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Business of New Brunswick: The planning of a new restaurant may require months, even years worth of work to perfect the menu, the location, and the many other angles that must be considered before grand opening.
Bruce Jones of Papa Grande Grill on Louis Street did it quicker; developing their unique and affordable Tex-Mex concept in only took three and a half weeks.
As a Beechwood, New Jersey native, Jones grew up eating at many Jersey Shore establishments, like the Beach Burrito in Ortley Beach. Damage to their building during Hurricane Sandy caused them to close their doors, but last year, Jones stumbled upon the newly renovated building available for lease.
“Only the floors and walls had been done. We had to bring in all of the restaurant equipment and decor,” Jones remembers.
After graduating from Rutgers in 2010, Jones tried to work in both the finance and real estate industries, but found himself always coming back to restaurants. A lifelong resume of restaurant and bar work culminated in a year-long negotiation to purchase an existing George Street restaurant. When the deal fell through, he felt defeated in his chance to realize his dream of owning his own place. This vacant building presented a unique opportunity to get back in the game.
It was almost an immediate decision to lease the spot, but Jones didn’t have a concept, menu, or any real idea of how to create a restaurant completely from scratch. Plus, he had a short amount of time to figure it out before the Jersey Shore tourist crowd went back to work in the Fall.
Jones called in favors from everyone from family members to Jersey Shore locals to accomplish this feat in a matter of just weeks.
Inspired by the shore food culture and the Mexican theme of the previous restaurant that held the space, Jones asked a 21 year old cook with over seven years of kitchen experience to work at his new eatery. Even in these beginning stages, Jones was certain he was going to open a second restaurant in New Brunswick.
“I promised him that he could have full-time, year round work when I open the New Brunswick location,” Jones says, even though at that time, he had not even opened one restaurant yet.
By July 2013, Jones opened the doors to the Papa Grande Grill in Ortley Beach. Later that summer, construction shut down the road in front of the restaurant, but Jones’ entrepreneurial spirit persisted.
“We served food to construction workers and hosted dinners on the weekend.”
In October of 2013, Jones closed the Ortley Beach store for the season and decided to turn his attention towards securing a location in New Brunswick. Cafe La Terrassa was selling their business and within days of offering it for sale, Jones had the winning bid for his second location.
“New Brunswick is like a second home to me, so I wanted to be back here.”
The Louis Street neighborhood welcomed Papa Grande Grill this past February 2014 and the restaurant has so far been met with success. He notes that while he only had a few months to serve the students, he’s focused his energies on promoting their catering services to local hospitals and the Rutgers athletic teams.
“Our food is different and unique,” Jones says.
A quick peek at the menu would confirm that. Mexican staples like quesadillas and oversized burritos with almost half a pound of meat are complemented by sandwiches packed in cone shaped bread they call “conewiches”, and a host of other homemade items and sauces.
“It’s fun and flavorful. All meats are prepared in our homemade marinades.”
Jones is also proud of the quality of food he brings to the New Brunswick scene.
“All of our beef is certified angus beef. Nothing is frozen and we don’t use butter or oil.”
Although his unstoppable persistence has built him a loyal fan-base, he recognizes that he’s the “new kid on the block” and that his location may present a few challenges to getting the word out about their food.
“We are off the beaten path of the Easton Avenue restaurants,” he says.
“But there are certain great things about it. Papa Grande Grill is walking distance from Easton, we have a parking lot, and we are right across from Joe’s Liquors, so you’re welcome to BYOB.”
The Papa Grande menu, which includes everything from college student friendly priced items to hearty steak and seafood entrees, can be enjoyed in the spacious indoor dining room or on the outdoor patio as weather permits.
As Jones gears up for his first, full year with the college kid crowd, he’s implementing expanded menu options and later hours.
As of September, Papa Grande Grill will be offering breakfast burritos all day and will be open until 3 am on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday (and open Monday-Wednesday until midnight.)
Jones is motivated by the sudden response to his business and is driven by both the positive and constructive feedback from his fan base.
“People saying that my food is good is what drives me. It satisfies me more than being in finance ever did.”
Jones is also excited to make more connections in the community to spread the word of his labor of love.
“I’m a Rutgers guy. The school and the city were great to me and I want to give these people some good food.”
You might even see him or his waitresses out on campus handing out free samples of chips and guacamole during the upcoming semester, but you’ll definitely see them at the RU Football games.
“We just got permission to sell our conewiches inside and outside of the stadium,” Jones says.
Papa Grande Grille is sure to win you over with their fresh food reminiscent of the Jersey Shore in the back streets of Brunswick. You can visit them on the web here and in real life at 137 Louis Street, New Brunswick or 1929 Route 35 North, Ortley Beach.