How Mike Hauke's Tony Boloney's Thrives in Troubled Atlantic City and Hoboken
All photos by Adam Robb Mike Hauke inside the original Tony Boloney's in Atlantic City.
More than a dozen successful restaurants -- including Marc Forgione's American Cut, four Jose Garces concepts, and the House of Blues -- shuttered on the Atlantic City boardwalk last weekend as Revel and Showboat casinos closed their doors. But, in their shadow, Tony Boloney's has only thrived over the last five years, drawing casino employees, construction crews, and savvy tourists to his beach shack-like BYO pizzeria on an undeveloped stretch of Oriental Avenue, where he serves a Shopsin's-sized menu of eclectic subs, pies smothered with toppings like fried chicken and waffles, and truffle-buttered Brussels sprouts.
Since winning LIVE with Kelly and Michael's Truckin' Amazing Cook-Off last summer, Hauke's invested his $20,000 prize into opening a Hoboken pizzeria. He also caters for Manhattanites, and he's eying Philadelphia for his next move.
We spoke with Hauke about using a $2 billion casino as his prep kitchen, how he got kicked out of the Hamilton Park farmers' market, and what he's bringing to the Hoboken dining scene besides Rando Bakery's sub rolls.
What made Hoboken your first choice for expansion beyond Atlantic City?
My family's from North Jersey, from Newark and Perth Amboy. After I sold my first company that I started in college -- a laundry delivery service called Dirty Business -- I came back to Jersey, rented an apartment in Jersey City, and opened a business in Hoboken. I had an office in Hoboken for two years, then moved to Chelsea, but I knew Hoboken really well. I loved Hoboken. I thought Hoboken was a great place, great community, great demographic; there's a lot of character in that town.
People in Hoboken have always seemed pretty loyal and content with their restaurant scene. What do they make of your menu?
I feel like there's a lot of old school places, so people are really loyal to those places, and Hoboken's not lacking quality, it's just that these places do what they do and people do what they do because they love the nostalgia. I think [these restaurants] still boast a quality product, it's just that they go by an old school standard. For us though, we're so far outside the norm. We're so whacked out with what we do, that mindset doesn't affect us. So if you're old school or new school or both, people get what we do and they become a lasting customer.
The Benny Tudino crowd see it as "it is what it is." They're about big slices, and drunks, and they have their niche. You have Vito's, Luca Brasi's, which is catty-cornered to us. They do their own thing. The guy from Luca came over all the time trying to figure out what we're doing and we told them if someone comes in asking for a turkey sub, we'll make it for them but we'll probably tell them, "Why not go to Luca Brasi's because that's what they do?" That's their specialty. They do classic Italian, that's not our schtick. We try to tell people to order off our menu.
We'll make you whatever you want, but order off the menu. You close your eyes and point, and you're going to like it. Just try it. One customer came in and said, "Let me get a veal parm." And she said, "What kind of place doesn't do veal?" And we said, "We're not that place." Even if we were, you're in Tony Boloney land. Don't come in here and say you want a meatball sub with provolone. Close your eyes when you eat here and get rid of all your preconceived thoughts, and you'll love it.
Our pizza isn't like anybody else's pizza in Hoboken. Our subs use Atlantic City rolls that get trucked up every single day fresh. We use Rando's. Rando's is the oldest bakery in Atlantic City, the AC sub roll. It's the third oldest family-owned bakery in the country. So Hoboken's getting a different product.
A lot of these kids in Hoboken went to Rutgers and they're used to fat sandwiches, and there's this misconception we're doing fat sandwiches. We say no, and they say, yeah but you guys put rice noodles on your sandwiches, etc. But we say this is not chicken fingers french fries, mozzarella sticks, honey barbecue sauce, and they get it. This is a different level. We're not throwing crap on a roll and seeing what happens because you're drunk and we don't care what you think. We make our own Thai sauce from scratch. So they're finding it now and getting it, and we're getting die-hard customers.
Is there already a standout best-seller then?
Our Boken Boy sub is a huge hit. It's grilled chicken with garlic and lemon aioli, Sicilian sopresatta, house-made smoked mozzarella, and they love the Let My People Go. It's slow-roasted Jewish brisket, melted havarti cheese. It's a Passover plate on a sub.