Mo Butler, the longtime adviser to former Newark Mayor Cory Booker, has long been known as a cheerleader for all the city has to offer entrepreneurs.
He is now known as someone who practices what he preaches.
A little more than a year after opening Bar Vanquish, a bar and lounge on Market Street near the Prudential Center that he started with partners and experienced restaurateurs Glenn Brown and Tammy LaMorn, the three are doubling down on the industry — and Newark.
In September, they opened Tinjune Downtown, an Asian fusion restaurant at 494 Broad St., in the former location of Barcade.
Butler said Tinjune Downtown is not just a bet on the team’s ability to be successful in the industry — but a bet on Newark itself.
“This is about putting my money where my mouth is,” he said. “For decades, I’ve been focused on the improvement of Newark — growing the economy and attracting businesses to Newark. This represents me doing just that.”
So far, so good.
In its opening months, Tinjune Downtown has become a go-to spot for many in the business community. Audible, Genova Burns, Prudential and others already have had corporate events there.
And, while Butler and the team (which also includes LaVar Young) are happy to accommodate the business crowd, Tinjune Downtown was created with the Newark resident in mind.
“Newark is a working-class town,” he said. “We really want to focus in on those folks. The hard-working residents who don’t want to go to New York City to have a good time.
“We want to be an option in Newark. We want to be a place where they can get a good meal, listen to great music, kick back and enjoy themselves. That’s what we’re going for.”
Newark has long been an unheralded foodie paradise — a place where you can get a diversity of dishes from more cultures than you can count.
Butler, Brown and LaMorn feel their Asian fusion format will enable them to fill an underserved style.
“Melba’s and Delta’s are bringing that Southern soul food style to Newark,” Butler said. “We feel like we can fill another lane with Asian fusion.”
The best thing about it: Asian fusion can satisfy all price points.
The large variety of Dim Sum options go for $14-$17. There are Bao Buns and wok options, featuring beef short rib, filet mignon, salmon and lobster, that are in the $20-$25 range. And then, there are prime-cut specialty dishes (lamb chops, a 16-ounce ribeye steak and a 48-ounce tomahawk steak) that go for $35 and up.
“We feel like we have something for everyone,” Butler said. “Whether you are celebrating a birthday or a special occasion, relaxing after a long week or coming in after church for our Sunday brunch, we’ve got you covered.”
Of course, there’s music, too. Like Bar Vanquish, the restaurant will specialize in ’80s and ’90s R&B music. That’s when it doesn’t have live music, which is becoming a stable of Friday nights and a Sunday brunch that has been gaining in popularity.
“It’s all about creating the right atmosphere,” Butler said. “It’s about creating the culture of Newark.”
Butler knows all the jokes about the restaurant business — like the quickest way to become a millionaire is to take $2 million and open a restaurant.
Brown and LaMorn are proven partners in the sector. And they all count on Theresia Motley, who is managing the front of the house at both Tinjune Downtown and Bar Vanquish.
Butler said he knew they were onto something when they started hiring at Tinjune Downtown.
“We didn’t have trouble finding staff,” he said. “Once we got the word out, people started reaching out to us, letting us know they want to be a part of the team.”
The challenge, of course, is growing the brand.
Butler said the team has been thrilled with the number of corporate events and private events they’ve already had (you can rent out half or all of the restaurant). And, they already have a number of holiday parties scheduled.
The team knows this section of Newark is on the rise, with many new multifamily complexes coming soon.
Tinjune Downtown will be ready, Butler said.
“We feel like we’ve found a part of the city that is looking for more food choices — and we feel like we’re bringing a unique food option to it,” he said.
More than that, Tinjune Downtown represents an acknowledgement that Newark is growing and prospering — something Butler has been preaching for years.