In just a few weeks it will have been a year since several downtown Red Bank restaurants, frustrated with the state of the economy, frustrated with the state of Red Bank’s stale boom-era branding, joined together to form the eatery association known as Flavour.
With the goal of promoting the borough’s restaurants with a modern marketing campaign and a dedicated budget pooled directly from the wallets of the business owners, the group set off at once last September, developing their new brand while distancing themselves from Red Bank marketing and publicity efforts that didn’t fit what they believed to be the downtown’s biggest draw: its restaurants.
The scene at the Wednesday evening showed the culmination of the year’s efforts. Some 650 people crowded the hotel’s ballroom and outdoor terrace for Flavour’s . The culinary showcase featured more than two-dozen local restaurants serving up their specialties to an enthusiastic crowd of diners, all of whom, organizers hope, now understand what Red Bank’s really all about.
Nearly a year it’s been and despite the challenges Flavour has faced, those behind it are more resolute than ever. In his familiar black chef’s jacked and striped apron, George Lyristis stood at the front of the ballroom as visitors patted him on the back as they made their way to and from.
Lyristis, who co-owns and in Red Bank, has always been the driving force behind Flavour. He’s helped organize and plan events, develop marketing, and even been the one behind the tables serving food from chaffing dishes during events like Night on the Navesink.
All of the work, he said, is going to pay off.
“It takes a lot of time,” Lyristis said, taking a break from serving dishes at Wednesday’s event. “I keep telling my wife that it’s worth it, it’s worth it, just wait and see.
“I just want to get Red Bank back on the map.”
A year later some things have changed since Flavour launched. To help ease the financial burden of hosting events and its costly marketing campaign, Flavour has formed a partnership with Red Bank RiverCenter, the downtown business marketing and promotional organization that is funded by tax dollars collected from the business owners. Lyristis said the partnership, eventually, made sense.
RiverCenter has been more than receptive to his ideas, he said, and has also helped expand the Flavour brand with events like the International Flavour Festival held earlier this year.
It’s hard to calculate Flavour’s return on investment. The crowds come out in droves for the group’s events, but that’s not the goal, Lyristis said, noting that the restaurants don’t make any money from these kinds of events. What he hopes, what those who support Flavour hope, is that those crowds come back to Red Bank, next time, as couples and individuals, families to spend their dining dollars here, locally, again and again.
How much Flavour has helped increase restaurant business in a stalled national economy isn’t known. The good impression left with visitors who attend events like Night on the Navesink, however, tells Lyristis it’s working.
“What you’re doing is bringing people here who might not have come to Red Bank otherwise,” he said. “They will come back. Even if they come back and go somewhere other than my restaurant, I know they’ll be back again and their recommendations will lead to other people coming here.
“Eventually, I’ll get the business, we’ll all get the business.”
Ceding business to competitors doesn’t seem as though it should be part of any logical plan, but it has been for Red Bank’s restaurateurs, especially under the Flavour umbrella. Restaurant owners such as Val Aufiero, who owns and helps organize events like Wednesday’s, believe that when people come, business will follow.
Make Red Bank a dining destination and eventually everyone will get their piece.
"We’ve all worked very hard to put this together,” she said. “We all know each others strong points, we all put our egos aside, and we work cohesively. It is strange (in restaurant culture) but, for us, it’s worked.”
But it hasn’t been easy. Lyristis and Aufiero may be leading the Flavour charge, but they’re backed by a core group of restaurant owners who believe right along with them that Flavour has worked this past year and will continue to work for years.