Town and Pour House, they have a pretty good reputation in town and I always went there to hang out. They have a few different partners that we met and became friendly with and started hanging out with randomly around town and started doing Halloween bar crawls and stuff like that. Next thing you know they said they were thinking about opening a place in Hoboken and they kind of laid the concept on us of it being all New Jersey-based food. We loved the concept and said there's so much about Jersey that can be used here. It's got so much of our lives and so much that we've done in our past in it, from the restaurants we love to go to and dishes we love to have and things we grew up on, and now we get to share that with other people. There's so much of us that's going to be in it as far as the decorations, the food -- we had a huge part in it.
How involved were you and Albie along the way?
We were involved in pretty much everything. We don't run the day to day financials, but we're in there as partners in most of the big decision making. We're going to do a chef competition coming up to find out who's going to be the head chef. I went on a little research and development trip recently with the whole team to put together some menu items. It's all New Jersey craft beers and wines. I'm not really a beer drinker, but there's there's a ton of awesome beer in New Jersey that I had no idea about. It's great to show that to people, because we went to some of these small breweries and they've never even heard of something of this magnitude order-wise. We're helping contribute to their success, and that's a huge thing to us. We know how hard it is right now for a lot of people, so for us to be sourcing Jersey tomatoes, Jersey oysters, clams and helping the farmers and breweries and wineries, that's really important to us. That's really what the concept is.
What are some iconic Jersey dishes you expect to be on the final menu?
I don't know if we're ready to roll everything out yet, but the obvious ones are going to be there. Disco fries (*Editor's note: For the non-Jerseyites, that's gravy cheese fries, best eaten at a diner after midnight), Taylor ham egg and cheese in some form of sandwich. We're going to try to throw in a signature Brownstone dish to pay homage to my father. We have a lot of ideas that we're willing to throw around, but we're not at the final draft stage yet.
Click here to read more, and click the photo below for our gallery of the Manzo kids growing up!
Growing up with the Brownstone, do you feel comfortable with the ins and outs of the food and hospitality industry?
For sure. I did things over at the Brownstone for about three years. My father definitely put us through the wringer there and there was no job too little. We were washing dishes, I was valeting cars -- my first job was shining bottles. At the time I didn't understand and now I'm especially thankful for it. We know every part of the business and are not afraid to get involved. If there comes a day when we need to manage it day-to-day, we can do it and we have the ability to train staff and applying a lot of the knowledge we gained at the Brownstone to Little Town.
What do you look for in a restaurant?
It depends on the night I'm looking for. In Hoboken there's a big craft beer crowd. You really have to be unique in a town like Hoboken because there's so many options in a very confined space. First of all, the view we have at Little Town is insane -- you're right on the Hudson River. If you're from Jersey, it'll bring back all kinds of memories. If you're not from Jersey, you're going to learn a lot about it and try new things.
What's one restaurant pet peeve you have?
Filthiness. Honestly I don't mind a rude wait staff if the food is good enough, but if it's dirty, I hate that and I'm not coming back. Also, when it's too loud or crowded.
How would you say your cooking skills are?
I'm not bad! I'm pretty good actually. Once I moved to Hoboken, you realize you're kind of on your own and not getting free meals anymore. My time at the Brownstone -- we had to do everything. I never cooked there, but I learned and saw how things were supposed to be made, like what goes in an oven or what goes under the broiler and things like that. I kind of figured it out by scratch. I like a little bit of a challenge when I cook.