When was the last time one of the items off your menu was flown on a private jet to the Bahamas?
For Tony Boloney’s in Hoboken, that was Wednesday.
The item? A Taco Pizza.
Owner Mike Hauke is no stranger to gimmicks and ways to capture media attention.
His “Mustache Mobile” and “Farm Table” trucks are hard to miss, as are his giveaways — one of the most recent to the first responders at the train crash site in Hoboken last September.
“I usually think of goofy gimmicky stuff. I’ll be honest, this one has brought us more exposure than anything. This was the one time I was not like, let’s do a gimmicky thing,” Hauke said.
It all began when he was at his Hoboken location (his other, the original, is in Atlantic City) and a couple of teens who were “high as hell” walked in asking for tacos about a month ago.
“They were good kids, they’re in here all the time. Surfers and skaters,” Hauke said. “They said, ‘Yo, what’s up, can we get some tacos?’ I said, ‘I see you once a week. You do understand we don’t make tacos, right?’”
But they kept asking, and Hauke was reminded of his own days as a teen.
He recalls his mother making nachos for him and his friends when they had the munchies.
“As long as we were with her and home, she would make us happy. She knew. But we were all really good kids. I was never a slacker stoner,” he said.
So when the teens walked in, and he happened to have a tortilla press in the kitchen, he got his chef on board to start making some tacos. The teens were raving about how good they were, and Hauke went one step further.
“They were bugging out, said it was the best tacos ever,” Hauke said. “I was once one of those kids, high as hell. I just kept thinking, ‘That used to be me. I used to be these guys. I’m going to blow their minds.’”
He made a large pie, threw on some guacamole, chips and cheese, and made sure each slice had three tacos on it.
That was about one month ago.
On Wednesday, he was sending five taco pizza pies on a plane, and had more than 300 orders preordered for the next three days.
And he’s going to introduce the new Taco Tuesday item on Thursdays in Atlantic City, which usually sees weekend traffic year-round, he said.
The history of Tony Boloney’s is well-known in Atlantic City, where Hauke started the small food business in the shadow of what would be the Revel casino.
It was 2008, and he catered to the roughly 5,000 construction workers daily as Revel was built. But he served more standard fare of hot dogs and hamburgers.
After realizing it wasn’t a stable business plan, he closed for a few months, stopped selling the assembly-line style foods and reopened with a made-from-scratch focus.
Then in 2009, he focused on paying attention to demand and his supplies, moved toward 40 percent fresh and 60 percent manufactured. “That was when Tony Baloney’s opened in its current form,” Hauke said.
The company is starting to taste success after opening location No. 2 in Hoboken in 2014.
The two markets are different and have different demands. Atlantic City is a seasonal spot and sees traffic on the weekends. Hauke has between four to 15 employees at that location, depending on the season. Sales have been growing at roughly 10 percent per year.
“It slowed when Revel closed and has been steady since,” Hauke said.
Meanwhile Hoboken employs about 25 to 45 employees depending on the season and is growing at roughly 25 percent per year. It’s more active from September through May and lends itself to the New York City crowd for customers and catering.
“When I started in A.C. as brick and mortar, Revel was being constructed and there were 5,000 construction workers. We were doing well and I wasn’t focused on the margins and the business. I was just focused on business development. I sacrificed a lot in terms of the bottom line,” Hauke said.
But soon he realized he wasn’t making money, mostly breaking even at best.
Loved in the area by his loyal customers, he stayed open seven days a week, even though it was draining his resources.
But, after some time, once Revel failed, he realized he needed to adopt a new strategy.
So, now Atlantic City is only open Thursday through Sunday, and Hoboken is open during the week from September through May, Hauke said.
“When I didn’t (close) for years, I lost hand over fist because people wanted me open. I can’t accommodate everyone for everything,” he said.
But with Hoboken “rocking” and a line out the door, Hauke believes he’s finally figured out both markets.