NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—A deal may soon be in place to fill the vacancies left by the sudden closing of the Tangerine Grill and Kaati Zone in the Asian food court at 375 George Street.
Morton Herman, who manages the property on behalf of the Jacobs family, said he hopes a deal to acquire new tenants for 6,400 square foot retail space very soon.
“We have a lot of interest, including a couple of national franchises,” Herman said, adding that he hopes the original vision for using the space as a food court can be revived.
Within a few weeks during February, both Tangerine Grill, which served Asian cuisine, and Kaati Zone, a Bangalore-based chain of Indian fast-food restaurants specializing in Kati Rolls, closed their doors, leaving most of the large retail space unoccupied.
Helen Chen, who continues to operate Tea Time, which serves bubble tea and sushi, said the sudden closing of the two restaurants was a shock.
“I was beyond surprised,” she said. “They were doing well and then they closed.”
Chen said that customers of the food court were also surprised. Kaati Zone, which was opening its first franchise in the U.S. received positive reviews on Yelp.
“Great place! The owners are down-to-earth, friendly, and helpful” a customer named Jewel L. posted in her Yelp review.
“Since they are a new business… they really try to connect with their customers and give great recommendations.”
“I just tried this spot and was pleasantly surprised!” Rachel S. of Highland Park said in her Yelp review. “I am new to Indian food and asked the guys behind the counter for recommendations. Both were friendly and explained the menu, what they liked and what was spicy.”
Chen, who opened Tea Time in late October, has has a great deal of experience in the food service industry, assisting in her parents restaurant, Kam Buffet, in Trenton, and then as owner of a bubble tea shop in the Menlo Park Mall in Edison, which she sold in 2009.
Bubble Tea is a specialty drink that includes a base of tea or fruit juice with tapaoica balls at the bottom, which can be slurped up threw a super sized straw and then chewed.
Chen said the popularity and varieties of the drink continue to grow.
“Now it has evolved into jelly, pop bubbles, and pudding,” she said.
Tea Time sells 14 flavors of bubble tea, as well sushi rolls including veggie rolls, cooked and raw rolls and special rolls. The business also offers catering services.
While business has been slow throughout the winter, Chen said she hopes sales of Bubble Tea will pick up during the spring.
“Right now during the winter, sushi is my bread and butter, basically,” Chen said. “When it's warmer, Bubble Tea sales are much better.”
Chen said her Christian faith has helped her through the difficult times through slow business and her co-tenants closing.
“I think God has been very faithful to me,” she said.
The store's Bubble Tea cups have a printout of a bible verse from the book of Isaiah: “Arise, shine, for your light has come.”
Tangerine Grill and Kaati Zone are not the only food related businesses within the city that have closed or are on the verge of closing. As we reported last month, the Fresh Grocer, the city's newest grocery store, owes the equivalent of nine months in back rent.
Chen said she is interested in seeing the city pursue methods of encouraging growth for small businesses, such as looking into rent control for commercial properties.
“Just to protect small businesses and mom-and-pop shops,” she said. “If they really want businesses to succeed, rent is something they have to help us with.”
Two new gourmet hamburger restaurants plan to open on George Street this spring, joining Starbucks, Chipotle, and Burger King as the major franchise restaurants along the cities major thoroughfare.