Chefs' Second Acts

By Sherrill, Susan Leigh | The Record (Bergen County, NJ), April 18, 2013 | Go to article overview

Chefs' Second Acts


Sherrill, Susan Leigh, The Record (Bergen County, NJ)


The popular myth that 90 percent of restaurants fail within the first year -- famously perpetuated by celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito in a television ad for American Express -- was debunked long ago. But the perception that restaurants are risky business persists, and for good reason.

Undercapitalization, poor location and inability to control costs are among the myriad reasons that cause almost 30 percent of restaurants to fail within the first year or two, according to the National Restaurant Association (NRA).

Despite the notorious perils of their profession, when it comes to taking a chance on another restaurant, chefs are an optimistic bunch. Many who have been successful in navigating the minefields to establish their first don't hesitate to go through it all for a second one, or more, while others who have been forced to close their restaurants are likely to pop up somewhere else.

"I'm a big thinker," said Chris Tarta, whose popular Italian restaurant, Bella Campania, has been a fixture in Hillsdale for 12 years. His second restaurant, specializing in wood-grilled meats and seafood, is on track to open in Ridgewood next month. Its name, appropriately, is Due, which in Italian means "two."

The space that Due will occupy is prime Ridgewood real estate, a Tudor-style building on the corner of East Ridgewood Avenue and South Broad Street in the heart of the village. Despite its high visibility, however, the location has been a revolving door; two restaurants have cycled through in the last five years.

Tarta is confident Due will have staying power, in part because of what he was able to hammer out in nearly two months of negotiations with the landlord. "We agreed on something I feel really comfortable with," he said. "With the equipment, tables and chairs, the deal I got and the rent, my wife and I decided that this was a really viable opportunity."

It's certainly an advantage to take over an existing restaurant with kitchen equipment and other items already in place. "All I needed to do was freshen up the dining room," said Tarta, who has a key piece of equipment, his wood-burning grill, being built for him in Michigan. "I'm going to play around with which wood I'm going to be using -- I like hickory -- the grill is big enough to use two different types. It has a rotisserie on the top; I can do a whole pig."

His menu is another reason Tarta believes Due will be a good addition to the well-populated Ridgewood restaurant community.

Market is there

"It's a great restaurant town. I'm not trying to come off as over confident, but there's a market there for what I'm going to offer," he said. As at Bella Campania, this includes homemade pastas and dishes that feature his signature fresh mozzarella, but that's where the similarity ends. "I'm staying away from chicken parm, chicken marsala -- those types of dishes. It will be authentic Italian, more Northern than Southern," Tarta said.

Serving food that customers -- and critics -- love does not always translate to overall success, however. …

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