How Connell Co. is using latest amenity to help tenants at Park lure office workers back

Even with an up-and-coming workforce making a near-unanimous embrace of remote work, investments meant to lure the next generation in are still going on at New Jersey workplaces.

Taking cues from collegiate campuses and the Silicon Valley corporations those campuses also inspired, the Connell Co. has added a number of amenities to its 185-acre business and hospitality campus in Berkeley Heights. And it’s adding another to the list: a first-of-its-kind meal service for office workers at the Park, a redevelopment project at the former Connell Corporate Park.

The goal of those behind the luxury live-work-play project and its expanding amenity offerings is to rejuvenate the corporate park concept for this generation and the next one.

Stephen Kilroy.

“The workplace is due for a shift, and big, high-tech companies are really setting the pace,” said Stephen Kilroy, senior vice president of hospitality and marketing at the Connell Co.

Its Berkeley Heights campus houses companies such as L’Oreal, Samsung and Fiserv, which just received a surprise “Transformation Award” recognition from the NAIOP New Jersey chapter for its office there.

To offer a food option that it markets as fast and convenient for these companies’ workers, the Connell Co. is rolling out a fully-prepared meal service called Parklife Meals.

“It’s something we’ve been testing and slowly expanding out,” Kilroy said. “We’re doing a relaunch now, as we’ve seen notifications from companies asking people to come back more than a couple days a week.”

Although reminiscent of what other office parks offer in cafeterias and dining settings, Kilroy said this particular approach — as well as its emphasis on healthy food for a group of employees moving from the diet routines of the pandemic back to in-office work — is unlike what’s offered even at the well-established tech campuses.

The larger rollout of Parklife Meals will give individuals the opportunity to preorder food through a mobile app. The service is starting off as a grab-and-go packaged meal model out of the site’s cafe.

So far, Kilroy said, the feedback has been positive.

Chef Brian Bistrong, left, is working on the Parklife Meals concept with Tara Tomaino, the Park’s nutrition director.

“We see a number of people in the dining areas smiling and conversing,” he said. “The meals themselves are very popular. We sell out almost daily.”

The food is prepared by the culinary team that runs the Park’s existing restaurant spaces. Kilroy said it curated a chef team with a New York City pedigree — chefs starting families, ready to give up the commute over the Hudson — led by celebrity chef Brian Bistrong of the Park’s Table & Banter hospitality group.

What they’re offering is unique in the region, Kilroy said.

“But, we see something like this as the future,” he said. “So, we expect similar models to pop up at places across the country, as there continue to be new approaches to how the next generation of employees feel a workplace should be.”

‘They want to be part of something transformative’

As far as adopting new systems, real estate leaders accept their industry has for too long been content with not fixing what isn’t broken. Next-generation workers aren’t fans of that bromide.

Vadim Greenberg. (Faropoint)

Vadim Greenberg, head of acquisitions at real estate investment management firm Faropoint, implied that, even with artificial intelligence tools such as ChatGPT capturing imaginations, the real estate sector hasn’t been overly inspired to do things differently.

Greenberg speculates there are a couple of factors to blame for that: The age of those in senior roles in real estate, the speed at which technology is moving and the limited amount of accessible public data available to real estate companies.

Regardless, he said, the next generation of workers are demanding more.

“They have a different mindset,” he said. “They understand the potential of what’s going on right now with AI … and that we’re only at the beginning of it.”

Faropoint leverages AI for forecasting investment opportunities and for operating different aspects of its real estate business. With the growth that Greenberg said came from that tech focus as a competitive advantage, the Hoboken-based business has had to fill a need for more talent over the past few years.

“And, what we’re seeing is a surge of interest from young, tech-savvy professionals excited about shaking up traditional real estate,” Greenberg said. “When we’re hiring people, those young professionals are naturally drawn to innovative companies with growth opportunities. They want to be part of something transformative, which is exactly what Faropoint is.”