Budding restaurateurs might shy away from starting a business in today’s economic climate, but for Avi Roth, there’s no better place and no better time than now to open Gotham Burger Co. on Queen Anne Road in Teaneck.
Transforming the former site of Burgers Bar wasn’t easy, but Roth said the realities of the current economy allowed for him to negotiate on construction costs and get the place gutted and renovated in two months. He also was able to select his staff from a large talented pool of job applicants.
“It’s a daunting task opening up a restaurant in general, but in this economy, it’s almost better to open up during this time,” Roth said. “You’re going to get a better bang for your buck.”
Even though Roth was able to save on remodeling costs, he said he wasn’t willing to cut corners on the décor and especially the quality of the food.
FROM HELPING KIDS TO COOKING BURGERS
Roth is a former educational consultant who, with a partner, developed a learning program for children with ADD and ADHD about 12 years ago.
The program was used in schools and at private centers started by Roth and his partner.
During the summer of 2007, Roth explained that the kids at his learning center were on summer break, and his partner offered to “pick up the slack” while he pursued an interest in the culinary arts.
“I always loved cooking; I always had a passion for it,” Roth said. “So I went to the Center for Kosher Culinary Arts in Brooklyn and took part in an intensive, nine-month program.”
Roth said he enjoyed working with children – and his partner continues to run two centers – but he noticed schools and parents were cutting back on his program when the economy began to worsen. That’s when he focused his energy on the culinary world.
Roth was born in London and came to the states when he was a child. He’s lived in New York, Chicago, Memphis, Israel, and parts of France and Italy.
“I’ve had the opportunity to live in different places and see different cuisines,” he said. “Even from a kosher-food standpoint, you still get a different flavor in all the different cultures.”
Gotham Burger originally was going to open on the Upper West Side in New York City, but Roth said the owner of Burgers Bar approached him about possibly going into business with him.
Roth ultimately decided not to go that route and instead put an offer down to buy the building. The offer eventually was accepted.
“I really love this location and have a lot of close friends in Teaneck,” Roth said. “I think we’re in a very populated restaurant block, so I think we’re set to do very well if we deliver on our flavors and on customer service.”
SERVING CLASSIC COMFORT FOOD
Roth praised the selection of upscale kosher restaurants in Teaneck, but he said he wanted to bring a different vision of kosher food that’s on a more economic scale.
He specifically wants Gotham Burger to be a destination for families looking for a complete meal for about $12 to $15 a person. Kids’ meals will be priced for less than $5.
“I think the touches we put in, whether it’s the tile or the woodwork or the mural, should make people feel like they’re going out for a nice night and not compromising on cleanliness or quality just because they’re spending a small amount of money,” Roth said.
Menu items, which are all kosher, will include:
- Hamburgers, hot dogs and wings
- Fried and grilled chicken
- Dairy-free shakes
- Soups, salads and fries
“I like the idea of serving something that’s classic, traditional, comfort food but elevating the flavor profiles,” Roth said. “I’ve always loved burgers. Burgers are very hot and the trending thing now … it’s America’s food.
“And I want the menu to extend to the non-Jewish community as well,” Roth continued. “We hope all people will love the product and want to keep coming back.”
Something special at the restaurant will be a selection of gourmet sauces from the “Sauce Boss,” chef Soul Wasabi.
A few of his creations that are made from scratch include a secret Gotham sauce, chipotle raspberry sauce, barbecue cranberry sauce, mango habanera sauce, and a lemon pepper sauce.
“Our lemon-pepper sauce will have real habanero peppers with real lemon peel and real lemon syrup,” Wasabi said. “It’s going to totally blast your tongue with flavor.”
A PLACE WHERE CUSTOMERS ARE KINGS
Roth is aiming for a March 25th opening, but he encourages enthusiastic diners to “Like” Gotham Burger's Facebook page to get the most up-to-date information.
The restaurant, which will seat about 45 people, features two mounted flat-screen TVs, table-and-chair seating, and a few booth-style seats. Beautiful mosaic tile covers the various columns throughout the dining area, and a mural of New York City’s skyline adorns the back wall of the establishment.
Once the restaurant opens, customers will order at the counter, and the food will be brought to their table when it’s ready. Roth eventually hopes to start an online ordering system as well as have an iPad at each table so customers can immediately sit down and place their own order.
“Technology hasn’t caught up to what I want exactly because I want everything seamless,” Roth said. “It shouldn’t be a negative experience, so until it’s ready, I’m not going to do it.”
The three things Roth says he wants to focus on with the restaurant are:
- Quality food: “The process may be more labor intensive, such as cutting our own fries, but the quality will stand on its own, and that’s where we’re going to make a difference.”
- Customer service: “I want people to feel like this is their place. They’re spending their hard-earned money, so they should feel like kings when they walk in here.”
- Cleanliness: “Nothing screams ‘I don’t want to come back’ like walking into a dirty bathroom, so the front of the house and the back of the house will be clean.”
Even though the last few weeks have been crazy for Roth – and he confessed he’s even slept a couple of nights inside the restaurant – he still describes the whole process as “exhilarating.”
“To watch it come from where it was to what it is now, that’s really been exciting,” he said.
Gotham Burger Co. is located at 1383 Queen Anne Road, Teaneck. Phone: 201-530-7400.