NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ–On May 14, a new food place opened in George Street. Actually two new food places, but who's counting?
Eric Hang, 24, is the manager of Cambo box, which offers "Cambodian inspired sandwiches & rice bowls." Tim Wong, 30, is the manager of Poke Nagomi, which offers customers a chance to "create your own bowl."
Both establishments occupy the space at 342 George Street, previously home to Fiesta Mexican Restaurant.
The joint venture started years ago, with another successful restaurant located just around the corner.
Wong helped Sebastian "Seb" Karyadi open Ramen Nagomi, located at 49 Bayard Street, two years ago, and they wanted to open something new in New Brunswick. So they started looking for a place.
"When we found this place, we though it would be better to share it with another restaurant," said Wong, adding that they met Hang and worked on the project together since then.
"It’s a good thing to be two restaurants inside, because it brings more people. Some would come for one of us then would come back another day to try the other," Hang told New Brunswick Today.
About the opening, they’d say they did "the opposite of something special."
"Everyone told us to do something big for the opening," Hang said, but they wanted to start slow and take the time to test their system, making sure everything is working well.
Wong added: "Today, especially with social media, a bad exprience can have a huge repercussion on people’s opinion."
So they chose to open on a Monday, wait for customers to discover the place, and bet on their satisfaction to bring more people by word of mouth.
Another reason they want to begin slowly is so that they have the time to listen to the feedback of their consumers and make adjustments.
During the summer it is less busy in the city, so "we have the time to discuss with the people, to see what they want, listen to their feedback", for Tim it is important to "have the time to adjust".
For both Wong and Hang, coming to New Brunswick was a big change in their life.
Hang was doing computer programming and web design for an investment fund in North Carolina. He worked there for a little more than a year after graduating from Penn State University.
He says that one day he asked himself if he could see himself doing the same thing in five years.
"It surprised everyone when I said I was quitting my job to do this. Before that I had worked in a restaurant only for one month, but I think I had a business mindset and if I want to try it, if I want to take the risk, it’s [got to be] now."
For Wong, his big risk came two years ago when he moved across the country to open Ramen Nagomi.
He was manager of a retail place while going to school when he met Sebastian Karyadi in Los Angeles.
When Karyadi's wife moved to Princeton, Karyadi didn’t know what to do, so he decided to open a ramen place and offered Wong to join him.
Wong came with him helped open the popular ramen restaurant in New Brunswick, and now their second restaurant, Poke Nagomi, has brought the Hawaiin tradition of seafood bowls to the Hub City.
If you are vegetarian or vegan, or even if you love meat, you’ll find something you like.
From his Ramen Nagomi experience, Wong says he learned that it is necessary to give consumers more options.
"When we started Ramen Nagomi, there was no vegetarian option and people were asking for it, but we wanted to do something good. Not just something vegetarian for it to be vegetarian, we wanted something good."
Hang's tofu helped provide a tasty option for those who don't eat meat.
"It’s really good, I would actually eat it even though I am not vegan," says Wong.
So far the restauranteurs don’t regret their choice to set up shop in Central Jersey.
"It’s the people," Wong said, when asked what he likes about New Brunswick. "In LA, it is busier and more selfish."
"Here it’s more like a know your neighboor kind of vibe," noted Hang, adding that the owners of KBG and Destination Dogs came in to say wish them well. "Other business owners came, we talked. We would think we are competitors but everyone was welcoming."
During the summer, the restaurants employed about a half-dozen employees, including several Rutgers University students.
With thousands of university students moving back into the city, the team hopes that their businesses will see a big increase in customers and that their strategy of synergy will pay off.