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March 8th, 2014
Meet the Newsmaker: Neil Cohen
Walk us through the history of NJRE Corp.
After 25 years of honing my design and build skills in Manhattan, increased rents, more restricted truck access and the slumping economy I thought New Jersey would be our next step. I found a warehouse spot close enough to the city that would be easy for my long time customers to get to me and allowed for parking, truck access and enough storeroom space, as we are currently outgrowing our present space.
What was the need you identified when you opened the business?
Especially because of the economy restaurant owners more than ever were/are looking for value.
They want great equipment but at a low price. That is where we come in because of our understanding not only the equipment but the market as well. The need in the industry for new and used equipment at a high quality but low price up until we opened wasn’t there in this industry. Also, people don’t want to wait for their equipment we knew we needed to have an expansive inventory.
How have you filled that need?
With the addition of space and the ability to buy containers of equipment we are able to create preferred pricing from our vendors and pass along those savings to our customers. Once we identify a product we like based on price versus performance we bring that in en masse and hold inventory of those items.
At any given time we can have between half and three quarters of a million dollars in inventory. Which also allows for us to fill one of the other needs we identified which is a quick turn around time for equipment. If a restaurant’s stove goes down on a Thursday or Friday and they cant wait two to four weeks for a new one. We can have one there the same day and even offer them a variety of options.
How have the needs of your customer evolved?
As we have grown not only has our customer base grown but also so has the need to keep up with and in most some cases set the standard for the ever evolving restaurant equipment industry. Our customer base is so diverse from Mom and Pops, to pizzerias, to large hotel and restaurant chains; to fine dining to corporate cafeterias and everything in between we do it all.
The Internet has really changed the business in our opinion for the better we have a much more educated customer and our knowledge of the equipment and electricity and gas line and health regulations has to keep up with what is happening out there.
The customer comes in now and expects full service from design and layout to consulting and even menu planning we have had to adapt to these changes. I went out and hired chefs and restaurant people. I didn’t hire salesmen I think combined, my staff collectively had maybe two weeks of sales experience before coming to me but they have over 75 years in the restaurant industry (combined of course). This helps us know our customer and be able to identify their needs.
Talk about the categories you serve?
I mentioned most of the categories in that last answer but others include, bakeries, schools, and contractors. We really serve everyone we even put ice machines into a local airport.
How do the needs of the pizzeria differ from those of the restaurateur?
I do want to make one thing clear as I answer this question; we do a lot of pizzerias but also a lot of other business as well. Every business is unique in their needs because of one reason or another whether it is size restrictions, hood issues or whatever, each operation is different and offers varying degrees of challenge and difficulty.
What’s new in pizza prep and cooking technology that our readers should know about?
The newest trend in pizza refrigeration is the refrigerated sauce bin in the pizza prep tables. This has really been a breakthrough for not only sanitation purposes but also for efficiency.
The new pizza oven trend is high heat, high btu, lower cook times. The new “wave” in pizza ovens is 1000-degree ovens and brick lined (top and bottom) decks.
How has the growth of the pizza oven beyond the pizzeria created growth opportunities?
Any type of growth in this industry has presented opportunities, whether it is the growth of the Internet, combi-ovens, infrared cooking technology and yes pizza ovens are going into places that would not ordinarily have purchased them in the past. Also, we see a real growth, which to us is extremely satisfying in mixer sales. More and more places now are making their own dough from scratch to keep up with the competition. Because consumers are so educated these days, thank you Food Network, freshness of product is becoming more prevalent in the industry. Our mixer sales have increased exponentially since we’ve opened.
Do you offer design services, talk about your approach to design?
As I touched on earlier we hired restaurant people and former chefs to form our team. Our approach is simple, we have to first understand the type of business: fine dining: pizza places: take out: quick serve: cafeteria: etc… Then we look at the menu and the space with which we have to work. We also design bars so we take into consideration the tap system, style of bar, how many seats. The other part and sometimes the most important part is understanding the budget involved.
We then have to work with the architect and contractor to surmise if we have any restrictions (hood space, electrical or plumbing issues). Having a staff that understands how the food business and most importantly how the kitchen operates is key. They then can lay out the space according to the customer’s needs and wants. We then go to our on staff architects and have the drawings built to our specifications.
How do you find yourselves growing with your customers as they expand from an initial restaurant to multiple units?
That is a good question and our relationships with our customers manifest themselves in a variety of ways. The first time around usually the customers want to do everything themselves, then the second time around they are either too busy or don’t want to deal with the “headaches”. We do their layout and design with their close supervision, then when the third time comes around they pretty much hand us the keys and say tell me what I have to do.
There are others that no matter what they micromanage the process from soup to nuts but at that point we are so used to working with them it is second nature to us.
We also have those customers that no matter what they bid us out every time and every time they come back to us but that is the nature of our business and we are used to it.
It’s easy today for buyers to just shop price on the net, why is a dealer like you more important than ever?
It is very easy to surf the web, put in your credit card and buy a piece of equipment. Free shipping, no tax how could you go wrong? Well I will tell you how, what happens if something is wrong, who do you call, 1-800-I don’t care and get nowhere with the person on the other end of the phone. What happens with your old equipment, what if you have a big order, who is going to help you make sure they fit? What about providing spec sheets for the architect? These are all services we offer and more. We truly are a full service equipment provider from equipment, to consulting, to design, to menu development, to sourcing an architect, a contractor, a hood installer. You name it and we do it. We will bring your new equipment in and place it where you want and take out your old equipment. You can’t find that anywhere online.
Are there success stories that stand out?
Because we hold such a vast inventory of product some of our major success stories revolve around setting up a restaurant with very little (if any) lead time. Sometimes it feels like one of those cooking shows where you have 24 hours to completely renovate a restaurant. It feels like we do that on a weekly basis.
Crystal Ball what will the company look like in 5 years…10 years?
You never know what direction in which you might head but we have grown appreciably each year in business which in itself is a major accomplishment however we definitely have bigger plans. We are looking to expand our current location to include a smallwares division, a show kitchen and warehousing all in one location. Also, look for our new webstore coming soon.
For more information on NJ Restaurant Equipment Corporation, please visit www.njrecorp.com or call 201-313-3334.
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