Blending a “big city” atmosphere with suburban charm, the Bonfiglio family hasn’t let the pandemic get them down.
Tommy Bonfiglio caught up with us after a busy year, his team had the chance to open two new locations and have started planning for two more in 2021.
What was the inspiration behind Tommy’s Tavern + Tap and what can guests expect when they visit the various locations?
Tommy’s Tavern + Tap is a family-owned and operated brand, so that type of experience comes through from the moment a guest walks into any of our five locations (soon-to-be eight with the upcoming launches of our Morris Plains, Bridgewater and Edgewater, New Jersey locations), to the moment they depart the restaurant. It was actually my wife, Yvette, who was the original inspiration behind the Tommy’s Tavern + Tap concept.
Since the time our daughters, Andrea and Christina, were young, Yvette has always been a proponent of “at-home hospitality.” We’d often host gatherings for our family and friends and Yvette would prepare incredible dishes and signature cocktails that were a hit for all who attended. She has always been the ultimate hostess and we wanted to replicate that experience for Tommy’s Tavern + Tap guests, just to a much larger degree. For us it was first about finding the right staff that embodied our “family-first” values and who we knew would treat our guests like family and feel comfortable letting their authentic personalities shine.
The atmosphere at Tommy’s is very on-trend, yet very comfortable for guests of any age group. The restaurant combines the simplicity of a classic sports bar with a refined, warm and welcoming environment. There is truly something for everyone at Tommy’s, whether it’s pizza night for the kids on a Friday or sushi night for the couple at the next table who’s celebrating their anniversary. Tommy’s menu items are innovative and are complemented well by an elevated bar program, which includes everything from seasonal craft cocktail specials to exclusive Bourbon blends and over 24 rotating beers on tap. What sets us apart, in terms of food and beverage quality, is our three innovative-scratch kitchens, each divided within the restaurant for an authentic industrial look and authentic taste.
Each kitchen operates independently to ensure that the food that is prepared is of the utmost quality. Our culinary and beverage teams collaborate constantly, as they work to create the best possible menu items for our guests. From beverage pairings to the latest seasonal specials, we work in tandem as an operation. Quality doesn’t come without collaboration. We stay ahead of the curve when it comes to trends and we really feel that we give our customers a taste of the big city in the suburbs. Even with things as basic as outdoor space, we chose to kick things up a notch. At many of our Tommy’s Tavern + Tap locations, we have outdoor cabana set ups, which adds to the elevated F&B experience. “Tommy’s is a vibe” as many have said and it is our number one priority to create a memorable experience for each and every one of our guests.
Tell us about Tio Taco + Tequila Bar. What was the inspiration for that concept?
Tio Taco + Tequila Bar (located in Edison, New Jersey with two new openings in Marlboro and Clifton, NJ in 2021) is Triple T Hospitality Group’s newest bar-forward restaurant concept. The restaurant opened in the middle of the pandemic (Fall 2020) and just recently, we closed the deal on a second location in Marlboro, New Jersey that will open in March and another in Clifton, NJ. Like Tommy’s, this restaurant stays true to our family-first mantra and is an elevated take on classic Mexican street food, featuring rotating specials that are on par with the latest culinary and beverage trends. We wanted to find a balance between authentic fare and twists on cult favorites (like our house-made chile truffle corn guacamole, for example).
Tio was also a very special beverage project for us, as our bar has been set-up to house over 100+ tequilas and mezcals. The cocktail menu offers everything from colorful frozen margarita flights featuring hand-squeezed fresh citrus flavors (probably our best-selling cocktail menu item) to a Mexican spin on the classic Old-Fashioned. It was an exciting moment for us this Fall, following our launch, when Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson gave a special shout-out to Tio Taco + Tequila Bar on Instagram for our “Sandia Smash” cocktail, which incorporates his fantastic Teremana brand. It’s great to have like-minded partners, big and small, who have supported us on our journey.
Talk to us about the beverage programs.
Both Triple T Hospitality Group restaurants (Tommy’s Tavern + Tap and Tio Taco + Tequila Bar) are bar-forward concepts and have about a 70:30 beverage to food ratio. When I first started on this journey, I really wanted to develop a beverage program that offered something for everyone. After all, we offer dishes that fit everyone’s food palette, so why shouldn’t we do the same with beverage. Consistency is key in this business. What I didn’t want to happen was our guests coming to dine with us and see a cocktail menu that was outdated and lacked any type of creativity. We are lucky to have an in-house Beverage Director, Mike Spence, who, like me, believes in the classics, but also believes in the power of kicking things up a notch. The cocktail menus feature everything from seasonal specials to a selection of over 24 local and national beers on-tap.
We are also known for the partnerships we have developed with a variety of national and regional brands, from Patron Tequila to NJ-Based Penelope Bourbon, and have worked with them to develop signature liquor blends that are exclusive to Tommy’s Tavern + Tap. We also found that a lot of people are extremely connected to Whiskey and Bourbon culture, so we developed a premium whiskey room at our Sea Bright location, that creates a nice separation from the bar that’s in our main dining room. Nightlife was also important for us as a brand.
Not everyone is able to make it to the restaurant for a meal; some people want to get together with family or a group of friends and have some cocktails. We wanted to create a vibrant atmosphere that caters to the needs of the “individual bar scene,” as well. For example: Freehold, NJ’s Tommy’s Tavern + Tap has become a staple in the state for a premium cocktail experience, coupled with entertainment by leading DJs in the area and cabanas that make you feel like you’ve just been transported to Miami, Florida.
You work with local brands- like the NJ-based Penelope Bourbon—tell us about this partnership.
We are firm believers in supporting local brands. Sure, we have fantastic partnerships with global brands, as well, but at the end of the day we are a family-owned business. I like to call ourselves “mom and pop meets corporate in a blender,” so for us, if we can support entrepreneurs in our local community or region, it is a win all around. The fantastic thing about Penelope Bourbon, is that, like us, they have grown their brand extensively over the last few years, so there was an organic fit from the start.
What our Beverage Director, Mike Spence, has been able to do is work with their team to develop signature blends that are exclusive to Tommy’s Tavern + Tap, as a brand. We literally got into ‘master distiller’ mode for this project. The Penelope Bourbon bottles at our main bars and in the whiskey and bourbon room say “selected by Tommy’s Tavern + Tap,” so it’s nice to have our brand stories connected to one another for all to see.
Tell us more about your whisky and bourbon room.
At Tommy’s Tavern + Tap in Sea Bright, we created a special Whisky and Bourbon Room, that’s custom-made from reclaimed wood salvaged from within our historic building. It features specialty whiskeys of all kind (including the bottles we created in partnership with Penelope Bourbon), beautiful Shrewsbury River water views and of course, more taps. Along the riverside, the backyard area (just off the whisky and bourbon room) has cabanas for relaxation and enjoyment, corn-hole and a covered porch to enjoy outdoor dining all year round.
How have you been coping with the COVID-19 pandemic and all of the new parameters in place?
COVID-19 has been eye-opening for all of us in the business world and I knew that my group (Triple T Hospitality Group) and the restaurants/bars within our portfolio, Tommy’s Tavern + Tap and Tio Taco + Tequila Bar, were too important to give up on, not only to my family and the tremendous businesses we have built from the ground up, but to the local communities that depend on us for quality fare, good value and the staff that has created a warm and family-friendly service culture. As a restaurant group owner, I can’t stress enough the importance of learning to pivot on a daily basis and becoming extremely flexible and adaptable during setbacks that are completely out of our control.
If it weren’t for my team and I working to restructure our budget, immediately, once we got word of COVID-19 and getting creative with limited menus, food and beverage variety, and tighter inventory (reduced food and beverage inventory that is not selling right now), we would have been in deep trouble. We would not be able to maintain the dynamic service culture and multi-generational atmosphere that has worked so well over the years if it wasn’t for making some big, critical decisions in the moments. Six months from now, if the lights go back on at 100% occupancy and we don’t have our service culture and majority of our team in place, then we are missing an integral part of what makes us “us” and the ability to be a successful operation.
For Triple T Hospitality Group, the pandemic gave us two opportunities we never thought we would have: 1) obtaining bullseye real-estate properties that haven’t been available in over twenty years and will give us the opportunity to open new restaurants this year and 2) bringing new talent onboard, who were previously employed by big-city restaurant groups. I am proud to say that we have been able to keep our entire team on-staff and have also created new jobs in the industry, as we continue to open new restaurants/locations. We went into the pandemic with three locations and we are coming out of it with ten!
Talk to us about being a family-owned group.
There is nothing like it. To get to work alongside my family each and every day is a blessing. I started this business when my girls were getting older (they’re both now in their late twenties), so it was a proud father moment when my girls started working alongside me in the business and continue to do so. As I mentioned earlier, family is at the core of who we are as a brand, so it has allowed us to bring on employees who have the same inherent values as we do, believe in the brand and want to grow with us. We also dine at our own restaurants quite often, when we are not working. This is not a concept where we just put our name on it and hope for the best for our guests. We believe in this family brand we set out to build and it is an honor getting to see the staff every day and also order a drink and indulge in some food. It’s that “at home” lifestyle we wanted to create and it’s still in place for us.
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