By Christina Johnson |
HOLMDEL – When restaurant chef Richard J. Corbo and sommelier Chantelle Corbo learned the nascent Bell Works was seeking food establishments for the empty office building two years ago, the couple formed a team with two other top chefs to pitch their dream of a destination with uncommonly fine wines, locally-sourced food and a variety of composed dishes.
They were welcomed in by Bell Works’ owner. In the next few months, the husband-and-wife team expect to unveil the first part of their scheme, the 8,000-square-foot Bell Market Eatery and Social House in the center of the light-filled atrium, highlighting five diverse cuisines customized for office tenants at lunchtime.
Next, they aspire to draw in the local community, building up a happy hour and evening and weekend business at Bell Market. In the late summer or fall, the goal of the RBC Hospitality Group partners is to open a fabulous 150-seat bar and grill with an extensive wine and cocktail selection with room for 30 at the wraparound bar, cozy booths, a partially open kitchen and a private dining room that seats 50.
“At that point we hope to be really engaged with the community, so asking them to come here on a Saturday night for dinner is not a stretch of the imagination at all,” said Richard Corbo, in an interview at Bell Works Monday, Jan. 22.
As the team prepares for the impending opening of the daily Bell Market food hall, experienced chefs Chad Spencer, 38, and Jeffrey Sytsma, 35, are in the newly renovated basement kitchen, perfecting recipes for Corbo & Sons wood-fired pizza; the New York-style Bubz Deli; Jozu for refined sushi, ramen and robata; Broadfork, a greens and grains concept; and Honeybell, a bakery specializing in viennoiserie. In addition to beers on tap, Chantelle Corbo, 36, will use her advanced sommelier training to offer a rotating selection of seasonal wines and saki by the glass “that are off the beaten path” and that offer an element of fun and surprise.
“Wines fit in really well here,” she said, pointing out their value in bringing business people together to celebrate deals, in guided tastings or as an icebreaker.
Some of the offerings are being tested in a small, temporary pop-up store in the atrium, and selling out every day to the office workers, construction workers and families stopping in to visit the new township library, and staying for a sandwich and coffee.
Even as teams of hard hats carry on throughout the ever-evolving building, which is open to the public, new tenants are moving in and tech firms are carrying on business. Bell Works’ dream is to be the place where 6,000 workers earn a living and interact in a sort of “metroburb,” and to be a draw for the larger community looking for diversion at the new library and through a variety of stimulating public events, vibrant restaurants and live entertainment offerings.
For many who knew Bell Labs during its period of innovation and generous community involvement, and then watched as its parking lots sprouted weeds as it sat vacant for years during the Alcatel Lucent years, the prospect of taking an active part of its revival is irresistible.
Richard Corbo, 39, who was working as executive chef at Tribeca Grill in New York City, said it was a personal connection to the building that drew him back through the revolving doors. During the years he attended Christian Brothers Academy in Lincroft, his father, Richard P. Corbo, a Toms River sign maker, was the chief producer of all the signage at the 2-million-square-foot building and grounds.
“The day I got my license he filled my trunk with signs and said ‘On your way to CBA, drop this at Bell Labs.’ So I would deliver his work to the loading dock downstairs and that became commonplace for two years while I was at CBA, and even a few years after,” he said.
Now, after working around the country, Chef Corbo is ready to settle down with his new wife and start a new life.
“Walking into this place, people are surprised at the history and just the magnitude of the design of the space,” said Chantelle Corbo. “We could have easily opened something in New York, but we chose to be here because we really love it here.”
This article was first published in the Jan. 25-Feb. 1, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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