Lifestyle

Food Bank of South Jersey promotes Hosier to COO, Awosanya to CDO

The Food Bank of South Jersey, based in Pennsauken, announced Friday it has made some changes to its leadership.

Charles Hosier and Lavinia Awosanya have been promoted to chief operating officer and chief development officer, respectively. The promotions were in effect on March 1.

“It gives me great pleasure to officially welcome Charles and Lavinia to the executive team,” FBSJ CEO and President Fred Wasiak said. “Their demonstrated  leadership and exemplary service on behalf of our organization’s mission will certainly poise us for growth as we work to solve the hunger crisis in South Jersey.”

Hosier will be responsible for overseeing all of the food bank’s operations, including employee and food safety compliance, inventory control, distribution, food procurement, and more.

Previously, he served as FBSJ’s director of operations for three years. Before that, he was general manager for a large food processing company in South Jersey.

In her new role, Awosanya will be responsible for advancing the food bank’s mission by leading the fund development, marketing and community relations strategies. She will also oversee major gift cultivation.

Awosanya joined FBSJ in 2014 as manager of special events and most recently served as director of strategic partnerships. Her earlier career was spent in London and New York working for a leading beauty and skincare brand as part of its sales and management team.

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How Giovinazzo turned Eat Clean Bro healthy food-delivery service into multimillion-dollar firm

Jamie Giovinazzo said his first goal was to be “shredded.”

“When I was younger, I was heavy and picked on and I really hated it,” he said. 

After he did that, he used what he had learned in the kitchen and the gym to become a food business owner at the age of 19. 

“As crazy as it sounds, there was nowhere you could go in 2013 to order healthy prepared meals without being part of a (strict) program with weekly or monthly contracts,” Giovinazzo, now 32, said. “I was one of the first ones to say, you know what? Here’s this healthy food I make, here’s my best price, order whatever you want, whenever you want — and that became my point of differentiation in the market. 

“That is what allowed this company to take off.” 

Eat Clean Bro, a prepared meal delivery service in Freehold, creates all-natural, preservative-free and perfectly-portioned meals intended to help busy individuals maintain healthy lifestyles. 

The company — now a family business with his wife, Kayla Giovinazzo, 28 — is on track to do $15 million in sales this year. 

“It’s just so Jersey, the way this all went down,” Jamie Giovinazzo, the founder and president, said. 

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Giovinazzo said he learned so much in his own bodybuilding journey that he became a personal trainer at the age of 18. 

“I also learned a lot at the gym from other trainers who were competing in bodybuilding about how to cook, what to use and what not to, and I just always put my own creative spin on it,” he said. “Cooking always has made sense to me. It’s one of those things I learn fast and remember well.” 

Chef Joe Argento of Old Bridge places meals into an oven at Eat Clean Bro.

In 2005, a stranger at the gym asked Giovinazzo if he would be willing to prepare and cook whatever he ate for him, too. 

Then that stranger’s entire office began asking. 

Before long, Giovinazzo had taken over his family’s kitchen — which proved unsustainable, he said. 

“I went in and out of business several times over the next few years,” he said. “Finally, I gave up. I didn’t think I could do it.” 

But while he was trying out other means of employment, Hurricane Sandy hit. With his childhood home destroyed and his family devasted by the storm, Giovinazzo said he made a New Year’s resolution. 

“No matter what, I said to myself, I would figure it out and make something happen, so, in the event of another crisis, I would be able to help my family financially,” he said. 

###

One month later, Giovinazzo said he received a call from that first customer. 

“He asked me if I was still cooking; I lied and said, ‘Yes,’” he said. “I was down to my last dollar — so, I asked him if he had friends who wanted food, too.” 

Giovinazzo said he took his last $300 from bartending to create meals for more than 80 customers that week. 

“I then took my $150 profit and just kept rolling with it,” he said. 

Right into a commercial kitchen — and a new business venture with his now-wife, Kayla, despite Giovinazzo calling to cancel one of their first dates. 

“He said, ‘I can’t go out because I have to get my finances in order for the accountant,’” Kayla Giovinazzo said. “But I said, I love organizing — I’d love to help.” 

Kayla Giovinazzo said she showed up to Jamie and a garbage bag full of receipts. 

“So, I said, OK, dump this out and let’s get going,” she said. “That night, we enrolled in QuickBooks and got it all sorted out.” 

###

Kayla Giovinazzo is now the chief operations officer of Eat Clean Bro, which currently employs 110 and serves New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Connecticut and Georgia. 

The idea behind the company is that it helps its customers calculate their macros and keep it “clean” by cooking and delivering healthy meals for them. 

“There are more than 100 options on the menu and it is not really specific to any one diet,” Kayla Giovinazzo said. 

For example, one can order vegetarian roasted spaghetti squash and cauliflower alfredo ($10.49), the low-carbohydrate and low-calorie Italian chicken sausage with peppers and onions ($8.50) or even Keto-friendly buffalo bleu chicken meatballs ($11.49). 

“We did release a Keto-friendly menu that people have really liked,” Jamie Giovinazzo said. “I myself tested it for 90 days and lost 40 pounds.” 

Kayla Giovinazzo said Eat Clean Bro even offers allergen-free meals. 

“Whatever it is you might need or be into, we have it — without a plan, without a subscription, without recurring billing and without signing up for anything — you simply can put together what is best for you on our website and check out,” she said. 

###

Their customer base is diverse.

Kayla Giovinazzo said many of them live in New Jersey and New York, including models with “shredded” bodies, such as Remington Perregaux; radio and television personalities looking to get healthier, such as Greg T and Skeery Jones from Z100; Alani Nicole “La La” Anthony in Brooklyn; and some professional athletes, including members of the New York Knicks. 

“But according to our Facebook following, aside from New Jersey and New York City, Atlanta, Georgia, has the next biggest pull,” Jamie Giovinazzo said. 

A new delivery van.

Eat Clean Bro therefore opened a second kitchen in Atlanta in February in partnership with Justin Lynch, who Jamie Giovinazzo said he grew up with in Old Bridge. 

“Justin’s family got into the restaurant business and therefore he was godfathered into the business, too,” Jamie Giovinazzo said. “He’s now got five restaurants in Atlanta and he recently reached out and said he’s been watching our success on Facebook and wanted to work with us. So, we opened it the way someone would open a restaurant. I sent my chefs down there and they sent their chefs up here for training and we got it off the ground.”

Jamie Giovinazzo said the experiment was in preparation of exploring franchise opportunities over the next couple of years. 

“Being that Justin is my friend, I’m confident in his ability to replicate my brand out there and fulfill the orders the right way,” he said. “This was a friendly way to see and learn what really goes into it.”

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Jamie Giovinazzo said he and his family have invested so much into this company already.

“But I’m hoping to now raise some capital to build out a Eat Clean Bro store, in the way I might see a franchise model laying out,” he said. 

Within three to four years, Jamie Giovinazzo said, he would like to see the business reach $50 million in sales. 

Having been all self-funded, Kayla Giovinazzo said, it is crazy to think they already are at this point. 

However, as working parents to a 6-month-old son, she said their motivations are even stronger to succeed. 

“We can’t fail now,” she said. 

Stuck in the middle 

Jamie Giovinazzo said while the low entry to barrier was great for him when he started in this industry at the age of 19, it has since become a challenge for Eat Clean Bro. 

“When I started cooking out of my friend’s house in 2013, it wasn’t common to use social media platforms,” he said. “I was just making meals for friends and family and had no means of advertising. Now, with Instagram and Facebook, it’s anybody’s game – even some kid in a backyard with a grill, who can sell meals for half of what we do because he has no overhead.”

Jamie Giovinazzo said that’s just one end of the spectrum. 

“Bigger companies and national brands who are backed by deep pockets get these huge cash infusions that afford them the opportunity to give out $80 coupons,” he said.

“So, we are fighting a war on both fronts, with both the small guys with low overhead, and the big guys who can afford to operate at a loss of more than $100 million per year.”

The name game 

Jamie Giovinazzo said it was his father who came up with the name for Eat Clean Bro. 

“He said, ‘That’s all you say — why don’t you just call it that?’” he said. “So, yes, that is the way I talk. I am who I am, and I have to stay true to that. I’m not0 cut from the corporate cloth and I am not your typical businessman.” 

Kayla Giovinazzo said that is why the name will never change. 

“We love it,” she said. “Even though from a marketing standpoint, people will tilt their heads and think, how are they even marketing to women, for example? 

“But our biggest market right now is women between the ages of 30 and 35, especially women with children.”

Conversation Starter

Reach Kayla Giovinazzo of Eat Clean Bro at: eatcleanbro.com or kayla@eatcleanbro.com.

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The accidental roasters: How Dawson, Petrik fell into $1.5M coffee business in Montclair

For nearly two decades, Jodie Dawson worked as a clinical psychologist and certified life coach, while Kristine-Ellis Petrik worked as a journalist and marketing executive with CNN. 

Jodie Dawson, left, and Kristine-Ellis Petrik, of Java Love Coffee Roasting Co. in Montclair.

“But it turned out we were really good at roasting coffee — even though it’s certainly very different than I expected it to be,” Petrik said. 

What started as a part-time passion project in the Sullivan Catskills of New York nearly eight years ago has become a $1.5 million women-owned business in the greater Montclair area, where Dawson and Petrik, co-owners of Java Love Coffee Roasting Co., and their kids live. 

“Entrepreneurship is sort of like motherhood,” Dawson, the president, said. “You don’t know how hard it’s going to be until you are in it, but when you are successful and launching out into this world, there is no greater reward.”

Now, with two retail locations in Montclair and a third in White Lake, New York, Petrik, the head roaster, said she and Dawson currently are devising plans to keep growing. 

“We’re going to keep moving forward until we can’t anymore,” she said. 

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It began when Petrik said she and Dawson had a tough time staying caffeinated at their second home in upstate New York. 

“There were great restaurants and amazing organic farms, but every time we asked somebody where we could get a good cup of coffee, (they) said Citgo — the gas station down the road,” Petrik said. “We thought that was so ridiculous.” 

In response, Petrik said she and Dawson developed an idea to open a French market of sorts, which would work with local farmers and artisans to sell produce and other products. 

“It was a very romantic notion of owning our own business,” Dawson said. “But we also wanted to be a part of the economic development of the county.” 

Petrik said she and Dawson became “accidental entrepreneurs” in an entirely unfamiliar industry after connecting with Hudson Valley Coffee Roasters, an existing artisanal coffee roasting company nearby with less than $25,000 in annual sales. 

Outside Have Love offers seating for customers.

“We were trying to sell their product, but they said they were no longer accepting customers, as they were looking to sell their business,” Petrik said. “That’s when a couple of friends of ours who were financial and restaurant consultants said, ‘Buy it.’” 

Petrik said she and Dawson initially were skeptical, seeing as costs in the coffee industry were at a record-high. 

“But they said, ‘If you’re going to do something, do one thing and do it well,’” Petrik said. “And that made sense to us.” 

Petrik and Dawson purchased Hudson Valley Coffee Roasters and wrote into their contract how they both were to be trained by the company, Petrik said. 

It took three months, she added, but in 2011, she and Dawson moved the business to Bethel, New York, to open their first Java Love Coffee Roasting Co. in a 400-square-foot space with a roaster and a tiny counter. 

And that was just the beginning. 

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Java Love Coffee Roasting Co. would relocate its flagship location to a larger space in White Lake, before opening in Upper Montclair in 2014, in downtown Montclair in 2016, and creating an additional outpost in Roscoe, New York, in 2017. 

The small batch, artisan coffee roasting company remains competitive with both nearby Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks locations, Dawson said, due to its commitment to consistent quality product, economic development, education and sustainable practices, including the use of organic, sustainably-farmed, fair trade- and rainforest alliance-certified beans. 

“The milk we use is from a local dairy farmer, for example,” Petrik said. “A local artisan created our pottery. And, when we source from local bakeries, we know it’s quality product. 

“We work so hard on our coffee — why would we not have everything else match that level of quality and commitment to being fresh, good and nutritious?” 

A customer can come in and order a cup of drip coffee for $2, Dawson said, or spend more on a creative oat lavender latte from Java Love Coffee Roasting Co.’s specialty drink offerings. 

“We also run specials that highlight sustainable practices that are win-win for pricing and the environment,” Dawson said. “For example, you can bring in a travel mug and get any beverage for the price of a small coffee, or, if you bring in a small jar, we will fill it with a whole pound of coffee beans for the same price as a 12-ounce bag. 

“We are passing on the packaging savings to our customers while also promoting reusables.” 

Petrik, also a trained sommelier, said that, as a recovering journalist, it is her job to help tell the story of the coffee, to both the customers ordering it and those seeking further education from courses such as “Seed to Cup: Coffee 101,” a class offered by Java Love Coffee Roasting Co. on the various growing regions, flavors and characteristics of coffee. 

For example, Java Love Coffee Roasting Co. sells 12-ounce bags of Peru Cecanor, coffee provided by Café Femenino, a unique Peruvian ethical sourcing model committed to ending the cycle of poverty afflicting women coffee farmers across the globe, for $16.95 online. 

And its special reserve coffees, with unique characteristics, are limited in availability, Petrik said.

“We had an outrageous Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, for example, that had blueberry tones to it,” she said. “This fruity coffee was from the highest elevated farm in Ethiopia, and, the higher the elevation, the better the quality of coffee. 

“We were lucky enough to get one bag of it, 132 pounds, which means we got about 120 pounds roasted out of that. And it did not last on the shelves.” 

The interior of Java Love Coffee Roasting Co.

Java Love Coffee Roasting Co.’s most popular coffee, however, is called Bad Ass Brew (12 ounces, $16 online). 

“There are four bold coffee beans that, when blended, become mellow enough to not require milk to drink,” Petrik said. 

A positive customer experience always is the end goal, she added. 

“I also train the staff on all of our different coffees so that our message, our story and our knowledge is the same across the board,” Petrik said. “All are welcome to learn here.” 

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Java Love Coffee Roasting Co. is interested in both opening more locations and diversifying, Dawson said. 

Its growing wholesale business in New Jersey and New York now includes seven Whole Foods Market locations.

Its e-commerce site and monthly subscription service, which delivers two 12-ounce bags of freshly roasted beans to one’s home for $32, accounts for more than 50 percent of online sales.

And Dawson said the business has even invested in highly lucrative mobile coffee cart catering, which provides baristas and all the equipment necessary to serve espresso-based drinks like lattes and cappuccinos off-site. 

“We were getting a lot of inquiries for events and catering, but none of our set-ups really worked for that,” she said. “So, we had some extra espresso equipment, Kristine built a rustic cart — and now we have two carts and are working the party circuit from weddings to mitzvahs.”  

The next year will be focused on finding a new location more central to Montclair for its roaster, Petrik said. 

“Plus, we always are looking at the possibility of opening another Java Love,” she said. “But I have no idea what that looks like — yet. When we see it, we’ll know, and we’ll step into it.” 

Dawson said she’s all in. 

“You only get one shot at this lifetime and, as our 12-year old daughter said to me the other day, ‘You aren’t going to get anywhere by playing it safe,’” she said. 

Wherever they go, however, Petrik said there must absolutely be a commitment to — and also buy in from — the community. 

“We know we would not be where we are today if it were not for the communities that support Java Love and our mission,” Dawson said. “Our gratitude, I think, comes through in everything we do, from the local products we source, to the commitment we have to our staff, to the donations and engagement we have with our local communities. 

“It has to be a two-way street and we love creating community around a great cup of coffee!” 

An international affair 

Coffee is the second most heavily traded commodity in the world, outside of oil, according to Kristine-Ellis Petrik, co-owner of Java Love Coffee Roasting Co. 

“But unlike oil, coffee is seasonal,” Petrik said. “You can’t buy Sumatra coffee year-round, for example, because it’s only harvested in the fall. So, we have to buy enough coffee to last us the year, and every year is different.” 

Everything from the weather to politics can affect industry prices, she added. 

“If a tsunami is headed toward Indonesia, we’re watching that, because we know that if flowers are blooming on the coffee trees, the rain and wind will lower the crop and our price will be higher,” Petrik said. “Also, if we’re in a trade war with China, for example, are there products that are being impacted by that? 

“Because China is one of the largest coffee consuming countries in the world.”

The future workforce 

Java Love Coffee Roasting Co. employs 28 across its four locations in Montclair and New York. 

But what Jodie Dawson, co-owner and president, said she thought would be a no-brainer transition from psychology to the management of her own business was actually difficult. 

Sarah Leyden-Morffi prepares fresh coffee beans for sale.

“It turns out that, because of the emotional and financial stake we had in our business, all of my skills were thrown out the window at first,” she said. “It has taken several years of experience and research to get back to integrating those skills with my staff and our hiring and review process.” 

Members of the younger generations, for example, take jobs with causes greater than themselves — but only those that fit well with their lifestyles, Dawson said. 

Furthermore, Dawson said she must hire people who will be best for the business while also providing them with the life and work skills needed to one day allow them to leave and prosper elsewhere. 

“We’ve learned a lot about the type of employee who works best with our company,” she said. “It’s someone who is open to learning and growing as an individual and who supports our mission as a women-owned business focused on great coffee, high customer service standards, community and sustainability.

“Skills can be trained, but a great fit cannot.”

Conversation Starter

Reach Java Love Coffee Roasting Co. at: javaloveroasters.com or info@javaloveroasters.com.

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Amusement park unveils $5M expansion to ‘up its game’

An amusement park in New Jersey unveiled Thursday a $5 million expansion plan to up its game as it adapts to a more competitive entertainment marketplace, it said.

Funplex, one of New Jersey’s amusement destination, announced the upgrade during “Media Day” at its East Hanover location.

Included in the upgrades are 37,000 square feet of additional space and a new bowling section. Included in the bowling section are a new, interactive Qubica-manufactured “HyperBowling” ride, projection screens, a new lightshow, sound system and waitress service. In addition, there’s an upgraded and reconfigured Funplex Go-Kart Track, the debut of the “Reverse Time” ride and a new “Drop and Twist” ride.

Funplex, which has a second location in Mount Laurel, said the $5 million investment is part a $20 million overall investment into both locations over the past four years, including new rides, restaurants, site improvements and more.

“Funplex is committed to being the premier family entertainment venue, which is why we’ve invested $5 million to improve this already-terrific facility,” Funplex CEO Brian Williams said. “These upgrades have made Funplex even more fun. I’m confident that everyone who visits us will be delighted with the enhancements, and will reaffirm this location as one of the state’s top amusement destinations.”

Funplex also upgraded some food and beverage offerings at its Boardwalk Cafe, including new appetizers for the bowling area like flavor infused milkshakes, funnel cakes and other boardwalk favorites.

“We expect to greatly expand our demographic reach now that renovations are complete,” Williams said. “In addition to families, our facility now appeals to high school and college students, as well as to adults.”

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Villa Restaurant Group adding three eateries to Newark airport’s Terminal B

Villa Restaurant Group, a global multibrand restaurant operator and franchisor, announced Tuesday its plans to bring three new quick-service dining options to the pre-security area of Terminal B at Newark Liberty International Airport this year.

“We are proud to have been selected by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield Airports to bring fresh, new and innovative dining options to Newark Liberty International Airport, right here in our home state of New Jersey,” Christopher McNamee, senior manager of business development for Villa Restaurant Group, said. “As industry veterans, we have the experience and systemwide flexibility to scale our own concepts accordingly and to work with partner brands to deliver the quality and variety that can exceed the passengers’ and the developer’s needs.”

The restaurants will include Villa Restaurant Group’s proprietary quick-service brand, Tony + Benny’s Pizza Parlor, as well as partnership concepts with Salsarita’s Fresh Mexican Grill and Carlo’s Bakery, founded by Buddy Valastro Jr., chef and television personality from TLC’s “Cake Boss.”

Villa Restaurant Group also will debut one of its full-service 40NORTH Restaurants concepts, Piattino: A Neighborhood Bistro, at the airport this year.

“These new openings will give us a great opportunity to expand the footprint and exposure of some of our fastest growing concepts, further our relationship with a great strategic partner and to debut the first-ever airport location of a world-class brand right here in our own backyard,” McNamee said.

Villa Restaurant Group is prepared to offer a wide variety of food options and price points to the more than 7 million passengers who pass through the terminal each year, he added, just as it does at other airports, including LaGuardia International Airport, Orlando International Airport, Philadelphia International Airport, Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport and more.

What began as a single pizzeria in New York City in 1964 run by Michele Scotto, a Naples, Italy native, has grown to more than 350 restaurant locations across the globe, in more than 41 states and six countries.

Now a family-run business, Villa Restaurant Group runs more than a dozen brands, including quick-service restaurant brands such as Villa Italian Kitchen, Green Leaf’s Beyond Great Salads, Bananas Smoothies & Frozen Yogurt and South Philly Cheesesteaks & Fries, as well as 40NORTH Restaurant Group concepts such as The Black Horse Tavern & Pub in Mendham, The Office Tavern Grill in Morristown, Summit and Ridgewood (and The Office Beer Bar and Grill in Montclair), George & Martha’s in Morristown, Piattino in Mendham and Summit, Café Villa in Chatham, Town Bar and Kitchen in Morristown, and Steelworks in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

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Laser focused: Pellegrini has helped make Bullseye Virtual Combat into perfect place for parties, corporate functions

Laser tag was a classic concept in need of a serious update, Vic Pellegrini said. 

One he happily provided. 

“People think they’ll be running around with plastic vests and space-themed guns inside little corridors with black lights and fog,” he said. 

But Pellegrini, the owner of Bullseye Virtual Combat in Flemington, said he makes laser tag feel more like the real-life version of “Fortnite Battle Royale.”

“We bridge the gap between the video games that kids are playing these days and real-life experiences out on the field,” he said. “And when they get here and start playing, they truly understand the concept, how to play and how best to use team work to be successful.” 

The only outdoor facility of its kind has an array of obstacles.

While nearly 80 percent of business consists of parties for kids ages 8 and up, Pellegrini said Bullseye Virtual Combat effectively elevates laser tag from being a simple kid’s game to one that even large corporations want to use for team building. 

“Adults certainly don’t feel childish playing anymore,” he said. 

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Three years ago, Pellegrini was caring for his two young daughters and working part-time as a police dispatcher while his wife attended nursing school. 

Then he visited a laser tag facility in New York that used equipment designed and manufactured by iCombat. 

“I was unhappy with how they conducted the actual games, but I loved the equipment,” Pellegrini said. 

In 2016, Pellegrini raised funds from friends and family in order to lease 10 guns and create his own tactile laser tag concept.

“I thought I could provide what people wanted, which was a more hands-on approach, with captains on the field to help the players, more time to play and more realistic game modes,” he said. “And my wife and I, we thought that if I didn’t try to do this, in five years, we would be watching someone else’s success.” 

However, after consulting with expensive engineers and architects as well as various municipalities, Pellegrini said he learned it would cost tens of thousands of dollars to build an indoor field for tactical laser tag.

“Then we went pumpkin picking at Schaefer Farms and thought, hey — they have some unused space that we could both generate revenue from, especially as seasonal businesses,” he said. 

Pellegrini said he then consulted with a video game map designer to help create a real-life field using nearly a dozen 4-by-8 sheets of plywood. 

“From there, we would learn what worked and what didn’t to continue building,” he said. 

Bullseye Virtual Combat was then moved to a larger area to be able to include two 15-by-30 feet rooms — which were leveled by a nor’easter last year. 

“But, each time we were challenged, we just went bigger and better with the purchase of more equipment and the availability of more space,” Pellegrini said. 

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Pellegrini’s persistence has paid off. 

Today, Bullseye Virtual Combat at Schaefer Farms is the only outdoor field licensed by iCombat in the world. 

“We also do it a little differently than most,” he said. “We combine video gaming and state-of-the-art technology to create a highly immersive outdoor laser tag experience.” 

Bullseye Virtual Combat
The game gets kids outside.

Pellegrini likens the game play to video games such as “Call of Duty” or “Halo,” for example, “where two teams are pitted against each other to achieve an objective, such as most eliminations, most capture points or successfully moving and protecting a VIP,” he said. 

Bullseye Virtual Combat currently owns nearly 50 replicas of AR-15 weapons, provided by iCombat, which actually recoil from carbon dioxide-charged magazines and need to be reloaded when a player runs out of ammo. 

It provides these alongside wireless headbands, sound effects, music and anywhere between eight and 20 missions during game play, with the option to enjoy classic or custom-made missions. 

Game statistics can then be viewed online as well as on the commander screen at the private outdoor field, complete with an 80-by-80-foot complex with hallways, hay bales, tight corners, obstacles and open spaces.

Group events range from 90 minutes and an eight-player minimum ($280) to two hours and a 12-player minimum, plus pizza, beverages and cake ($600). 

“As far as groups coming out to pay individually, it averages between $30 and $40 per person, depending on the size of the group,” Pellegrini said. 

He employs three to be at the field with him during game play from March through October, Pellegrini added, with Bullseye Virtual Combat currently hosting between four and six events each weekend and dedicating other days of the week to field and equipment maintenance, marketing, social media and scheduling. 

However, with kids out of school during the summer and parents wanting them to spend more time outside rather than in front of a screen, Pellegrini said he expects the number of weekly events to increase. 

“We can open up the field for a private session at any time,” he said. 

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Pellegrini said he is extremely satisfied with both the number of repeat customers, as well as the business’ email open rate. 

“We’ll do a birthday party for one kid over the weekend, for example, and by Monday, we’re receiving phone calls from the other parents,” he said. 

Bullseye Virtual Combat also hosts adult birthday parties, bachelor and bachelorette parties, and more — including corporate team building, which Pellegrini said companies such as Colgate-Palmolive and Jet.com already have taken advantage of. 

“We make missions rather difficult or nearly impossible to complete unless you work as a team,” he said. “There’s no pain or mess, like in paintball. You’re simply burning energy while working together and having fun.”  

All of the profits so far have been reinvested into the expansion of the business, Pellegrini said, as he works toward the ultimate goal: an environment in which nearly 100 players can play together on a massive field simultaneously. 

“That would be very cool, because nobody else can do that,” he said. 

Controversial company 

Vic Pellegrini, owner of Bullseye Virtual Combat, is married to a medical professional and is a father to two young daughters. 

A replica AR-15 weapon, provided by iCombat, which actually recoils from carbon dioxide-charged magazines and needs to be reloaded when a player runs out of ammo. ­

Because of that — and because of his upbringing — Pellegrini said he is sympathetic toward those who see a lack of gun control, replicating video game violence and the handling of a replica AR-15 by a child as problematic. 

“I grew up in a house where we did not touch guns and I completely understand the discomfort people have with real guns,” he said. “But we are a laser tag company. 

“I have had discussions with people about guns, but as a business, we tend to push the teamwork, the missions and the objectives of the game, more so than the replica weapons we use.”

Furthermore, all of the terms Bullseye Virtual Combat uses, Pellegrini said, are associated with video games.

“For example, we don’t kill anyone — we eliminate them,” he said. “We are not looking for this to be aggressive; we just want it to be fun.”

Pellegrini said he expected this sort of pushback when opening his business three years ago — in fact, he said he expected more. 

“With the look our business has and the photos that we use to promote it, pushback was a given,” he said. “But I was surprised with just how little there was.”

The zombie farm 

Bullseye Virtual Combat at Schaefer Farms in Flemington recently announced its launch of The Zombie Farm this June. 

“Two years ago, we partnered with a company that did Zombie-themed tours on the farm,” Vic Pellegrini, owner, said. 

Because it went so well, Bullseye Virtual Combat and Schaefer Farms are now teaming up to provide their own Zombie-themed experience. 

“A vehicle transporting both the infectious disease and the cure has crashed on the property, and our players must now fend off the infected while searching for the cure,” Pellegrini said. 

The experience will include a scavenger hunt and a trail walk where the “infected” are roaming, he added. 

“When our players fire, their headbands will light up and they will collapse,” Pellegrini said. “This will be much different than simply walking through an environment to be scared — now, they’re trying to get you, and you can actually fight back.”

Conversation Starter

Reach Vic Pellegrini of Bullseye Virtual Combat at: vic@bullseyevirtualcombat.com, bullseyevirtualcombat.com or 908-274-1499.

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Guadagno to become CEO of Fulfill, former Monmouth/Ocean food bank

Former Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno has joined Fulfill as its new CEO and president, starting Monday, the organization formerly known as the Foodbank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties announced Friday.

Guadagno, who served as lieutenant governor under Gov. Chris Christie from 2010 to 2018, will lead Fulfill’s efforts to alleviate hunger and build food security in Monmouth and Ocean counties.

“Our mission is driven by a desire to help those who have fallen on hard times,” Jeremy Grunin, chair of Fulfill’s board of trustees, said in a prepared statement. “In searching for a new CEO, we wanted someone with an established history of charitable giving and involvement; extensive connections that could bring new resources to the organization; and who could help bring greater attention to Fulfill and its programs so we can serve as a model for other nonprofits statewide.

“We have found that, and more, in Lt. Gov. Guadagno.”

Guadagno, who has been a partner with Roseland-based Connell Foley for the past year, will continue in her role with the law firm — which has represented Fulfill for decades, the organization noted.

“As Fulfill’s CEO, I plan to bring a voice to the growing number of our neighbors who do not know where their next meal will come from,” Guadagno said in a statement. “Over the next few months, I hope to reach every corner of Monmouth and Ocean counties to raise awareness of the problem of hunger in our own backyard and to raise awareness of the services Fulfill provides to try to solve the problem.

“No child should ever go to bed not knowing where his or her next meal will come from. No parent should ever struggle to put food on their table.”

Guadagno has been a Monmouth County resident for almost 30 years, including serving as county sheriff among other government roles.

“In selecting Kim Guadagno as their new president and CEO, Fulfill has found the perfect person to lead their fight against hunger,” New Jersey Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Tom Bracken said in a statement. “Her experience and business expertise make her uniquely qualified to highlight and bring even greater attention to the organization and its goal of helping the people of Monmouth and Ocean counties.”

Fulfill has a network of 300 food pantries and kitchens, as well as a culinary arts training program, among other services.

“We are excited to continue our work with New Jersey’s first lieutenant governor as the new president and CEO of Fulfill,” New Jersey Food Council CEO and President Linda Doherty said in a statement. “We know of Kim Guadagno’s deep personal commitment to this organization and those in need in Monmouth and Ocean counties. She will be a fierce advocate, strong ally and effective leader for Fulfill, and we stand ready to work together and continue to fight food insecurity in communities throughout the region.”

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Neptune’s Gourmet Kitchen becomes part of AUA’s food manufacturing venture

New York investment firm AUA Private Equity Partners LLC has created a new food manufacturing company, Gourmet Culinary Holdings LLC, through a pair of recent transactions that included Neptune-based specialty food manufacturer Gourmet Kitchen Inc.

AUA announced this week that it created the GCH partnership in March, teaming up with Gourmet Kitchen’s owners, and then in April, joining with the founders and senior management of Atlanta-based Kabobs Holdings LLC to bring the hors d’oeuvres maker into the GCH fold.

“We are excited to establish the Gourmet Culinary Holdings platform and partner with talented operators at each of Gourmet Kitchen and Kabobs,” AUA Managing Partner Andy Unanue said in a prepared statement. “Based on the strong performance in our portfolio company Indulge Desserts Holdings LLC, we hope to create similar economies of scale that will allow our partners to accelerate growth and continue to offer premium customized solutions to our customers.”

Gourmet Kitchen, founded in 1985, makes specialty prepared foods for hotels, restaurants, colleges, corporate campuses and more, with artisanal product offerings ranging from appetizers and breakfast items to ethnic foods and desserts.

The new GCH platform will give Gourmet Kitchen Kabobs a broader portfolio of products, more robust resources and additional capacity for growth. Both companies’ current management will remain involved in the business going forward, AUA said.

“We have been thinking about a partnership with Kabobs for years,” Gourmet Kitchen President Michael Lacey said in a statement. “AUA was able to make that a reality. Together, we will be able to provide a broader product offering and expansive customer service.”

For AUA, the transaction was led by Steven Flyer, partner; Kyce Chihi, managing director; and Ari David, vice president. NXT Capital provided financing, while Foley & Lardner LLP served as AUA’s legal adviser. CohnReznick LLP, L.E.K. Consulting and Lockton Cos. Inc. were additional advisers on the deal.

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7th annual fundraiser for Friends of the Food Industry in May

Save the date and mark your calendars for May 20 for a good cause. Friends of the Food Industry will have its 7th annual Cocktail Party from 6-9 p.m. that day at Hackensack Country Club in Oradell. This year, the organization will be honoring four individuals well-known to the local food industry with Lifetime Achievement Awards: 

  • Larry Inserra Jr.;
  • Tony Gasparro;
  • Rich Desimone; and 
  • Jen Kemp. 

Each of this year’s honorees has made major impacts within the food industry.

Friends of the Food Industry was born back in 2013, when a group of food industry friends and business associates got together and decided to create an organization with the sole mission of coming to the aid of individuals and families within the food industry that have fallen on hard times or have dire financial needs. 

They accomplish this mission through the funds raised by the annual cocktail party, which honors key leaders in the local food industry. Over the past six years, by hosting the cocktail party in May and inviting people throughout the industry — from customers to vendors and brokers — they’re able to take and distribute funds raised from the event. 

Friends of the Food Industry has been fortunate enough to raise over $750,000 in its six years of existence and has helped numerous families and individuals.

One of the things I like the most about the local food industry is the camaraderie, commitment and deep friendships that are found right among our peers and colleagues and can be hard to find in other businesses and industries. Whether you’re at the lower level or right at the top, I commend all of you! 

We wish everyone associated with this mission the very best as you generously give of your time and resources to those colleagues and friends who need our help.

Come on out and support this worthy evening and mingle with some of the key people who make up the food industry here in New Jersey.

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Hot New Jersey neighborhood adds giant food hall

A new 30,000-square-foot main atrium at Harborside, the 4.3 million square-foot-office complex set along the Hudson River with views of Manhattan, has now opened as District Kitchen. This is a unique dining concept offering a wide variety of vendors throughout the atrium, but the new food hall will also feature other popular Jersey City food spots, like Ani Ramen and Left Bank Burger Bar. There are fast-casual dining options ranging from lobster rolls to Neapolitan pizza to Korean barbecue.

District Kitchen food hall is constructed with design features that celebrate the Harborside’s rich industrial history.

Though the selection of local restaurateurs have various backgrounds, all are focused on the same goal: providing “JCers” with a fun and spirited place to gather over delicious food and drinks (it also has a bar, serving beer, wine, and cocktails).

The 13 vendors currently showcased in the space are:

  • Salt + Seed;
  • Angry Lobster Roll;
  • Canteen to Go;
  • The Belgian Plate by Waffle It & Co.;
  • Pizza Vita;
  • Kimchi Grill;
  • Enfes;
  • Tidal Poke;
  • Modcup;
  • Little Sushi Shop;
  • #Baonanas;
  • Left Bank Burger Bar;
  • Ani Ramen.

Mack-Cali, the real estate investment firm that runs Harborside, invested $90 million into it.

CEO Michael DeMarco’s stated mission was to make the office complex a desirable place for people to spend time before, during and after work. For years, the vast office complex offered little for commuters and workers in the area.

Sounds like Mack-Cali has done a nice job of bringing a diverse ethnic variety of tastes to the area!

You can visit the eateries Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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