When Andrew Gennusa carried from its former downtown location on Broad Street to its , he did so begrudgingly and with the understanding that the coffee shop and bakery he opened 11 years prior would not last.
As other Zebu locations closed, among them offshoots in Morristown and Freehold, Gennusa said it became apparent that the business model, built in equal measure around providing food and drink and a hub for the community, no longer represented the opportunity to expand.
Down to its last location, in Red Bank where the experiment began, Gennusa decided to close Zebu and start again.
“At the end of the day, the business that I’m in right now is not the kind of business I want to be in,” he said during a telephone interview Wednesday. “The growth potential (of Zebu) is not there. It can stay open and I can operate it as it is for the rest of my life, but that’s not exciting to me anymore.”
In its place, Gennusa said, enters Biagio Wood Fired Pizza, an authentic Neapolitan pizza place he believes has the potential to thrive where the cumbersome Zebu, with its razor-thin margins, did not. Gennusa said he’s also ditching the day-to-day operations, leaving those to new business partner and Red Bank resident Biagio Schiano, owner of Mussuto’s Market in Wall.
In Schiano, Gennusa said he sees someone with the classical training and food knowledge able to make, he feels, the best pizza. And while Red Bank has a number of pizza places, including the similar Tommy’s Coal Fired Pizza in the Galleria, the product you’ll find at Biagio’s isn’t like anything else you’ll find downtown, he said.
“There are places that are similar,” Gennusa admitted. “Places in New York City and in New Jersey where the menus are small and the focus is on high quality pizza; those places are always packed.”
And that’s where Gennusa comes in. While Schiano is managing the day-to-day operations at the 2,400-square foot location, which will be converted into the pizzeria with minor adjustments to the décor – and the installation of a wood-burning oven, of course – Gennusa will focus on growing the pizzeria from the business side. Using what he’s learned about franchising from Zebu and Manhattan Bagel, the franchise giant Gennusa launched with his brother years ago but eventually lost to bankruptcy, Gennusa said he sees expanding as a definite possibility.
All in good time, of course.
“I believe there’s nothing like it in this whole area. When people taste the pizza they will realize,” he said. “The focus right now is on Red Bank, making it work here. If it succeeds like we think it will we’ll look beyond that.”
Though Gennusa was looking for something to replace Zebu for months since he vacated the coffee shop’s former location following a spat over rent, the idea of converting the place into a pizzeria is new. Gennusa and Schiano have known each other for years, he said – Gennusa is a Wall resident – but there was never any talk of doing business together until recently.
While the business relationship is new and the wood fired pizza concept is new, the decision to replace or augment the Zebu business model has been on the back of Gennusa’s mind for some time, he said.
Satisfied as he was that Zebu would not last, Gennusa said he brought the brand along with the move down the street several months ago because he hadn’t yet envisioned the right concept to replace it yet. In the meantime, he said, why not reopen Zebu until he figured it out?
"I had been thinking about it all the time,” he said. “If you’re going to change your business, a relocation is the prime opportunity.”