Opening a restaurant can be difficult, but opening a restaurant the same week as the most devastating natural disaster in recent history is impossible.
The Mediterranean Chateau in Matawan was originally slated to open its doors on Nov. 2 in the old Charlie Brown's on Route 79. Sandy, however, had different plans, leaving the Bayshore area in the dark for days. The restaurant was finally able to open on Nov. 14.
The Mediterranean Chateau was purchased in May of this year by Portuguese restaurateur Jose Barreiro, 39, of Sayreville. Barreiro previously owned and operated Caravella restaurant in Elizabeth and Ria Mar in South River with a former business partner.
This time around, however, the business is truly a family affair. Barreiro's children, Jorge, Danny and Fatima are all heavily involved in the day-to-day operations of the restaurant on the busy Freneau Avenue.
Even before the record-setting storm, the locally anticipated Mediterranean Chateau had experienced delays due to issues with town ordinances. The restaurant space, a former Charlie Brown's, was in worse physical shape than the Barreiro's predicted. The building was closed for nearly two years and required cosmetic work as well as new support beams. The only fixtures that remain from the former steakhouse are two original stained glass windows separating the bar area from a small dining room, Barreiro explained.
Before purchasing the restaurant, Barreiro scouted four to five different locations. When he found the Matawan space, Barreiro sold his interest in the popular Rio Mar to his now-former business partner.
Aside from its desirable position on a heavily traveled road, Barreiro saw a town that appeared to be full of Italian cuisine and little else. They believed that an opportunity to satisfy a diversity of appetites existed. Initial customer feedback has supported that theory, according to Barreiro.
The Mediterranean Chateau's menu offers American dishes and favorites such as chicken francese and penne pasta, though many customers order the Portuguese and Spanish items.
The kitchen boasts a $20,000 Portuguese wood charcoal grill that all meats are cooked on after being seasoned with rock salt. The Portuguese wood charcoal grill adds a unique flavor to steaks, barbecue chicken and ribs, says Barreiro. But what people really enjoy at the Mediterranean Chateau, Barreiro said, are the sangria and paella.
The two dining rooms at the Mediterranean Chateau have been busy every night since they finally opened, but that does not mean that everything has been going smoothly.
"We were unprepared for the amount of business we were going to get so quickly," Barreiro said. "We weren't staffed enough in the kitchen, we weren't staffed enough in the dining room. It was a little overwhelming to say the least."
While still a small sample size, initial online customer reviews of the Mediterranean Chateau on websites such as Yelp.com have reflected the early shortcomings that Barreiro readily admits.
"People waited a long time for their food to come out…it was really bad," Barreiro said.
Since then, the Mediterranean Chateau has hired two new chefs and more waitstaff. The restaurant currently employs 14 people.
"We've gotten a lot better," Barreiro said. "The people that did have a bad experience, when they come back next month, next week, whenever, they'll see that it's a lot different."
Reviews on the restaurant's Facebook page are positive, with customers thanking the new establishment for great food and atmosphere.
"We celebrated my 50th birthday here Saturday night and everything was perfect," wrote one customer on Dec. 10.
Barreiro is hoping that a new happy hour and lunch special at the bar will help draw customers in to sample the restaurant.
The Barreiro's are relying on their collective experience and success in the restaurant business as they look to the future. The smaller dining room at the Mediterranean Chateau is open for special events, although capacity is limited to a party of 28.
Management at the Mediterranean Chateau is anticipating the summer, when the restaurant will open its outdoor dining space.