When you have something good going, you have to know when to stop and just let it be. That was the reason why Tre Amici in Long Branch failed several years ago. It was a fine dining establishment but also a BYOB which was incredibly rare for the pricey area they were in. In fact, because you did not have to purchase liquor, that kind of off-set the prices of food. You could have a fine dining experience without totally breaking the bank. The head chef was Matthew Zappoli, who appeared on two episodes of Chopped and won the second which was a redemption challenge. As stated in my review of Piero’s (which one of the three “amici” now owns), the food was excellent. Normally, steak in an Italian restaurant is not something which is memorable, but they did it right. And not to mention their pancetta brussels sprouts which actually turned me on to the vegetable. It’s now one of my favorites. Just like Piero’s, all pasta was homemade daily.
Every time I was there, the place was packed. They never appeared to be in need of any help or changes. Then it was announced that they would be moving to another location nearby. The menu items were probably going to stay the same, but the new restaurant had a bar. This meant expensive cocktails, “cheap” $40 bottles of wine, and higher prices for food to accommodate the insane costs of a liquor license in that area. We never went to the new location, and I don’t think it lasted two years before it closed. One owner went to Piero’s in Union Beach, Zappoli to a country club, and the third to a steakhouse in New York.
If I was a restaurant owner, would I want to have a bar? Of course. But to be able to have a successful business without worrying about the headaches caused by a liquor license and related insurance/liability issues and costs, that would be something I could live with. I believe the clientele of the original Tre Amici were perfectly satisfied with being able to bring their own bottle and pay lower prices for food. When they moved, the customers did not go with them. I can cite a similar example in my hometown of Hazlet. The pizza place on Route 36 across from the bowling alley used to be Barry’s Pizza (probably 7-8 years ago). They had a thriving business right there on the highway. Between shore traffic and local businesses ordering from them, it was a gold mine. My dad knew the owner because the guy used to deliver to his job. But then they got a little greedy. He wanted a “real” restaurant with a bar. He moved to what is now Assagini di Roma on 35 in the shopping center where Tim Horton’s is. They too were out of business in a year or two.
Can we call it greed? Misjudgment? Or just bad luck? Perhaps it is a little of all three. Tre Amici and the other place had good things going, but they chased that carrot a little too far, and now they are gone. There might be a lesson to learn in this. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.