When Restaurant Development Group's trio of real estate experts were looking for inspiration for a new Jersey City restaurant, they found it in Spain.
“Raval, this neighborhood in Barcelona, was once the seedy, down-by-the-port rough neighborhood,” RDG's Michael Garcia said. “It went through a renaissance and now this once-undesirable place has a thriving arts, entertainment and food scene.
“So it's not unlike Jersey City.”
Celebrating Jersey City's story, and improving upon its dining-related chapters, is part of RDG's goal. That's important for a company that now — with the opening of Raval Tapas Bar & Cocktail Lounge — has three food and beverage establishments and firmly embedded roots in the city.
“Now, if only we could get (a place like) Raval to open a restaurant called Jersey City,” said Andy Siegel, another RDG partner.
Garcia, Siegel and Geza Gulas make up RDG, a group of former real estate specialists that came together right after the real estate market went belly-up.
When the only takers for commercial spaces were banks and other options they found unattractive, the trio decided to make a splash in the restaurant world by converting a Jersey City building into Satis Bistro in 2009. It's a European-style restaurant based in a structure first built in 1873, a local butcher shop.
“And we wanted to continue a tradition of being the neighborhood place where people go together,” Garcia said. “We've just done it with a little more style to meet some of the needs of today's neighborhood, but we're really trying to stay true to its roots.”
Before Satis Bistro, Gulas and Garcia — former partners in the real estate world — paired up to open Lucky 7 Tavern in 2007. They looked at the Jersey City bar as something they could fall back on after they sensed the real estate bubble's burst was coming.
“It was a place we frequented before we had families,” Gulas said. “We liked it; it was a nice local hangout, an excellent representation of Jersey City. You'd see people in suits, leather jackets, baseball jerseys — all walks of life. It was a mixed clientele and that remained true after we reopened it.”
Between Lucky 7 Tavern and Satis Bistro, RDG had a good platform to start transforming a commercial condo, mixed-used building into another restaurant a year ago.
Turning the 4,000-square-foot building into the 200-capacity Raval Tapas Bar & Cocktail Lounge has taken a $2 million investment on the trio's part.
But the opening of the restaurant May 25 has them projecting a $6 million topline revenue stream at RDG for 2015.
And, as much of an investment as getting the restaurant into a ready-to-open condition has been, Siegel thinks RDG's next move will be bigger.
“We realize what it's going to take for us to continue to grow,” he said.
The group's strategy is a long-term one. That's why it's bought the real estate for each of its businesses instead of renting it.
“That also means we're establishing roots in Jersey City,” Siegel said. “We're a part of it, and we plan on being here for the next 30 years.”
RDG is proud to be part of an influx of notable restaurants to Jersey City.
It doesn't want Jersey City to be considered second-rate compared with the food scene leviathan just across the Hudson, following the common preconception.
“And we're further evidence that the myth is going away,” Siegel said.
E-mail to: email@example.com
Company: Restaurant Development Group
Based: Jersey City
Leadership: Michael Garcia, Geza Gulas and Andy Siegel.
One more thing: Raval’s executive chef seized the opportunity to travel through Spain to scour kitchens for inspiration. “Our only requirement was that he’d eat four or five meals each day,” Siegel joked.