You can’t run a restaurant without equipment and Neil Cohen feels his company may have everything you need.
“New Jersey Restaurant Equipment (NJRE) sells both used and new equipment,” says Neil. “In the beginning, it was 75% used. And now, it’s 75% new, maybe even 80% new. We’re doing at least two design and build-outs a month now, too.”
Neil says the business has totally changed, going from one piece to many pieces. “We started out with mom and pops, mid-size restaurants. And now we’ve expanded our scope. We’re still doing them but we’re now doing 100-piece orders, build-outs. We’ve seen the business evolve.”
The owner of NJRE points out that he had no choice but to adapt. “I was looking at the trends. I saw Jersey as a good trend. Then, after that, I thought, okay, what’s next, now let’s get more back into the design end of it.”
The business is doing so well, it has opened an expanded showroom and warehouse. “We knew that with the growth of our new equipment and design business that we needed a facility that could house a state of the art test kitchen,” Neil noted.
What makes NJRE stand out is that the people on its team are from the food world. “We hire chefs, restaurant people. I have one person who’s a certified Hobart technician. They do all our refurbishing and then we can install. I’m hiring the right people to be able to grow that expansion,” Neil notes.
He also notes that the Internet is a growing segment of NJRE’s business. His wife Jodi runs the company’s web site and has even gotten the business on Craigslist. “Now we have a web site where you can order and have it shipped direct to you. And now we’re nationwide,” he says proudly. “We knew the rush on the equipment industry was heading that way, and we knew we had to have a web store. People want to be able to buy and just click and hit,” Neil affirms.
The people entering the restaurant business have changed, too. “We’re actually seeing all kinds. We’re seeing lifers in the industry. We’re seeing people who wanted to open a restaurant because they’ve always wanted to. They’ve dreamed of having a restaurant. So now they’re following their dream. It’s all the realty people, contractors, everybody. Everybody wants to be a restaurateur. And it seems like now people are really just trying to pursue their dream. I think it’s great.”
Neil gives all the credit to the Food Network. “I’ve seen quite a few going into restaurants who, maybe wouldn’t have six, seven years ago. I honestly believe it has a lot to do with The Food Network, all these different shows people watch. People have an idea and they turn it into a restaurant and some are very successful doing it,” he maintains.
As for equipment, fads come and go, Neil explains. “Sometimes, there are trends. But now what we’re seeing is combis and speed ovens – essentially a combination of microwave and convection. Some are steam and microwave. What people want is compact. Rents are so high in the city; you don’t want to take up any more space than you have to. They’re looking for; ‘What can I do with this oven? How many functions can I do with it, and can I make my menu work?’”
“Having hoods is so costly and you’ve got to exhaust it out. A lot of people are looking for ventless, and so this technology with the combis, with the speed oven, you’re seeing interest in not only the high end, but in the mom and pop delis, too,” he says. “Here’s another way the equipment world is changing. You now get one piece of equipment that can do the work of four different pieces of equipment. Obviously, in a place like the city, we have this limited footprint. The more you can do with one piece of equipment, the more valuable that equipment’s going to be.”
Neil says he’s seeing more people willing to spend more on one piece because it will help them in reducing their footprint.
One of his great loves, Neil admits, is pizza ovens. “Pizza ovens, if treated properly, will last forever,” he says. “And mixers – they will last longer than you and me. So it’s something that people can buy used. We do a lot of used mixers, probably hundreds of 60-quart mixers a year. And now even with this whole wood fire-trend, we’re still selling pizza ovens, the regular deck ovens, are going out of style. We help customers figure out what to do with the pizza ovens, how to refurbish them, what to look for when you’re buying them. Plus, our guys are trained on how to take them apart, get them out of places that normally people wouldn’t want to touch,” he elaborates.
“We buy them and then we sell them and we set them up. And for us, it’s all part of doing business.”
Another trend is that restaurants that don’t usually sell pizza are now selling it. “People are trying to justify the money they’re spending on rent. So they’re trying to push everything they can to you, in a small footprint. Plus, pizza ovens you can do so many different things with. So they may buy into a place that already has a pizza oven there and now they’re trying to use that oven. So they’ll do pizza. They’ll do other things. You can bake bread in the pizza ovens. We’re seeing them using pizza ovens everywhere,” he says.
What makes NJRE stand out, Neil says, is that his company is a stocking dealer. “The contractors wait until they get there. They order one piece and then they need another right away. They love us because we stock. And that’s how we’re able to get such great pricing, that’s why we’re moving to 24,000 square feet because we just need more space and we want to have everything all contained. People see it online and they want to come and actually see it and touch it. They come to the showroom. So the Internet helps in that way, too. The old guys want to touch it, to feel it. That’s why we expanded our showroom,” he announces.
What also separates us from the rest is that it’s in an urban enterprise zone. “So, when you come in, you’re getting a reduced 3 1/2% tax rate. You come in and pay and you carry out. For us, it brings people right into the store and it gives them a discount in terms of what they’re paying for tax, a big savings,” he indicates.
Neil says NJRE hires people who speak the language of the trade. “We hire people who can understand what the customer needs and what’s helping us grow is having the technical expertise as well as the on- the-ground practical experience.”
“New Jersey may not be Manhattan but that is slowly changing,” according to Neil. “I think you’re seeing a lot of what’s happening in New York coming out to Jersey and to other parts because rents now are increasing again so people are looking to maximize their space. And the kitchens are getting pushed back a little in terms of size. So other areas have more appeal for those in the business,” he says. For more information, call (201) 863-6666 or go to njresupply.net.