You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

La Rosa Chicken opened in Hazlet despite coronavirus pandemic, and expect 5 more to come

APP.com (Asbury Park, NJ) logo APP.com (Asbury Park, NJ) 6/10/2020 David P. Willis, Asbury Park Press
UP NEXT
UP NEXT

HAZLET - Benny Umbra didn't know what to expect when it came time to open La Rosa Chicken & Grill on Union Avenue last month, smack dab in the middle of a global pandemic.

"We didn't know what to prepare for," Umbra said. "We didn't know if we were going to be busy, be slow."

As it turned out, La Rosa Chicken's first weekend was "much busier than expected" after it opened at the newly-renovated Baron's Corner shopping center on May 6. With restaurant dining rooms closed across New Jersey, La Rosa offered take out and curbside pickup.

a man wearing a neck tie: Benny Umbra, owner of La Rosa Chicken, talks about opening the new restaurant in the height of the pandemic, in Hazlet, NJ Monday, June 8, 2020. © Tanya Breen Benny Umbra, owner of La Rosa Chicken, talks about opening the new restaurant in the height of the pandemic, in Hazlet, NJ Monday, June 8, 2020.

Rebuilding America:  What does the future hold for restaurants?

"We knew that we were going to be welcome, but we didn't know how it would be at the very beginning because of the coronavirus," said Umbra, a partner in the La Rosa Chicken & Grill franchise. "At that point, people just wanted to get out and try something new."

The trusted place to find the best home service providers. Find local pros.

La Rosa Chicken & Grill was founded in 1994 by Vincenzo Pugliese in Marlboro.

The menu, which includes rotisserie chicken meals, chicken salads, chicken sandwiches and wraps and homemade side dishes, makes La Rosa unique, Pugliese said. "We do have our own special recipe," he said.

Middletown restaurants:  Outdoor dining, limited seating rules announced ahead of reopening

a man sitting at a table: Benny Umbra, owner of La Rosa Chicken, talks about opening the new restaurant in the height of the pandemic, in Hazlet, NJ Monday, June 8, 2020. © Tanya Breen Benny Umbra, owner of La Rosa Chicken, talks about opening the new restaurant in the height of the pandemic, in Hazlet, NJ Monday, June 8, 2020.

Pugliese added locations and in 2016 started to franchise his concept. La Rosa now has 13 restaurants in New Jersey, New York and Florida. Besides Hazlet and Marlboro, its other New Jersey locations are in Berkeley Heights, Freehold Township, Madison, Manalapan, Monroe, Sea Girt, Tinton Falls and Wayne.

Between now and the first quarter of 2021, Pugliese said La Rosa hopes to open five new restaurants, including one in Randolph, its first with a drive-up lane. 

Check out what other businesses are coming to Monmouth and Ocean counties on our What's Going There page. Make sure you don't miss a thing by buying a digital subscription to APP.com and downloading our mobile app today.

Umbra and his partners decided to invest in a La Rosa Chicken & Grill franchise with the first restaurant in Hazlet. He also hopes to open two locations in the areas of Princeton and Shrewsbury.

It is a "New Jersey born-and-bred business," Umbra said. "The food is absolutely delicious."

Shutting down:  Asbury Park restaurant Modine has closed

a tray of food: Benny Umbra, owner of La Rosa Chicken, talks about opening the new restaurant in the height of the pandemic, in Hazlet, NJ Monday, June 8, 2020. © Tanya Breen Benny Umbra, owner of La Rosa Chicken, talks about opening the new restaurant in the height of the pandemic, in Hazlet, NJ Monday, June 8, 2020.

After a year and a half search for a location, Umbra, an accountant at Potter & LaMarca in Red Bank and Staten Island, chose Baron's Corner, a 1960s-era shopping center at the corner of Union Avenue and Middle Road In Hazlet.

The center had been purchased in February 2019 by Baron's Corner LLC, which included Jeffrey J. Potter, Umbra's partner at the accounting firm, and was about to undergo a total renovation.

New rules:  Murphy raises the limit on indoor and outdoor gatherings, allowing for religious services

The restaurant is 2,400 square feet, taking space formerly occupied by an insurance agency and a dog  grooming business.

a man cooking in a kitchen preparing food: Alex Diaz of Old Bridge, manager of La Rosa Chicken, which opened in the height of the pandemic, cuts chicken for take-out in Hazlet, NJ Monday, June 8, 2020. © Tanya Breen Alex Diaz of Old Bridge, manager of La Rosa Chicken, which opened in the height of the pandemic, cuts chicken for take-out in Hazlet, NJ Monday, June 8, 2020.

They hoped to open in early March, but the COVID-19 pandemic flared. "It was scary because we had spent a lot of time and a lot of money to build this place," Umbra said. "As soon as we were willing to open, the world shut. We were very concerned."

The pandemic delayed construction work to put the finishing touches on the restaurant, as well as the township inspections they needed so it could to open. It would be nearly two months before they could sell a first order. 

"We feel much better now as we come out of this," Umbra said.

Umbra used social media and menu mailings to get the word out about their opening.  There was anticipation in the community too.

Ready to dine outdoors?:  Here's what some Shore's restaurants will offer

a tray of food: Benny Umbra, owner of La Rosa Chicken, talks about opening the new restaurant in the height of the pandemic, in Hazlet, NJ Monday, June 8, 2020. © Tanya Breen Benny Umbra, owner of La Rosa Chicken, talks about opening the new restaurant in the height of the pandemic, in Hazlet, NJ Monday, June 8, 2020.

"They were calling a lot. People were trying to place orders," Umbra said. "People were coming up the door (and asking), 'When are you opening, when are you opening?'"

Now he's getting ready for when the state allows indoor dining again. Marks delineating the proper social distance are on the floor. All his workers wear masks. He's prepared to close off tables in the 72-seat dining room if regulations require a certain occupancy level.

Long Branch:  Pier Village, Wave Resort reopening with new restaurants, closed roads

La Rosa, which specializes in comfort food, has a following, said Giorgio Vasilis, vice president of commercial real estate at Sitar Realty Company in Woodbridge, who along with senior associate Justin Goodman, represented La Rosa in the Hazlet lease.

The restaurant is suited for its new location. "La Rosa thrives on residential rooftops more so than heavy traffic on major roadways," Vasilis said. "La Rosa's brand is more community based.  The restaurant concept is able to feed an individual or a family at an affordable rate for both lunch or dinner."

a train is parked on the side of a building: Benny Umbra, owner of La Rosa Chicken, talks about opening the new restaurant in the height of the pandemic, in Hazlet, NJ Monday, June 8, 2020. © Tanya Breen Benny Umbra, owner of La Rosa Chicken, talks about opening the new restaurant in the height of the pandemic, in Hazlet, NJ Monday, June 8, 2020.

And La Rosa now serves an anchor tenant for the renovated Baron's Corner, which was built in 1963. "It was a fit for that community and that shopping center," said Potter.

Lacey:  Lakeside Diner stays open for indoor dining despite ticket

Potter's group gave the 18,000-square-foot center a new facade, new roof and rebuilt the second floor, creating eight office spaces, including six that are available for lease. "We decided to let's do it once and do it right," Potter said of the renovation work.

The center is "showing a new life," said Bill Spiezia, a partner and manager at Baron's Corner.

Other tenants include Gem's House of Bagels, Nails by Sarah, Romeo’s Pizza and Great Wall, a Chinese restaurant. The center, which is being represented by Charles Frank, a salesperson at Brothers Commercial Brokerage in Red Bank, has a 2,400-square-foot space and a 1,200-square-foot store available for lease. The smaller space was once home to Ralph's Italian Ices, which built a new store nearby in April 2019.

The offices on the second floor creates space for people who may not want to travel to New York City, Spiezia said. "It may be close to home for them."

David P. Willis, an award-winning business writer, has covered business and consumer news at the Asbury Park Press for more than 20 years. He writes APP.com's What's Going There and Press on Your Side columns and can be reached at dwillis@gannettnj.com. Join his What's Going There page on Facebook for updates.    

This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: La Rosa Chicken opened in Hazlet despite coronavirus pandemic, and expect 5 more to come

AdChoices
AdChoices

More From APP.com

APP.com (Asbury Park, NJ)
APP.com (Asbury Park, NJ)
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon