After a 2008 bankruptcy shut its doors, new franchisees will bring Bennigan’s back to Saddle Brook after an extended absence—but this time, with a distinct local feel.
The Bennigan’s never entirely disappeared after the bankruptcy. “Since the brand was so iconic, franchisees that were a part of the system still kept their stores open,” said Kedar Shah, franchisee of the new Saddle Brook location.
A hedge fund eventually bought the brand, forming a Bennigan’s franchising company that sold New Jersey licensing rights to Shah and his brother.
“This store actually did very well, I believe in New Jersey it was either number one or two in terms of volume and sales dollars,” Shah said, referring to the old Saddle Brook location. “It was unfortunate with the bankruptcy. Being a corporate store, it had to shut its doors. So employees came in one day and the doors were locked.”
Having noticed the success of the last Saddle Brook store, Shah saw the opportunity when Bennigan’s began to make its comeback. But the new restaurant will be far from a corporate clone of its predecessors.
Extensive renovations have been made, bringing the indoor seating total to around 260, with a new outdoor patio accommodating as many as 350 diners. The owners are moving away from the reclusive, dimly lit sports bar of the 70s and 80s for a more open, modern feel.
Though upgrades to the old building were a necessity, the renovations were as much about a new start for the store, which is the first rebranded Bennigan’s to open in New Jersey since the bankruptcy.
“We looked at it as a rebirth of the Bennigan’s name,” said general manager Bryan Davidson. “We wanted people to say, Oh, it’s back and it’s better than ever, instead of just going with the old motif.”
“It was like building a brand new restaurant from the ground up,” added Shah.
There will also be changes in the menu, as well as 32 beer taps. “We’re going to be featuring a lot of local crafts. We want to buy into that Jersey aspect,” said Davidson.
In addition to showcasing local brews, the team hopes to be involved with the community, beginning with the grand opening they project early February. They plan to be involved with little league and local charities, incorporating community outreach in their marketing.
They hope that these efforts, along with the memory of the old Bennigan’s, will help them find a natural place in the community from the start.
“Anybody I deal with, from an interview or a business, there’s always some connection not only to Bennigan’s, but to this location in particular—first job experience, first date experience,” Davidson says. “It’s gratifying that there is that name recognition.”