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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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Boxcar’s novel idea: Help businesses rent out that empty driveway or parking lot to harried commuters

Many entrepreneurs have transformed garages into squeaky office chair- and computer-equipped startup centers. It’s well-traveled territory for businesses getting their start.

Joe Colangelo’s own startup story has a twist on that trope: His business began in his driveway. There was a car parked in it, and not even his own.

Boxcar, the business Colangelo now heads as CEO, started with him renting out the driveway at his Cranford residence to people traveling to New York City by train. 

It was a bit of extra money. And, if he wasn’t using it, why not? As it turns out, a lot of property owners who have extra parking available during the week look at it the same way. 

Flyers for Boxcar’s service.

Like AirBnB, Colangelo’s Boxcar has experienced early success with a platform that allows people to rent out space that’s not in use, just as he did.

“We’re really focused on helping people who are commuting from the suburbs into New York or elsewhere and taking public transit to get there,” Colangelo said. “It’s a seamless experience with an app that allows people to reserve parking spots next to busy train stations and have that guaranteed as a reservation, no matter when they show up in the morning.”

From the confines of Colangelo’s driveway, the business has grown to serve 25 towns in New Jersey and municipalities in several surrounding states. Boxcar has reached 5,000 customers, a group that makes roughly 500 parking spot reservations each day.

Acquiring more customers isn’t the hard part. Limited parking options for commuters around the Garden State makes the need obvious. The company had 8,000 reservations through the new app last month and expects to double that in May.

What’s hard, Colangelo said, is finding and then convincing enough property owners to rent out the needed spaces. The company just brought in two dedicated sales experts to recruit potential parking partners.

So far, religious centers have been some of Boxcar’s most eager participants.

“Churches are big for us, because they have empty parking lots Monday through Friday,” he said. “They’re also always looking for additional sources of revenue. It’s a win-win: The church makes money and we’re able to grow our business.”

Boxcar makes it worthwhile for the property renting out parking. If someone is paying $6 for the day, Boxcar keeps $1.50 and the remainder of the share goes to the facility.

Amid towns and cities pushing back against the use of so-called “sharing economy” services such as AirBnB, Colangelo said he has been pleasantly surprised with how his own service remains in local leaders’ good graces. 

“Part of that is because we don’t go into somewhere without talking to municipalities first and explaining what we do,” Colangelo added. “By going to the town first, we head off a lot of problems. We don’t do anything incongruent with zoning or culture of a town. So, we go from them not loving a new company operating in town to someone who is an advocate for us.”

Boxcar finds commuters a place for their cars.

It helps that towns are seeing the value in the service in material terms, as Colangelo explained.

“New Canaan, Connecticut, was ready to build this parking garage that would’ve cost more than $10 million,” he said. “We approached them about our solution, and then they canceled plans for that garage. … This is especially important in a day and age when we’re looking at a future of maybe there being less of a need for large parking garages as autonomous vehicles and ride-sharing services grow in size and importance.”

It won’t take long before more towns are apprised of the app, given that it’s expanding from just doing parking near public transit hubs to adding parking around events and the Jersey Shore. This opens up a revenue stream for the app and its participating properties outside of the weekday commute.

Colangelo has come a long way with the early entrepreneurial venture that had him handing out fliers at local train stations.

“And still we haven’t seen other startups that are focused on mobility issues in suburban areas in the way we are,” he said. “Even with the birth of the sharing economy, it’s a problem that’s only starting to be tackled.”

Coworking combo

Boxcar CEO Joe Colangelo, co-founder and chief operating officer Owen Lee and the rest of the small startup team have their own commute to make.

They travel to what Colangelo believes is an epicenter of the state’s startup ecosystem — the coworking space offered by Newark Venture Partners at Rutgers Business School in Newark.

“Being here, we surround ourselves with a lot of other forward-thinking technology companies in New Jersey,” he said. 

The Boxcar team does a lot of thinking about how people commute as well as where they work in the state. That brainstorming led the startup to introduce an added service allowing people to reserve office space and spots at coworking facilities like the one they work in.

“We haven’t done any big announcements about it yet,” Colangelo said. “But we have a people taking advantage of it already.”

Conversation Starter

Reach Boxcar at: boxcarapp.com or 908-485-PARK (7275).

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George Street artistic director revels in NBPAC’s progress as he leads first backstage tour

“I had a dream,” David Saint sang out for the first time on the stage of the Elizabeth Ross Johnson Theater. “And it’s finally coming true!”

Saint, artistic director of George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, said everything’s coming up roses for both the theater company and New Jersey itself, with the creation of the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center providing a new destination in which to host and produce exciting artistic work.

“It’s finally happening because of a great public-private partnership between the city of New Brunswick, Mayor (James) Cahill, the county, the Middlesex County Freeholders, the state, Chris Paladino and New Brunswick Development Corp., and many others,” Saint said Tuesday during the first-ever backstage tour of the $172 million, 450,000-square-foot, 23-story NBPAC, currently under construction at the former site of George Street Playhouse and Crossroads Theatre Company.

“I can’t tell you how thrilling it is for me to stand here on this stage today, because it’s been a long time coming,” Saint said.

The Elizabeth Ross Johnson Theater at NBPAC.

Originally located in an abandoned supermarket, George Street Playhouse was the first professional producing theater in New Brunswick. In 1984, the Playhouse moved to a renovated YMCA, and in 2017 took temporary residence in the former Agricultural Museum at Rutgers University.

“This is the first time in 45 years that we are actually going to be performing in a center that was designed from the beginning to be a theater, and it makes a huge difference,” Saint said.

Saint said he has been consulting with the architects and the developer, DEVCO, for nearly four years on the redevelopment initiative.

“So many buildings are built for theaters and they don’t consult the people who make the art,” he said. “If you don’t have that input, you don’t know what’s important and what’s not.”

The Elizabeth Ross Johnson Theater, for example, will seat 463 and will boast an 86-foot stage, an orchestra pit for up to 70 instrumentalists, a 74-foot fly tower for suspended stage scenery, a green room and a trap system below.

The Arthur Laurents Theater will seat 259 facing a 60-foot stage.

“The biggest producers in New York have all said to me, ‘What you’ve done so well is you have kept the space intimate, so that we can engage an audience’s response to a new piece, combined with the technical facilities to support a big Broadway musical,’” Saint said. “With this facility, you can actually try out a show and bring it right into New York without making any changes in the physical design.”

The Arthur Laurents Theater at NBPAC.

The project includes $60 million of arts infrastructure, including the two state-of-the-art theaters and three stage-sized rehearsal rooms, that will allow four resident companies — George Street Playhouse, Crossroads Theatre Company, the American Repertory Ballet and the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University-New Brunswick — to come together in a place where there used to only be two, Chris Paladino, president of DEVCO, said.

NBPAC has booked more than 300 performances for its 2019-2020 season thus far, he added.

“The goal is to have all the theaters active every night of the year — but a theater is only as good as the work you present in it,” Saint said. “So, I brought (DEVCO’s renderings) to New York, to all the producers, writers, directors and designers I know, and their response was phenomenal.”

Including Jeffrey Seller, he said, producer of “Hamilton” and “West Side Story” on Broadway.

“He said, ‘David, this will change your life. This will change the life of George Street, and this will change the life of New Brunswick, because it will become a destination for great theater,’” Saint said.

George Street Playhouse’s inaugural season will showcase all-new work, including two pre-Broadway musicals on the larger stage: “Last Days of Summer,” based on the novel by Steve Kluger, with music by Grammy-winner Jason Howland (Broadway’s “Little Women”) and directed by Tony-nominee Jeff Calhoun (Broadway’s “Newsies”); and “A Walk on the Moon,” based on the critically-acclaimed film and written by screenwriter Pamela Gray, which will be directed by Tony-nominee Sheryl Kaller (Broadway’s “Next Fall”), with music by Paul Scott Goodman. George Street Playhouse also will present “My Life on a Diet,” starring Academy Award-nominee and Emmy-winner Renee Taylor; the world premiere of “Midwives,” written by Chris Bohjalian, author of 22 novels on the New York Times Bestseller List; and the world premiere of “Conscience,” a play about Sen. Margaret Chase Smith written by Joe DiPietro and directed by Saint.

“I tell my staff all the time, you wait and see what’s going to happen because I knew the minute we had this kind of facility here in New Brunswick, so close to New York, producers, writers, directors, they all are going to want to be premiering their (work) here,” Saint said. “We have built our national reputation upon developing and premiering new works, and we are thrilled to continue that commitment in our new home.”

In addition to the arts infrastructure, NBPAC will include 30,000 square feet of office space for Middlesex County, a 344-space parking garage and 207 residential units, complete with an outdoor roof deck and a fitness center.

Merissa A. Buczny, vice president of DEVCO, said it currently is in the process of identifying a donor for the naming rights of the building itself.

“What we’ve done already is identified all the different areas within the building with the potential for naming rights, and DEVCO and NBPAC have given the theater companies the opportunity to go out and sell those naming rights, with the theater companies keeping 80 percent of the profits and NBPAC keeping 20 percent for our reserves for replacement,” Buczny said.

George Street Playhouse, for example, received the donations for the naming rights of both theaters, Saint said.

Construction, Buczny said, is expected to be completed by the end of July, with opening night scheduled for Sept. 4.

“Since we also manage The Heldrich Hotel, we’re excited about the partnerships we are able to enter into with the theater companies to partner on events at both (locations),” Buczny said. “Plus, all the restaurants and retailers are very excited about having an influx of people downtown again.

“They were a little concerned when they saw us start tearing the buildings down, but now that NBPAC is here and they see what’s on the horizon, everyone is excited.”

After all, Buczny added, it was the arts that brought in more than 200,000 visitors to the city annually prior to the creation of NBPAC.

“We expect that number to multiply by leaps and bounds with this new facility and the fact that we can now offer so many more shows per year,” she said.

Arriving on the advent of his 23rd season at George Street Playhouse, Saint said the completion of NBPAC represents both a dream fulfilled and a momentous point in both the theater’s and state’s history.

“The arts are the biggest engine in driving the economy of any city because people can come here to work and live, but the arts are what nurtures the soul and energy of a city,” Saint said.

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Big night for Food Council as it celebrates four honorees (Food Fella: Special online edition)

The New Jersey Food Council held its annual Night of Distinction on Thursday at The Palace at Somerset Park in Somerset to honor four members and their achievements in New Jersey’s food industry.

The council’s members range from consumer package goods giants like Unilever to Coca-Cola, and include almost all of the Garden State’s food retailers, from ShopRite, Stop & Shop, Wegmans and more.

This year’s class of honorees were:

  • Jeff Brown, CEO and president, Brown’s Super Stores: Achievements opening food stores in food deserts and the inner city in Philadelphia;
  • Herman Dodson, executive director, Chase Bank: Strong ties and relationships with the food industry and successful lending by Chase;
  • Joe Parisi, chief operating officer, King’s Food Markets: From a young teen pushing carts at Pathmark, worked his way up to the COO at King’s;
  • Donna Zambo, vice president and chief marketing officer, Allegiance Retail Services LLC: Also had her start at Pathmark, as a coder for customer comments and feedback, to now a sharp, marketing-minded executive creating new ideas and synergies for growth at the co-op.

The evening kicked off with opening remarks by both Linda Doherty, president of the Food Council, and Richard Saker, its chairman.

This evening is usually referred to as the “who’s who” of the grocery industry here in New Jersey.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the New Jersey Food Council, and a big gala to celebrate this milestone is slated for Dec. 5 at The Chateau in East Brunswick.

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Amazon ready to double down on grocery business

Interesting, but not totally unexpected developments that have been rumored about Amazon’s desired growth into food retailing may come to fruition very soon. According to a recent published report from the Wall Street Journal that cited unnamed sources close to the matter, the e-commerce giant, which owns the Whole Foods grocery chain and seems ready to take over the world, has made it known it’s interested in expanding its grocery footprint beyond the Whole Foods banner.

The yet-to-be-named chain’s first location could open as early as the end of this year in Los Angeles. According to the report, the chain would be a different concept from Whole Foods, carrying a broader assortment of products. The stores could target strip malls as well as open-air shopping centers for expansion and are planned to cover roughly 35,000 square feet each. Even more interesting, the report divulged that Amazon also plans to acquire regional grocery chains with around 12 stores in order to accelerate the new chain’s growth. Amazon is currently negotiating deals to open grocery stores in shopping centers located in several key U.S. cities, including San Francisco, Seattle and Philadelphia.

At this point, it is not clear how Amazon would position the new chain, but it seems more than likely it would be in line with a traditional supermarket. With ever-increasing competition coming from discounters like Aldi and Lidl that have popularized value pricing, a new brand could be more price-conscious while reaching a more mainstream demographic. This would allow Whole Foods to maintain its positioning toward the high end of the market, which it has worked so hard to cater to, and may curtail any further price cuts it implemented when the chain was purchased close to two years ago.

There are certainly lots of synergies that can be developed by the world’s largest online retailer from going deeper into the brick and mortar side of business, and here are a few examples:

  • Front and center, a conventional supermarket chain could offer an opportunity for Amazon to collect consumer data and to teach the e-commerce giant how to sell more cereal, produce, meat and other groceries to consumers. The company’s ability to adapt and learn — in addition to its $850 billion market cap — puts it in an elite class in the supermarket industry.
  • Amazon also could use its new stores as distribution points for its growing grocery e-commerce business, according to WSJ reports. Currently, same-day delivery through Whole Foods has reached more than 60 markets, while store pickup accounts for 20-plus. Both services offer an option for Prime members that waives the fulfillment fee — a move that deals with the price sensitivity many shoppers have toward online grocery shopping.
  • In 2017, AmazonFresh had exited several markets; however, now, with a physical footprint, this would allow it to build out that segment of business once again and generally get food and beverage orders to shoppers faster and cheaper than before. Amazon’s Happy Belly private label, which includes milk and dairy products, and is available only through AmazonFresh, was launched for the first time several weeks ago.

Although the Garden State and our metro area was not initially mentioned in the proposed rollout, Amazon’s vast holdings here along with our dense population make it a logical choice. Many of our conventional grocers here in New Jersey, such as ShopRite/Wakefern, Acme/Albertson’s, Stop & Shop/Ahold-Delhaize have done a good job maintaining their margins and volume, and already offer online shopping options in the face of the 2017 Whole Foods purchase by Amazon. Now, this news could represent a new competitive challenge for them and other supermarket giants around the country such as Kroger, Publix and even Walmart. Many of these chains have strained their profitability as they struggle to insulate their businesses and have accelerated their rollout of store technology and more online shopping options.

As more developments continue to surface, we will keep our eyes and ears open to bring more details and, hopefully, a clearer picture of what our retail food landscape may look like here with a physical Amazon grocery store crashing the scene.

Inserra honored at Montclair State scholarship dinner

Congratulations to Larry Inserra Jr., the chairman and CEO of Mahwah-based Inserra Supermarkets, who was honored for exemplary service, philanthropy and leadership at the Montclair State University Foundation’s 2019 Annual Scholarship Dinner on March 9. The event attracted almost 350 Montclair State alumni, friends, benefactors and community members, who gathered in the Alexander Kasser Theater to raise funds for student scholarships.

Montclair State University
From left are Susan Cole, Larry Inserra Jr. and Michael Nevins. ­

The gala raised over $550,000 for scholarships that will provide financial assistance to hundreds of students of limited economic means. The scholarships will help provide students today, who will be tomorrow’s leaders, with the ability to pursue and complete their studies at Montclair State. 

“We cannot do it without you, our friends and supporters, and our alumni,” said Susan Cole, Montclair State’s president. The presentation of the award followed, with Inserra Supermarkets and Inserra himself receiving the Rose and John J. Cali Award for Business Leadership and Community Engagement, presented by Rose Cali’s son, Michael Nevins.

I’m sure many may know of Inserra in his role with one of the largest supermarket chains in the metropolitan area, operating ShopRite stores throughout New Jersey and New York. What you may not know is the Inserra family has made a lasting impact to benefit students at Montclair State University through its generous support of initiatives including student scholarships, the Emergency Book Fund, athletics, the Coccia Institute, the Red Hawk Pantry, and the Theresa and Lawrence R. Inserra Endowed Chair in Italian and Italian-American Studies.

In addition to his many family business accomplishments and contributions to the university, Inserra provides leadership to a number of community and other business organizations. He serves on the Montclair State University board of trustees, is the chairman of Hackensack University Medical Center Foundation and is a member of the board of directors of Wakefern Food Corp., the Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey and Lakeland Bank.

Conversation Starter

For more on donating to MSU, go to: montclair.edu/giving/.

Chick-fil-A to replace landmark diner in Ramsey

The Horizon Diner, which has been a landmark on Route 17 in Ramsey for decades, recently closed its doors for good and will be replaced by the popular Chick-fil-A franchise. The Saites family owned the diner, and, according to Stafford Saites, the closure wasn’t due to any financial issues, but a decision based on lack of family interest to continue operating the business. 

Saites told NorthJersey.com that her father, who opened the business many years back, is now 90 years old and there was no one else in the family, including herself, her brother and their children, that wanted to continue the family tradition.

“It’s very bittersweet for us,” she said, noting that some of Horizon Diner’s employees had worked with them for years.

The building is now closed and will be razed to make way for construction of a modern Chick-fil-A restaurant, complete with a drive-thru window, once approved. The property sits adjacent to a parking lot for the Uncle Giuseppe’s supermarket that replaced the former Pathmark supermarket almost three years ago.

Once this location opens, there will be five Chick-fil-A restaurants operating in Bergen County: one each at the Paramus Park mall and Garden State Plaza in Paramus, one in Englewood (formerly a Wendy’s) and the free-standing (with drive-thru) eatery at Teterboro Landing, a new retail development built opposite Teterboro Airport on the old Curtiss-Wright property.

According to a report in late December 2018, Restaurant Business boldly stated that Chick-fil-A is now McDonald’s biggest competitor in the fiercely competitive Quick Service Restaurants space. The combination of menu choices and a focus on quality customer service has propelled the chain to launch many new restaurants all over the country. The ownership model is very stringent, though, as sources have told us that, out of close to 60,000 franchise applications, roughly 80 get approval from the corporate office. Also, at the corporate level, Chick-fil-A was just named one of the best large companies for women based on compensation and culture.

Conversation Starter

For more information on the ownership of Chick-fil-A franchises, go to its website at: chick-fil-a.com/franchising.

iPlay, he cooks! New chef, culinary team hired

Some exciting food news coming from iPlay America. The popular indoor family entertainment and events center located at the junction of routes 33 and 9 in Freehold has upped its game on the food and catering side of business with the announcement of two new hires to help lead the facility’s evolving food and beverage team. 

iPlay America
Chef Adam Livow

Adam Livow has joined iPlay America as executive chef and will be working closely with the vice president of food and beverage, Kevin Hayes Jr., to develop menus and set the culinary direction for Game Time Bar & Grill, the Event Center @iPA, and the new Top Golf Swing Suite. Additionally, Mathew Marini has been hired as the manager of Game Time Bar & Grill and Top Golf Swing Suite and will be focusing on the overall restaurant experience and leading the front of house staff. 

“Over the years, iPlay America has become a destination for entertainment, games, events and fun in New Jersey. With our new menus, we’re now looking to establish the restaurant and Event Center as a true dining destination in the area,” said Livow. “New Jersey has a great food scene, and diners have come to expect quality food with an exciting flair, no matter whether they’re stopping at a fast-casual spot for a quick bite or celebrating at a fine dining restaurant. With the new menu at Game Time Bar & Grill, we’ll be offering guests quality and delicious versions of familiar favorites, with a twist. This, coupled with the fact that menu items are available at a price point that won’t break the bank, makes the restaurant itself a draw for a family meal or a friends’ night out.”

In his 15-plus years of food and beverage experience, Livow previously worked in kitchens for well-known New Jersey event venues, including the Grand Marquis in Old Bridge and the Radisson Hotel and Banquet Center in Freehold, and brings a variety of experience and new flavor to this position at iPlay America. He is a New Jersey native and earned his Grand Certificate of Culinary Education from the French Culinary Institute in New York City.

We wish “Chef Adam” and the whole new food and beverage team at iPlay much success!

Conversation Starter

To find out more about iPlay’s menu and corporate event space, check out its website at: iplayamerica.com.

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The light stuff: Little family business in Hawthorne remains big name in broadcast journalism equipment

As the world watched the trial of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein that led to his execution, there was, in the unlikeliest of places, the presence of a local family business outside the frame. 

In fact, a Garden State family business with only about a dozen employees was in large part why the world was able to watch. The business, Hawthorne-based Frezzi, provided the lighting, cameras and even robotic control systems used by news networks covering the trial.

It was a historically significant moment that the company’s equipment helped capture, but also not the only one over its more than 70 years of providing tools to broadcast news stations. 

Because, even if you’re not familiar with the name, products made by Frezzi, or Frezzolini Electronics Inc., have been a staple for virtually every major television network and cable station for a long time.

Kevin Crawford, a vice president of engineering at Frezzi whose grandfather founded the company back in the 1940s, said that’s all thanks to word of mouth.

“Early into the company’s history, there just wasn’t anyone else doing what we were doing,” Crawford said. “And the broadcast industry was a small industry at the time — everyone knew everyone else. So, we formed tight relationships with every station as it came online: CBS, NBC, Fox, ABC.”

Crawford’s grandfather was an Italian immigrant who went from working at a printing press for the newspaper industry to becoming the first cameraman at one of the country’s first broadcast news outlets.

A Frezzi SkyLight.

“He didn’t like the stress of that job because, if you missed the shot, you’d be in trouble,” Crawford said. “So, he ended up moonlighting as the person making lighting equipment for those guys instead. He had mechanical skills from working on the printing press; he knew how to make portable lighting and batteries.”

The company fed the growing broadcast news industry as it grew, supplying all the networks and stations with increasingly advanced products. Over the years, the company’s lighting products in particular became like what Kleenex is to facial tissues.

“Barbara Walters was interviewed and was asked, ‘How do you do a good interview?’ She said all it takes is a cameraman, a camera and a Frezzi,” Crawford said. “We’ve become a branded name for portable lighting in this industry. It’s a reputation we still have. Anyone who has been in the industry for a while knows us.”

That said, broadcast journalism is changing all the time. As Crawford explained, the industry has started bringing in a lot of young multimedia journalists in place of seasoned news cameramen and photographers.

“Now, 24-year-olds with camcorders are being sent out to shoot, edit and produce media content like one-man bands,” he said. “Their equipment needs are different — they like to travel light. So, we’re adapting our product to that market as well.”

More news content migrates to online platforms every day. And amateur video journalists have, in some cases, started to encroach on the market share of traditional broadcast media. 

Regardless, Crawford said, the company is still dedicated to making products for professionals and the high-end broadcast market. It isn’t trying to compete with inexpensive products found on the consumer side, the tools more often used by the new do-it-yourself internet media creators.

That reluctance to step down the quality and price of the products was tested about a decade ago, when, according to Crawford, a lot of big networks and stations started cutting staff for freelancers and purchasing bargain alternatives for their equipment needs.

“Stations tried to go the cheaper route, and it failed miserably,” he said. “The news is outdoors, in all weather conditions, where a consumer product isn’t going to hold up. …  When you see Geraldo (Rivera) hanging onto a street sign horizontal from a hurricane, our light is right next to him.”

Frezzi’s products are made in local machine shops with materials matching the durability of aircraft aluminum. It’s rough and tumble — and still the go-to for all major broadcasters.

“The pros know the difference, and that’s what keeps us in business,” he said. “In this industry, you learn fast what it costs to miss a shot.”

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Reach Frezzi at: frezzi.com or 973-427-1160.

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Everything … and the kitchen sink: As food sector grows, commercial kitchens are helping — while growing, too

Djenaba Johnson-Jones knew she would encounter roadblocks when she began making plans to develop a prepared meal delivery business in 2014.

She just didn’t expect this one: New Jersey is the only state in the nation banning the sale of all foods made in one’s home.

But Johnson-Jones wasn’t deterred. In fact, she saw it as an opportunity.

“In talking with other people facing similar obstacles, that very challenge morphed into this other business that took on a life of its own,” she said.

That business, Hudson Kitchen, is now a prime example of a growing business sector in the state: food incubators and commercial kitchens.

Founded as a culinary incubator in Jersey City in 2015, Hudson Kitchen is expanding. This spring, it will relocate to an 8,000-square-foot shared-use commercial kitchen at Kearny Point in South Kearny, joining several other food- and beverage-related ventures at the enormous coworking space.

And Johnson-Jones, founder and CEO of Hudson Kitchen, will join a growing group of women entrepreneurs who have opened shared-use commercial kitchens and food incubators in the state within the last six months in preparation for what they hope will become a cross-cultural, community-based food revolution in New Jersey.

“Hudson Kitchen will continue to offer growth and sustainability opportunities to local culinary visionaries who not only are looking for a facility to prepare their goods, but also for a network of collaborative and like-minded entrepreneurs,” she said.

However, it is not the only place in New Jersey — or the United States — that is taking part in the trend due to a clear, sustained interest in food entrepreneurship.

###

The number of commercial kitchens and food incubators nationwide has increased by more than 50 percent over the last five years.

In New Jersey, that timeline seems shorter.

Last August, Lois Roe started Shore is Yummy in Manasquan, setting up a commercial kitchen to sell her gluten-free products to local customers, farmers markets and wholesale.

Then, two more commercial kitchens — specifically designed for food entrepreneurs to rent — opened in November.

Kris Ohleth started Garden State Kitchen in Orange, which has food preparation areas, a baking studio and two catering kitchens available to rent by the hour.

And Meredith Chartier opened Bellamy Kitchen in Union City, the first full-service commercial kitchen in Hudson County. She plans to host future workshops to provide business support for her 12 current and any future tenants.

But the fact that these four commercial kitchens are all run by women is not so surprising.

According to a survey conducted by Econsult Solutions Inc. and American Communities Trust and Urbane Development, women make up more than half of tenants at food incubators, while minorities are nearly a third.

“We enable people to better diversify the workforce by being better able to hire more employees,” Johnson-Jones said.

Their collective journeys, however, have been far from easy.

###

The food industry always has been notorious for being tough.

Ohleth said she does not think Garden State Kitchen would have been as successful right off the bat if it were not for the strong business acumen she had accrued in her full-time work elsewhere.

“I sometimes think that is why this concept is often proposed but does not always make it to fruition — it just takes a lot,” she said. “Many people who are chefs and are passionate about food may simply not understand all the logistics and administrative requirements it will take to lift this sort of thing off the ground.”

But Chartier, founder and owner of Bellamy Kitchen, said she and her husband, Thomas Chartier, learned a lot along the way, having begun searching for a property in which to build a commercial kitchen facility from the ground up five years ago.

That’s partially due to the multiple zoning, demolition and construction obstacles the pair faced, despite him owning The Chartier Group, a real estate development company in Hoboken.

“This industry is not for the faint of heart or for those who think they’ll be up and running in six months,” Meredith Chartier said.

Roe faced a different issue — one that continues to lead her deeper into the industry.

While working part-time as a bakery chef at The Grind Coffee House in Plainsboro for nearly two years, thinking it could be part of her retirement plan, she received unexpected news: Her primary employer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, laid her off in May 2017 with a severance package.

“But, I thought, this was my big opportunity to set up my own kitchen,” Roe said.

However, shortly after renovating a Hurricane Sandy-damaged space in August of last year, she was hired back at Bristol-Myers Squibb as a consultant in October.

Thankfully, she found Jennifer Long, owner of Simply Delightful Treats, a vegan, nut- and gluten-free baker in Edison, whom she began renting to and sharing her commercial kitchen with — a path previously unfamiliar to Roe.

“However, we are well-aligned in what we are trying to do, so it’s worked out well,” she said.

###

The concept is not exactly new.

While culinary incubators and commercial kitchens have been rapidly growing over the last five years, Diana Holtaway, associate director and business development at Rutgers Food Innovation Center in Bridgeton, said she is a veteran of the industry.

“I’ve been here for 17 years,” she said.

RFIC was established as one of the first food incubators in the state in 2001 before relocating to its current $8 million, 23,000-square-foot food business accelerator, processing and manufacturing facility in Bridgeton in 2008.

“Nearly 10 years ago, it was mostly small startup companies that would need our resources,” Holtaway said. “But now, much larger, much more established companies are coming in, wanting to get into new categories that they are not equipped to produce, or they are looking for resources to utilize as they enter into new categories of food.”

Richard McArdle, executive director at RFIC, said it’s not easy, as he feels food has one of the most complicated supply chains of any consumer product.

“If entrepreneurs have done the work already of developing their ideas and business plans at commercial kitchens or food incubators, we, of course, can take it from there,” he said. “But what we are especially good at is taking products to market at scale, while looking toward more complex steps such as distribution, warehousing, transportation and retail.”

McArdle, however, is quick to note that RFIC works with smaller companies, too.

In fact, Holtaway said many of the leads RFIC gets come from commercial kitchens, as companies need to scale.

“Everyone plays a part in the food ecosystem of New Jersey, from farmers to commercial kitchens, from markets to retailers, and RFIC, too, contributes in a very specific way,” she said. “We provide a number of different services to help our clients fine-tune their ideas, complete market research and product development, and, finally, go into production.

“But when clients first start out, they may be better suited for commercial kitchens when producing on a much smaller scale.”

###

The potential of the sector is high, a fact Ohleth said she has seen firsthand.

“We’ve had people approach us about renting the entire space,” she said. “While that’s tempting as an entrepreneur, to never have to worry about money, that is not in spirit with why we started Garden State Kitchen.”

That is why Ohleth said she continues to approach the endeavor as mission-based rather than profit-based, and why, like many of the commercial kitchens and food incubators sprouting up in the state, she said she intends to grow her brand throughout New Jersey to provide opportunities to more communities.

“There really is just such a lack elsewhere in the state,” she said. “We would love to open our second location by the end of this year in Central or South Jersey, because there is not a lot going on there right now.

“In fact, we are looking to create smaller spaces, like allergen-free facilities, perhaps, and picture a variety of these types of annexes spreading throughout the state.”

Getting organized throughout the state is another matter.

“We are still very much a ragtag group, in my opinion,” Ohleth said.

However, Ohleth said she and her New Jersey-based comrades have The Network for Incubators and Commissary Kitchens, or NICK, a private Facebook group in which to share best practices and resources. It is moderated by The Food Corridor in Fort Collins, Colorado, a virtual platform designed to connect shared-use kitchens with food entrepreneurs nationwide while simplifying scheduling, billing and operations.

“Our mission is to enable efficiency, growth and innovation in local food, and facilitating this community helps us to stay intimately connected to the industry, identify opportunities and provide valuable resources,” Ashley Colpaart, CEO of The Food Corridor, said. “As an emerging industry, community is essential.”

According to Colpaart, top barriers to success for food entrepreneurs include accessing kitchen space, securing financing, marketing, increasing production volume, regulatory compliance and a lack of time to manage daily operations.

But commercial kitchens and food incubators help to solve all of these issues, Colpaart said at the Smart Kitchen Summit last year.

“The economy is changing and access to assets is becoming more important than ownership of assets,” she said.

Learn more about four of these commercial kitchens here: ROI-NJ’s closer look at four commercial kitchens in N.J.

###

Breaking down the industry

According to New Jersey-based commercial kitchens and food incubators, there are four words and phrases that best describe the industry:

  • Location-based

According to Kris Ohleth, founder and owner of Garden State Kitchen in Orange, people have indicated that they would not travel more than 30 minutes to get to an incubator.

And for the majority of her tenants, Meredith Chartier, founder and owner of Bellamy Kitchen in Union City, said location is indeed the biggest point of differentiation.

But New Jersey can do better overall, she added.

Chartier, a WELL-accredited professional, wants to compost in order to adhere to the guidelines put forth by Bellamy Kitchen’s LEED Platinum certification.

“So, I am pushing New Jersey to work with local waste haulers and farms to figure out how the state can help build out compost pick-up infrastructure,” she said. “New York City is doing it, but for some reason, New Jersey is not up to speed.”

  • Collaborative

Ohleth said it is extremely helpful for industry players to refer people back and forth.

Djenaba Johnson-Jones, founder and CEO of Hudson Kitchen in South Kearny, said she does so by putting together a list of available commercial kitchens in the area to send to people, given that Hudson Kitchen’s commercial kitchen is not yet open.

“The overall goal for me is to connect people with the resources needed to help them start and grow sustainable businesses,” she said. “And I’m simply paying it forward. Rutgers Food Innovation Center, for example, has been a huge supporter of Hudson Kitchen.

“When I told them I was relocating to South Kearny, they recommended equipment I should purchase for our commercial kitchen based on what people were requesting at theirs.”

Ohleth said being located in a diverse community also allows commercial kitchens and food incubators to draw upon culinary traditions that otherwise might be lost to the masses.

“For example, we just hosted a 40-person sit-down event with the Syria Supper Club, a nonprofit that works with Syrian women to cater dinners,” she said. “This was not only an opportunity for cross-cultural exchange, as we got to hear their stories about coming to the U.S., but especially in these really confusing times, with what is happening with race and ethnicity, to be able to come together through food and do it in this space in the middle of a community we all hold so dear is wonderful.”

  • Risk-sharing

Much of the diversity in the food space is pent up in risk aversion, Ohleth said.

“But I see places like Garden State Kitchen as being low-risk options for entrepreneurs to be able to access the support they need to be able to grow,” she said.

Paying an hourly or monthly membership fee, after all, provides entrepreneurs with much more than a kitchen, Johnson-Jones said.

“We clean, recycle, accept deliveries, repair equipment and more to give people the time and ability to have and grow their own businesses,” she said. “Plus, it’s inexpensive to rent a commercial kitchen versus trying to build out your own, which could cost between $100 and $300 per square foot.

New Jersey notables

Richard McArdle, executive director at Rutgers Food Innovation Center, said he has seen a steady increase over the last five to seven years in food startups and incubator-accelerator models, especially as venture capital firms have begun to specialize in food and beverage brands.

“I think, like other consumer products, this is part of a more global trend in the market toward smaller, more segment-oriented products,” he said.

However, there are simply not enough school cafeterias, church kitchens and restaurants to fill these entrepreneurs’ needs during off-hours and overnight, he added.

There are, though, nearly two dozen commissary kitchens available in New Jersey, according to The Food Corridor, with the highest concentration currently available in northeast New Jersey.

They range from food incubators, such as The Organic Food Incubator in Bloomfield, a meat- and gluten-free facility, to dedicated commercial kitchens, such as NJ Kosher Kitchens in Dumont, Cherry Street Kitchen in Trenton and Rent My Kitchen in Spring Lake Heights.

Then there always are those businesses who rent their commercial kitchen spaces, ranging from caterers such as Culinary Concepts Corp. in Fairfield; to restaurants such as Saveur Creole in Montclair and Jersey Girl Café in Hamilton Township; to cooking schools such as Le Gourmet Factory in Englewood; to event spaces such as The Snyder Academy of Elizabethtown Kitchen in Elizabeth.

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Food for thought: Joyist’s owner has two goals: Growing her café’s revenue … and helping other women succeed in business

When Kacy Erdelyi opened Joyist, an organic functional foods café in Montclair, she said she craved support and input from others. 

“There are so many women in this town doing incredible things, yet, most of the time, we sit alone in our spaces trying to solve the same problem that 20 other women are also trying to, or solving a problem that someone found a solution to a month ago,” Erdelyi, founder and owner of Joyist, said. “We should take advantage of that rather than having to reinvent the wheel every time we encounter a new challenge.” 

Now, not only does the health-conscious working mother of two want to create more revenue for her business, but, Erdelyi said, she wants to help other women business owners do the same. 

“I therefore decided to host and structure monthly meetings in which we could inspire each other and exchange our expertise in different ways,” Erdelyi said. 

Erdelyi said she invited nearly two dozen women to attend the new, community-oriented, women’s networking group focused on and tailored for small business growth at Joyist. 

More than 50 women showed up to her inaugural meeting in January, with requests to attend more than doubling since, she said. 

“That shows there was an absolute need for this,” Erdelyi said. “And we will all be smarter for it.” 

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Erdelyi successfully opened Joyist in May 2017. 

However, by September, her optimistic sales were declining, she said. 

“I quickly learned there was more (that) people wanted from us,” Erdelyi said. “Plus, when you’re in the suburbs, it’s difficult to make enough revenue from a one-product type of shop. 

“So, we diversified our menu to mitigate seasonality and cover more options throughout the day.” 

Today, Joyist not only serves organic smoothies and juices, such as The Kacy (spinach, kale, apple, banana, lemon, ginger, date and flaxseed oil), but also “food you can feel,” Erdelyi said. 

“We work really hard to only include ingredients on the menu that have scientific, nutritional fact behind them, because there is a lot of misinformation in the health and wellness space,” she said. 

In addition to breakfast bowls (soft-boiled egg, roasted maitake mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, crispy kale and mashed root vegetables), acai- and yogurt-based bowls, Asian-Style, Mexican-style and classic grain bowls, toasts and granolas, Joyist also provides a full coffee bar and “tonics,” such as The Jackie (house-made almond milk, coconut milk, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, local honey and black pepper). 

“When we press almond milk, for example, we use the leftover meal for gluten-free flour in our zucchini bread,” Erdelyi said. 

Since diversifying the menu, Erdelyi and her 15 employees have more than doubled Joyist’s revenue in just one year. 

“Our team is incredible and the absolute reason we have made it this far,” she said. 

###

Teamwork is the key to any further success, Erdelyi said. 

“I also had been thinking of ways to build a community around Joyist, and, if I were to create one that I could stand behind, it would be a business-oriented group,” she said. “So, I thought, could we be the gathering place in town for other women trying to build their own businesses?”

When Erdelyi had worked in marketing strategy, she said her objective often would be to help clients figure out who their target audience was, armed with brainstorming exercises that she would then moderate to help them come to workable conclusions. 

Erdelyi said she employed the same tactics when inviting a small group of women to brainstorm an agenda for her community events. 

“We discovered that what was most needed was knowledge sharing,” she said. “The need for a think tank, of sorts.” 

The result was a nearly three-hour event in January with more than 50 attendees, with Erdelyi at the helm taking notes with a marker and easel pad. 

The event was a massive success, Erdelyi said, evidenced by the fact that her email list has since continued to grow — plus, her cash register was full after keeping the café open past normal business hours. 

“However, due to our limited space, our number of attendees will now have to be limited, too,” Erdelyi said. “That’s why I now am thinking about hosting two per month, to accommodate everyone who wants to come and also for those who cannot make one of the dates.” 

Erdelyi said that, while some small business owners may self-select out, she is excited to see what happens to those who choose to regularly attend. 

“I’m really interested in this feeling like a space for people who want to go big or go home — those business owners who are intent on scaling, fundraising, distributing, hiring and tackling growth-oriented issues,” she said. 

As for Erdelyi, she said she plans to grow Joyist, too. 

“By this time next year, I would like to have opened a second location in Summit, while continuing to speak with investors about opportunities,” she said. 

Women and networking

After hungry attendees ordered from the Joyist café at Kacy Erdelyi’s first women’s networking meeting, she kicked off the event with “shoutouts” to give everyone a chance to identify with people in the room, she said.  

“For those with announcements, upcoming events or quick and simple questions or comments in which they would like to connect with others on afterwards,” Erdelyi said. 

After two committees — one focused on group health insurance, the other on wellness — were born out of collective interest, Nicki Radzely, co-founder and CEO of Doddle & Co., a manufacturer of sanitary pacifiers, wanted to speak with someone who had sold products on Amazon before. 

She immediately connected with and was provided information by Karen Cahn, a Montclair resident, founder and CEO of iFundWomen in New York City, and the keynote speaker for the evening, who turned her speaking engagement regarding her startup funding ecosystem for early-stage, women-led startups into a bold, immersive, large-scale coaching session on feminist fundraising. 

“I then picked three local businesses who have a current challenge they’re working on to ask advice and feedback of the group, ranging from, ‘Hey, can we brainstorm ways to improve my profitability?’ or, ‘Could you test this new product and tell us what you think?’ or, ‘Does this business idea hold water?’ ” Erdelyi said. “Whatever it is, they get to speak with and get advice from a group of smart women who have done things like this before.” 

Blanche Garcia, owner and interior designer of B. Garcia Designs in Upper Montclair, requested input from the group on how to efficiently incorporate her messaging throughout all the platforms that support her lifestyle- and wellness-oriented brand; Christine Andrukonis, founder and president of Notion Consulting, a change leadership consultancy based in New York City, sought research and data from the group about what organizations might do better in order to retain entrepreneurial talent; and Kathryn McGuire, founder and art historian at Clerestory Fine Art in Montclair, needed marketing and networking assistance in order to pitch her new high-end art gallery to the community.  

“I just loved the idea of giving individual businesses a chance to directly tap into the think tank,” Erdelyi said.

Filling a void in Montclair

After earning advanced degrees in business administration, international business, marketing and psychology from Georgetown University and New York University, Kacy Erdelyi worked in brand and marketing strategy in New York City for nearly 20 years, including with agencies such as Ogilvy and McCann Erickson. 

However, when she and her family moved from Brooklyn to Montclair six years ago, Erdelyi found herself waiting for an organic juice bar to open. 

“That was representative of a place I could walk into and trust what I was going to buy,” she said. “A place where everything had been safely curated.” 

Erdelyi said she was surprised Montclair did not yet have one, given the statistics. 

“Millennials, especially, are moving out of the city en masse to more walkable downtowns; they dine out and spend more on food as a higher percentage of their income than any other generation; they consume more than half of the organic fruits and vegetables in the U.S.; and they make dining decisions based on how they want to physically feel and function,” she said. “Yet, the suburbs have not yet been quick to embrace organic restaurants.”

Despite being a wealthy and progressive area, Erdelyi said, Dunkin Donuts and delis were the only places to go for a coffee and a grab-and-go snack in Montclair when she first moved there with her husband, Greg, and their 8-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter. 

But Montclair was changing. And so was Erdelyi. 

“I commuted into the city three days a week to walk into any marketing meeting and solve the issues within five minutes,” she said. “It started to feel boring to be the expert after a while.”

In contemplating her future options, Erdelyi said she was drawn toward her interest and commitment to healthy food, instilled in her by her own mother.  

“I ask myself every day, ‘Did I get four servings of vegetables and three servings of fruit? Okay, then I can have the chocolate cake,’ ” she said. “I only indulge if I actually have opted in to what I feel my body needs.” 

So, Erdelyi said she decided to open Joyist, the juice bar she had been waiting for herself. 

“I bought several books and made every single juice and smoothie recipe in them over the course of six months,” she said. “Then, once I understood how the ingredients worked together and what tasted good, I strategically planned a menu.” 

Conversation Starter

Learn more about Joyist at: joyistnation.com, or 973-337-5955.

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Women dominate new thriller … on screen and off

“An Acceptable Loss” is a women-led film from start to finish.

The investors are women, the executive producer is a woman, all the lead roles are women and half of the extras are women.

Barbara E. Kauffman, president of Executive Women of New Jersey and executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Newark Regional Business Partnership, told ROI-NJ that makes a difference.

“It reflects the challenge for women in leadership in all fields,” she said.

EWNJ, in partnership with the Hispanic Bar Association of New Jersey and the Women’s Association of NJPAC, held a private screening of the film Wednesday night at the Bow Tie Claridge Theater in Montclair.

“An Acceptable Loss” is a political thriller about a former national security adviser who sets out to tell the truth after a controversial military action that was supposed to end the war on terror actually causes thousands to die under false pretenses. It debuted in theaters Jan. 18.

Michellene Davis, an executive vice president and the chief corporate affairs officer at RWJBarnabas Health as well as past president of EWNJ, who was an investor in the film, said the makeup of the cast — which includes Tika Sumpter and Jamie Lee Curtis — mattered.

“I was an investor because I believe representation matters,” Davis told ROI-NJ. “I think (“An Acceptable Loss”) will reveal the fact that women are significant decision-makers in matters that have great impact on the world around us, and the fact that they should be.”

Davis said these women are not playing characters just waiting for the romantic lead to come and sweep them off their feet, but, rather, they are complex creatures.

“These leading women are not weeping women,” Davis said. “We’re providing an opportunity for women who occupy powerful seats in the corporate world to see themselves on screen. We don’t really see ourselves when we’re watching ‘Princess Diaries’ or ‘Runaway Bride.’”

Davis said it’s important to see women in these roles to show that we exist in these spaces, especially for future women who may want to follow suit.

Executive producer Candy Straight talked about the film’s genesis and background. Screenwriter Joe Chappelle, she said, had read books by former U.S. Secretaries of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Robert McNamara on the Iraq and Vietnam wars, respectively.

“We wanted to look at the political scene,” she said. “Rumsfeld wouldn’t have changed a thing and McNamara had second thoughts. We decided to flip the script and have women play these roles.

“I think it reflects what happens in politics, and we decided to have women in the script.”

Straight says it’s extremely important for women-led films to receive the attention and funding needed for their creation because, she said, unless you see women in front and behind the camera, movies like this will not be created.

Following the screening, Straight stayed to answer questions from the audience.

EWNJ is eager to keep the discussion of women in the workplace going.

EWNJ publishes a biennial report, “A Seat at the Table.” Kaufman said its next report, that’s to be published in October, will talk about the status of women on the boards of New Jersey’s public companies. The report, she said, recognizes companies that have three or more women on their boards. Its last report, published in 2017, showed 22 of 95 companies had three women or more on the board.

“What we represent as an organization is that things won’t change unless we take measures to make sure that change occurs,” Kauffman said.

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Whether stars or startups, women business owners eagerly swap advice at networking event

To create more revenue for her business, Kacy Erdelyi of Joyist in Montclair said she was eager to help a number of other women small business owners in the area attempt to do the same.

“There are so many women in this town doing incredible things, yet, most of the time, we sit alone in our spaces trying to solve the same problem that 20 other women are also trying to, or solving a problem that someone found a solution to a month ago,” Erdelyi, founder and owner of the organic functional foods café, said. “We should take advantage of that, rather than having to reinvent the wheel every time we encounter a new challenge.”

Erdelyi, a working mother of two who previously had a nearly two-decade career in brand and marketing strategy in New York City, said she therefore decided to host and structure monthly meetings to help inspire and exchange expertise with one another in different ways.

The event at Joyist drew more than 50 people.

She started by inviting nearly two dozen women she knew, she said — but more than 50 women showed up to her inaugural meeting in January, with requests to attend more than doubling since.

“That shows there was an absolute need for this,” Erdelyi said.

However, not all who attended were women simply attempting to start or grow their businesses.

Amidst the grain bowls, organic soups and turmeric lattes, Erdelyi had structured her inaugural event to first feature Karen Cahn, a Montclair resident, founder and CEO of iFundWomen, a New York City-based startup funding ecosystem for early-stage, women-led startups.

Then, after opening the floor to questions, a quiet woman who had found a seat at the base of a refrigerated display case spoke up.

“What if you want to sell your company?” the woman asked. “What do you need to do in order to look attractive to sell your company? Because there are moments when I’m unsure if I want to continue doing what I am doing, because I may want to go and do something else.”

Cahn said she had never had that experience, so she sought advice from the room and additional information from the woman, who said she had been an independent textile designer and author for more than two decades, drawing patterns and motifs to manufacture, print and license to companies to use on their products.

“Wait,” another woman asked from the other side of the room. “Are you Lotta Jansdotter?”

The woman nodded.

“You’re a huge success! I studied your designs in school; I know who you are; I’ve read your book!” her fan replied.

Jansdotter, just like the woman selling pom-pom hair ties on Etsy and the woman marketing her upcoming local wellness event, was here to learn just as much as anyone else — simply highlighting the fact that think tanks among women business owners are rare.

With women’s networking events often being overcrowded and saturated with similar themes, and the only other knowledge sharing typically happening between mothers at the playground, Erdelyi said she had expected a wide mix of startup business owners and more seasoned executives to attend what she thought of as the event to fill the white space for women who own small to medium-sized businesses.

Erdelyi said that is why it also was important for her to give three local businesses the chance to specifically connect with the group for feedback on a challenge they were currently facing.

At the event in January, Christine Andrukonis, founder and president of Notion Consulting, a change leadership consultancy based in New York City, sought research and data from the group about what organizations might do better in order to retain entrepreneurial talent; Kathryn McGuire, founder and art historian at Clerestory Fine Art in Montclair, needed marketing and networking assistance in order to pitch her new high-end art gallery to the community; but, then, there was Blanche Garcia, owner of B. Garcia Designs in Upper Montclair.

Networking involved everyone from startups to women with national profiles.

Garcia, an interior designer for more than two decades, already has been featured on HGTV, has co-hosted the Travel Channel’s “Hotel Impossible,” has become a certified Well AP designer (meaning she takes into consideration the inhabitant of a space as well as the structure), has started her own renovation channel on YouTube, has grown three social media accounts and has written a book.

But, here she was at a local café requesting input from a group of community-oriented women on how to efficiently incorporate her messaging throughout all the platforms that currently support her lifestyle- and wellness-oriented brand.

“I create on so many different levels and mediums that I need to constantly check in with myself to ensure continuity and reception of the messages I want to put out,” Garcia said. “So, I am here for some female boss feedback on where I should focus my energy.

“I usually am very sure of myself and what I want to do, but I also want to make sure that I am authentically connecting with each and every part of what I am doing, whether I am designing a home or building, writing a book, or speaking. How can I know for sure if I am ‘on brand’?”

Erdelyi reiterated Garcia’s question to the group to encourage the sort of feedback Garcia craved.

“What should Blanche lean into and what could she lean away from?” Erdelyi said. “Which mediums reinforce the ethos she wants to move forward with, and which detract?”

Other successful women in the room were quick to chime in.

“You said it when you first sat down that your background is in interior design, but I’m not seeing that in your deck,” Erin Crawford, a Keller Williams licensed sales associate and real estate group leader in Montclair for more than two decades, said. “I see that you are an author and a speaker, and I understand that is what you now want to market, but if you want to parlay your interior design business into a lifestyle brand, we still need to see that context.”

Jodie Dawson, co-founder of Java Love Coffee Roasting Co., an artisanal coffee roaster with two locations in Montclair and two in New York, said the show “Tidying Up” on Netflix could serve as some inspiration for Garcia.

“Marie Kondo does a brilliant job of taking organization and creating her entire brand around it, which includes changing lives,” Dawson said. “Based on all of your experiences, it would be very cool to keep design at your core while also inspiring people, to say, ‘If you design your space in this way, this is how it will help you accomplish your goals.’”

Finally, Loyla Louvis, founder of Mothers in Training, a professional parenting and life coaching consultancy in Montclair, sympathized with Garcia, after hearing herself that she “is” her brand.

“That can be frustrating to hear when thinking about next steps.” Louvis said. “But what I would encourage you to think about is that there are four types of speakers: influencers, motivators, educators and inspirational.

“I would aim to become an influencer, because, while an inspirational speaker wants to use their vision to inspire the future of others, an influencer actively helps others create a vision for themselves, too.”

Garcia, a woman with nationwide name recognition, a wildly successful career and multiple sponsorships, said she took to heart her fellow small businesswomen’s advice, and would follow through with their ideas in the next couple of weeks.

Clearly, there is a need for more women like Jansdotter and Garcia to connect on a more local and personal level with their peers in an effort to continue moving their business forward, Erdelyi said.

“I’m really interested in this feeling like a space for people who want to go big or go home — those business owners who are intent on scaling, fundraising, distributing, hiring and tackling growth-oriented issues,” she said.

The next meeting at Joyist Café is scheduled for Feb. 13, featuring keynote speaker Nikki Radzley, co-founder and CEO of Doddle & Co., a manufacturer of sanitary pacifiers in Montclair.

Conversation Starter

Space at the events is limited, but all women business owners are encouraged to contact Erdelyi for further information at (973) 337-5955.

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