Tommy Bonfiglio entered the 2020 pandemic with three restaurants. He came out with 10.
âI saw it as an opportunity,â said Bonfiglio, who just celebrated the opening of his Tio Taco + Tequila Bar restaurant in Clifton on August 5.
But before Tio, residents of North Jersey were introduced to Bonfiglio’s restaurant empire when American pub Tommy’s Tavern + Tap opened, also in Clifton, in December 2020.
Tommy’s has six other locations: one in Sea Bright, Freehold, Staten Island, Princeton, Morris Plains and Bridgewater, most of which have opened in the past year.
Where hundreds of restaurants have closed permanently and thousands have struggled to pay rent and keep up with takeout orders, Bonfiglio, an accountant and lawyer by trade who has gone through several recessions, said he knows what was going to happen.
A lift. A return to normal – finally. When everyone else is selling, he says, the avid businessman is buying, taking advantage of low real estate prices. And so, three restaurants became ten.
The size of Tommy’s and Tio locations kept them afloat during the pandemic, Bonfiglio said. When no indoor or outdoor dining was allowed, restaurants that were already open were repaired, cleaned, and updated from top to bottom.
Then, when in-person meals reopened, restaurants had room to accommodate hundreds of people while maintaining social distancing, Bonfiglio said. The well-populated staff quickly turned the situation around, allowing more guests to be seated overnight.
âWe don’t have two-hour rounds,â Bonfiglio said. âWe have huge kitchens, so you have your drink in front of you in five minutes. Your aperitif in sept.
Fast service and plenty of floor space, he says, helped the company survive the pandemic. A nest egg and the courage to buy during an international crisis were the keys to expansion.
âThe restaurant industry is the toughest business I’ve ever worked in,â said Bonfiglio, who worked 30 years as a CPA and lawyer.
Why leave one short-lived career for another? âIt’s probably my OCD personality,â he said. “That I’m type A. I can’t be busy.”
So who is this restorer shark?
A pizza lover, said Bonfiglio, who is 61. A kid from Brooklyn who moved to Monmouth County to settle and winter in sunny Florida. A father.
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Indeed, the whole Bonfiglio family is in the game. His wife, Yvette, manages the company’s pediatric cancer charity, “Tommy’s Kid of the Month”. Her daughter Andrea is the Director of Marketing and her fiance, Mike Spence, is the Director of Beverages. His daughter Christina is responsible for the design of the restaurant and is the brand manager. Her husband, Chris Dietz, is a partner in her father’s accounting firm.
Approximately $ 3 million was spent on transforming the old Clifton TGI Fridays into the new Tommy’s. The space has a modern tavern aesthetic – dim lights, dark brown wood paneling, smooth black tiling, and dark upholstered booths. The ceiling has exposed beams and ductwork, giving it a slightly industrial feel.
âI didn’t want to skimp on the food or the decor,â Bonfiglio said. âIt’s top of the range with televisions. You get the premium plates and seats, even if you eat pizza.
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The menu is huge and ranges from pub appetizers like giant pretzels ($ 11) and breaded Wisconsin cheese curds ($ 11) to penne vodka ($ 18) to bulgogi tacos with kimchi. ($ 18) 10-ounce burgers made from grade A beef ($ 15)) sushi such as Tommy’s Roll, amberjack, avocado, cucumber, jalapeÃ±o, salmon, pepper tuna and cilantro ($ 17, and rightly Bonfiglio’s favorite).
Clifton resident Marianne Dvorak recommends the burgers, calling them “one of the best she’s ever had.”
Bonfiglio is especially proud of the pizza, made with ultra-fine triple zero flour, San Marzano tomato sauce, buttery mozzarella Grande and grated Romano, grilled in a charcoal oven ($ 10 to $ 18, depending on size) .
The bar offers cocktails and wine, but we’re in awe of the list of local draft beers, from Hackensack Brewing Co. to Ghost Hawk in Clifton to Bolero Snort in Carlstadt and more.
The expression “Tommy’s obtains the right of veto” is how Bonfiglio describes the appeal of his restaurant. In other words, when no one can come to a consensus on where to eat, Tommy’s is the go-to. Every picky eater in the family will find something they love.
The huge restaurant can seat around 500 people and does not have a freezer in its three kitchens. âIf the ingredients are there for a day and a half, it’s old,â Bonfiglio said.
âThese restaurants are not built for just 30 people. They are built for hundreds, âhe said. âI have 25 guys in my kitchen. I don’t have a sushi chef. I have five. I don’t have a single pizza chef. I have eight.
He and Yvette’s first foray into the restaurant industry was at Dockside in Rumson. They became partners and eventually bought out the original owner. Hurricane Sandy then swept through New Jersey. The wharf was destroyed.
âThere wasn’t enough time on my lease to rebuild and get the money back,â Bonfiglio said. âSo we continued. Moving on to Sea Bright, to be exact, where the first Tommy’s opened.
Back then, did he expect Tommy to take off and become the empire he is today?
“Never never never,” he said. âWe got into this out of love. I had already succeeded. I had my house, my kids, I was just looking for something to do with my wife.
Rebecca King is a food writer for NorthJersey.com. To learn more about where to dine and drink, please register today and subscribe to our North Jersey Eats Newsletter.
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