David Burke, the Hazlet native who seemingly blurs the lines between chef, artist, entrepreneur and inventor, has 18 restaurants worldwide.
But he may only be getting started on what he can do.
His latest effort, the GOAT (which opened in Union Beach in April), is Burke’s seventh in New Jersey — and unlike any other.
Located at the site of the former Italian American bistro Piero’s, the GOAT is a restaurant he designed with a spirited goat-themed décor featuring original artwork and a fun, laidback vibe with superior food and service in a casual atmosphere.
But, here’s the catch: It’s seemingly in the middle of nowhere.
The GOAT may have a Union Beach address, but it sits on a property site along Route 36 in an area that doesn’t seem to have a draw to it — and certainly nothing resembling a business district.
Burke sees it differently.
“Yeah, it is a little different ZIP code — and there are no businesses on the highway — but we don’t feed businesses, we feed homeowners,” he said. “This is a family restaurant. It is a neighborhood restaurant. It is 25-30% above a chain restaurant from an economic standpoint, and 80% above what a chain delivers.”
And it does it, Burke said, in an area that needs it.
“Rumson is in a great ZIP code, but it isn’t very easy to get to from Matawan, Holmdel or Colts Neck and up this way. It is a lot easier to get to Union Beach from the Middletown, Red Bank, Holmdel and surrounding areas.”
Location, location, location, Burke said.
“The location here is perfect,” he said. “When you come off the Garden State Parkway at Exit 117, there is no place to eat. Plus, if you look at the clientele that goes to some of the well-known area restaurants in Middletown, Red Bank and Sea Bright, a lot of those consumers come from Staten Island.
“Union Beach is 20 to 30 minutes closer than all of them. So, why wouldn’t people come here instead?”
Burke, of course, knows the answer to that question, too. The Atlantic Highlands resident sat down with ROI-NJ to tell us just why the ZIP code works to not only attract guests, but to make them become regulars visiting several times a week. Here’s a look at more of the conversation.
ROI-NJ: Talk about the menu at the GOAT?
David Burke: We are serving Italian American food with a menu centered around a gorgeous, custom-made, wood-burning pizza oven — it appeals to everyone.
We serve casual Italian American bistro — meat, chicken, salads — all highlighted by the handmade brick oven where pizza is the star.
The menu is all a simpler version of what I do. It’s a little creative, but it’s not high-wire acts. I like to call it ‘classic dishes with a modern-day twist.’ It’s chicken parm, but done well. It’s crispy, but not deep fried. It’s made with good olive oil, good cheese.
All the dishes are made with the best products. All the overall menu selections are flavor profiles that make good sense.
ROI: Let’s talk about the restaurant itself. This used to be a former Italian restaurant and there’s a sense of a fun, local vibe in a casual atmosphere thanks to the goat-themed décor. Some cosmetic renovations were made recently, such as furnishing the upstairs with stunning chandeliers. Will that room be used for private parties?
DB: One hundred people can fit upstairs. I purchased the chandeliers from an estate sale and brought them over to be installed here specifically for this space. Yes, for private parties, but mostly for theme nights in what I call the ‘Chandelier Supper Club.’
We plan on hosting special dinners with maybe music or comedians for one set price for dinner and a show, and running different entertainment all the time.
ROI: How will that work?
DB: The nights will be set price points that offer a three-course meal and dinner entertainment. Coming up this week is a comedian that will headline the dinner show (on Thursday). There are cocktails at 6:30 (cash bar) with light passed hors d’oeuvres; then, the three-course prix fixe dinner and comedy show starts at 7 p.m.
ROI: Sounds like you’ll be able to attract customers — but have you been able to find employees? That’s a huge issue in the industry right now — how has that been for you?
DB: We started paying a lot more money. We’re paying 25% more for almost every position and paying overtime. You can’t run a restaurant without a dishwasher, I know that. I pay my staff well and want to keep them employed, so I move them between my restaurants if needed.
ROI: And we hear you also are working to help the next-generation workforce?
DB: I am in talks with Brookdale Community College to create a scholarship program for students to work with me and offer an internship that will help them with their financial burden. That’s all in the works.
ROI: Speaking of ‘in the works,’ you always seem to be looking for your next challenge. You recently purchased the Dixie Lee Bakery in nearby Keansburg — which already was famous for its classic pastries, Black & White cookies and cakes for all occasions. What are the plans there?
DB: I am a trained pastry chef from École Lenôtre Pastry School in Plaisir, France. I always wanted to own a bakery. Eventually, I’ll supply my restaurants with baked goods from there, but, for now, I will start with minor renovations and keep the current staff onboard while still providing the locals with good baked goods.