When Dhruman Shah signed his lease in January, taking residence in half the space formerly occupied by popular Red Bank combo coffee shop and café Zebu Forno, he saw potential in developing what the downtown lacked. It was a simple idea, yet at the time completely unique to the downtown. He’d provide a burger spot offering fresh food fast.
Fast forward 11 months and through some construction and permitting delays and Shah’s Boardwalk Fresh Burgers and Fries has opened its doors on Broad Street, the third burger joint to open downtown in just the last six months. It wasn’t something he was expecting, but, like his burgers, the competition is on.
“The area here is really nice and I see that here (in Red Bank) and in surrounding towns there’s no burger place,” Shah said Tuesday afternoon. “Some restaurants have burgers on their menus but there’s no specialty place.”
Well, now there are three. Asked what it’s like to have what you think is a unique idea turn into direct competition with not one but two eateries, Shah gives a small, frustrated smile but doesn’t miss a beat in saying his shop isn’t only about burgers anyway.
In Red Bank, businesses tend to arrive in multiples. Following Frozurt’s frozen yogurt lead, Kravings and Yo Mon, both top-your-own frozen yogurt dispensaries, opened up. When Sugarush started selling cupcakes on Front Street, it was soon followed by the Cupcake Magician on Monmouth and Mr. Cupcakes, which took up space in Ricky’s candy store and has since been replaced by gluten-free bakery Posh Pops.
But Shah, as well as his competitors, Michael Ross at Beasty and Mike DeSimone at Jr’s, each claim a distinct style that will allow them to, if not outlast the competition, coexist with the competition.
Shah said Boardwalk makes its burgers fresh each day and also cuts its own fries. It’s also got plenty of menu items, including options for healthy eaters and vegetarians, too. It’s also got a brand behind it, and while Red Bank has been resistant to chain restaurants – McDonald’s famously shutdown its Broad Street location years ago – Boardwalk is a newish enough chain that promises fresh burgers rather than frozen patties.
Jr’s got name recognition behind it, too. The Front Street location is the second after Jr’s West End in Long Branch. It too offers plenty of menu items, but its burgers come as sliders and the restaurant caters to a different crowd of sorts, staying open late each night and until 4 a.m. on weekends.
At Beasty, the burgers are poached and served with their own au jus as well as with a create-your-own option. It also shares space with No Joe’s, giving patrons the option of getting a coffee or pastry while they’re at it in what Ross calls “the best of two worlds.”
Beasty was able to get a jump start on the competition, opening in May while Boardwalk and Jr’s languished in permitting limbo. Though neither Shah nor DeSimone blamed the borough for the delays – many have described getting permits in Red Bank as a difficult process – both did say that getting their respective restaurants open took longer than expected.
Though Boardwalk missed its opening date, Shah remains positive and is looking at his first few months of operating as a way to work out the kinks.
“It’s not what I was looking for, but in a way it’s OK,” he said.