You gotta eat

| 22 Feb 2012 | 08:19

Two restaurants open, one remodels in spite of troubled economy By Tom Hoffman McAfee — Undeterred by the troubled economy, a handful of area restaurateurs have started new projects. And a hungry public seems to be proving their instincts right. The McAfee Diner & Deli on Route 94 has been drawing steady crowds since opening its doors on Feb. 12. Co-owner Tony Figueroa says business has been good. He and a partner, Dave Conklin, put their eatery on the site of the former Falls View Grill Hal’s Chicken & Ribs. Figueroa had previously run the Double S Diner on Route 23 in Wantage Township with his brother Eric. So far, business has been good, says Figueroa, who estimates that he and Conklin invested about $75,000 to $80,000 to open the diner, including new kitchen equipment and tables. Still, it’s a major gamble for anyone to launch a new business amid what is arguably the worst economic environment since the Great Depression. To be sure, many Sussex County residents are watching their spending more carefully. But that hasn’t stopped other entrepreneurs from opening new eateries. Glenn and Melissa Liebau opened The Iron Deli & Grill on Route 23 South in Franklin Borough on March 1. The deli, which is on the site of the former Red’s Deli, has new equipment, new tile and has been repainted, says Melissa Liebau. They estimate their start-up costs for the deli, including new equipment and inventory, at $25,000. The Liebaus run the deli with the help of their fathers, making it truly a family-owned and operated eatery. But why risk opening a new deli now? “We know what we’re doing,” says Melissa who, along with Glenn, owned and operated the Country Roads Deli on Union Valley Road in West Milford for 10 years before selling it to an employee 18 months ago. “If you offer great food at a reasonable price, you’ll be successful,” said Liebau. For instance, the deli is offering 50-cent coffee and 99-cent egg and cheese sandwiches to patrons before 7 a.m. as a way of encouraging commuters to stop in for an affordable breakfast, says Glenn. “We’re trying to offer specials to our customers without breaking the bank.” That’s a lot like the thinking that’s working for The McAfee Diner. Figueroa believes the diner’s high-value, low-cost approach is what has been drawing customers to the new establishment. “Our meals are reasonably priced and we serve breakfast, lunch and dinner all day,” he said. The restaurant seats 96. “We concentrate on solely fresh products — nothing is frozen. How many places can you get a complete meal for $6?,” he asks. Remodeling an existing diner Although the Double S Diner on Route 23 in Wantage isn’t a brand-new business, it has undergone extensive reconstruction since a grease fire broke out in its kitchen the day before Thanksgiving in 2007. The fire, which caused about $40,000 worth of damage, led owner Eric Figueroa to briefly consider selling the business due to the $20,000 in debt and lost business which resulted from the blaze. After further thought, Figueroa saw a reopening as a new beginning for the diner. He renovated the kitchen in late 2007 before reopening on Jan. 1, 2008. This past December, he put new floors in the restaurant, updated the bathrooms and installed a new sign atop the building to make it easier for motorists to spot. So has it been worth it? Absolutely, said Figueroa. Business is up 20 percent compared to the same time last year and Figueroa believes the current down economy is actually giving the diner a boost. “In this economy, (roadside) diners tend to flourish,” said Figueroa. “People still need to go out to eat, but most people would rather go to a diner than a restaurant with white table cloths and get more value for their money.”