Billing itself as offering “Middle Eastern cuisine with a gourmet twist,” the Green Chicpea, at 59 Halsey Street in Newark, which opened in 2013, also happens to be strictly kosher. According to the owner/operator, Martin Weber, he, a Southern California native, and his wife, Ronit, from Israel, are partners in everything, even the restaurant.
Without giving away any trade secrets, Weber spoke about algorithms and how his background in accounting played a huge role in his success. After a stint in the restaurant business in New York City, Weber was ready to offer Newark something that had gone missing: delicious, nutritious, unique and fresh kosher foods.
“Location, location, location,” is the realtors’ creed, and Weber knows it well. Also a developer, he took into account the 100,000 people in the area, 50,000 from the Rutgers community around the corner, and 50,000 from the nearby area of Broad and Market Streets, needing a new option for lunch, other than the usual pizza and fast-food stops.
Asked about the competition, he quickly replied, “Think of a food court at the mall. People pick and choose, a couple go here, and a couple go there. People come out for lunch in groups here; it’s a small-town mentality.”
After receiving his college degree, he became a CPA, and later bought property. In 1997 he changed gears, working in the culinary field and eventually in real estate for a number of years, before coming closer to home to open the Green Chicpea.
The restaurant website states: “It isn’t just about opening a restaurant, it’s about adding value to the community and making a difference.” In that vein, Weber is a member of the board of directors of the Newark downtown district (NDD), where he says they wanted him for brick and mortar advice.
By the end of August 2013, the time was right, and the Green Chicpea sprouted. Weber credits his wife for coming up with the restaurant’s catchy name. According to Weber, “The all-time favorite item on the menu is falafel. What is hummus, the main ingredient in falafel, made from? Chick peas, grown on a pod that is green.”
Weber says he wants anyone to be able to eat there, just like at his house. When asked how the food stays consistently delicious, Weber referred to his Sabra wife. “Think of the Israeli army,” he insisted. “You can’t get it wrong…when it comes to this, you can’t get it wrong either.”
He and wife are there every day and working hard, staying on top of the employees for consistency. Weber revealed, “You have to be here to run the business.”
While his wife runs the back of the restaurant, he runs the front. She has a specific touch, she’s more detailed oriented and does the cooking every day, with only the freshest vegetables and chicken.
The day actually starts for the Webers as they turn on the ovens and check the eggs around 7:30-8:00 a.m in the summer. Closing is at 4:00 p.m. During the winter they work until 5:00, 6:00 or even 7:00 p.m. Lunch is their busiest time, from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00-2:30 p.m. Weber concluded, “Business is dead after nightfall and it’s a waste of resources to stay open evenings or on national holidays.”
They are also closed in observance of all Jewish holidays. The restaurant is Pas Yisroel and under the supervision of the Vaad HaKashrut of Flatbush.
When asked why fleishig, Weber said they decided to serve chicken because it’s filling and people who eat lunch on business need something substantial. “Unlike beef,” Weber continued, “chicken does not make you lethargic, it doesn’t put you to sleep.” They also found that chicken has more moderate prices.
Just before the store’s 4:00 p.m. closing recently, Myles Zhana, who identified himself as a Chinese Atheist and Newark resident for 30 years, walked up to the cafeteria-style servers. “The quality of the food is very good and it’s an unusual restaurant for Newark,” Zhana explained. “The prices are comparable to New York City. The freshness is much better than say a McDonald’s. Kosher is generally fresher and better quality.”
He said that his parents came to the Green Chicpea a week or two after the restaurant opened and they keep coming back. He has been there several times and on this occasion he ordered a regular (as opposed to whole-wheat) pita with fried chicken, hummus, beets, corn, tahini and Dr. Pepper spicy sauce to go. He orders something different each time.
Weber spoke candidly about the issue of safety. He praised the Newark police, Rutgers police, and NJIT police. He added, “Downtown Newark is as safe as being in New York City, but sadly it never lost the stigma after the 1967 riots.” In 2006, the area where the restaurant is located “was filled with male prostitutes, but with all the new buildings and college dorms they’ve cleaned themselves up.”
Weber concluded, “Sixty percent of the customers are having vegetarian meals and 40% are having chicken.” He conceded that every six to eight months they add or delete items after monitoring what sells and what doesn’t.
At the start, 95% of the customers were non-Jewish and 5% were Jewish. Now 85% are non-Jewish and 15% are Jewish. Asked, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Weber said, “Good question…” He’s already thinking ahead, along with his family, consisting of his wife and three children, who all help in the business.
While much of their business comes through word of mouth, with the help of their daughter, they’re doing more social media advertising these days. Visit their website at www.greenchicpea.com.
By Sharon Mark Cohen