Brother Jimmy's BBQ had an inauspicious beginning in New Jersey — one to which millions of potential customers could easily relate.
The New York-based restaurant operator was planning its grand opening in New Brunswick on Oct. 30 when the threat of Hurricane Sandy forced it to cancel just days before. And once the storm hit, a power outage delayed the event by a week.
But CEO Josh Lebowitz said things have only looked up since then. The Southern-style eatery has embraced the city it chose for its Garden State debut, largely by integrating Rutgers University into its rustic, North Carolina-themed concept and welcoming the institutions that anchor downtown New Brunswick.
"Not opening is the ultimate negative — so from that moment on, it's been great," said Lebowitz, who heads Dining Entertainment Group. The company operates five Brother Jimmy's restaurants in Manhattan, where the company started, and franchises two locations in Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The New Brunswick site, on Easton Avenue and Wall Street "just seemed like a pretty perfect first opportunity in New Jersey," becoming a piece of one of the latest New Brunswick Development Corp. projects, Lebowitz said. He pointed to the train station across the street, Rutgers, and institutions like Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and Johnson & Johnson.
"I was a little bit surprised at the scale and the action of the town," he said of his first visit to the city. "Add to that the school, and it's a massive amount of … upwardly mobile people that would be great for business."
The 7,300-square-foot bar and restaurant is true to its national motif — the décor features a wall of Jack Daniels barrels, ceramic pigs, Mason jar glasses, a collection of North Carolina license plates.
But there's a local feel here, too, including the scarlet-and-white-painted knight that greets patrons. Fittingly, Lebowitz found the knight at the same North Carolina antique farm he visits each time he's preparing to open a new restaurant. Brother Jimmy's has sold food at the Robert Wood Johnson dining hall, and held happy hours for nurses and doctors.
And perhaps most visibly, it's a sponsor of Rutgers' athletics department and the site of football coach Kyle Flood's weekly radio show.
"It was just about creating a presence," Lebowitz said. "When we come into whatever town we're in, it's a genuine approach."