Brine time: How fast-casual chicken restaurant came to Fair Lawn — and its plans to expand in New Jersey

Slowly flavored, fire-grilled chicken franchise, which just opened this summer, brings unique taste

When Dan Mezzalingua and Joseph LoNigro brought Brine, their unique fire-roasted fast-casual chicken restaurant, to Fair Lawn this summer, they knew they wanted to be involved in the local community. They just weren’t sure how.

So, they started listening to their customers — the local high school students.

“They kept asking if we could do something student-related,” Mezzalingua said. “Something that was centered around them. Something they could get excited about.”

LoNigro, the executive chef, quickly got to work, creating a smoky Unami sauce that Mezzalingua said is a perfect balance of sweet, sour and savory for a chicken sandwich special, available to high school students at lunch (Fair Lawn High is a mile away) or any time of the day.

“It’s been a huge hit,” Mezzalingua said.

Dan Mezzalingua

It’s helped Brine, located in the Promenade section of Fair Lawn, quickly incorporate into the community — while also serving as a reason for the friends and families of the high schoolers to stop by.

When they are there, they often go for Brine’s specialty item, its oven-roasted chicken that is brined for 24 hours — then takes an additional 12 hours to be prepared to be served.

“It’s what separates us from other restaurants,” Mezzalingua said. “We have chicken sandwiches, and we have tenders, but we wanted to be more than that.”

It seems like a familiar restaurant story: Create a new product, find a great location and work endless hours to make it come together. It includes plans to expand in New Jersey.

But Mezzalingua’s entrepreneurial story goes deeper than that.


Mezzalingua didn’t want to go into the restaurant business. That’s why he worked for a technology company in New York City for more than a dozen years.

And, truth be told, he never liked chicken growing up.

“I thought it was dry and tasteless,” he said.

His introduction to brined chicken in his 20s changed that opinion. And then, somewhere in his mid-30s, his desire to join the industry evolved, too.

First, Mezzalingua educated himself on the industry, going to the Institute of Culinary Education — taking classes on the business side of restaurants. He loved it, he said.

Then, he wrote a business plan.

Still not convinced he had all the answers, he took an internship with a well-known restaurant group in the city — at age 41 — working for people in their early 30s.

“I know that sounds weird, but I basically told them, ‘I don’t want to get into the restaurant business and be like, ‘What did I get myself into?’” he said. “I wanted to do it in the real world, so I interned for about a year and found I loved it even more.”

Even more, he found LoNigro.

Some of the sauce choices are honey mustard, charred jalepeño, blackened chili garlic and buttermilk red.

Together, the two refined a concept with brined chicken at its core, opened a place in Chelsea in the summer of 2018 and had great success. Until the pandemic hit.

The restaurant shut down for less than a week — then, it got going again, staying afloat by serving health care workers.

It was during this time that they learned about how worthwhile it is to be part of the community, as they donated some of their revenue to help those helping others during the pandemic.

The plans for expansion, however, were temporarily on hold.


Mezzalingua grew up in upstate New York, went to undergrad in Vermont and worked in the city, but he’s a Jersey guy now. He lives in Morris County with his wife and five children and loves the state. Especially Fair Lawn.

“Fair Lawn is a perfect location for our first store,” he said. “The community is a tight-knit group, the location is on what you would consider a main street (3110 Promenade Blvd.) and it attracts lots of families. We felt we fit in from day one.”

The menu, he said, has something for everyone. It starts with the signature Brine chicken, includes sandwiches and tenders — but also bowls and salads.

“It’s perfect for anyone who is watching what they eat — or wants to indulge with a guilty pleasure,” he said.

The sauces — original creations by LoNigro — make the meal.

“He does a lot of fun things,” Mezzalingua said. “We have a New York hot, we have one with sweet chili and scallions and sweet soy mayo — we have something for everyone.”

Mezzalingua said Brine is working with the school’s PTA about promotional opportunities — “We’ll do any type of fundraiser they want,” he said — and is relying on the ultimate word-of-mouth promoters: high-schoolers.

“I know firsthand that what works for your children decides where you go to eat,” he joked.

Next up is finding a third location. Mezzalingua said he already is scouting locations in Morris County and is confident store No. 3 will open in 2024. And many more after that.

“We really want to be in New Jersey,” he said. “It’s the perfect place for what we want to do — and how we want to interact with the communities we’re in. This is where all of our expansion will be.”

Conversation Starter

Reach Brine at: or call 201-793-2615.