Restaurant Group DBA Tomatoes, The Lot, Done Take Out
I caught up with Karen and Carmen on an overly humid May Thursday afternoon at the site their latest concept – born out of necessity – The Lot, located adjacent to Tomatoes’ Restaurant on the Margate Bayfront District.
On this late afternoon, Carmen, due to staff shortages (more on this later), was captaining the mobile kitchen of their newly acquired state-of-the-art food truck. It was a busy scene with lots of energy. There was a pervasive vibe of relief and hope that this summer would be normal again.
Karen and Carmen have been a main ingredient of the local food scene for more than 30 years. Carmen, a Vineland native, had Carmen’s in Ventnor. Karen, originally from Western Pennsylvania, operated Cosmopolitan’s in the old Segal produce building in Atlantic City. More success followed at Crazy Cooks takeout in Margate and Northfield prior to the opening of the original Tomatoes on Ventnor Avenue. Fast forward to 2021 and the couple have: a wildly successful take out operation known as Done Take Out located on Ventnor Avenue, The Lot (outside casual), and of course the Margate Institution and mothership, Tomatoes .
Our firm has have been providing Tomatoes and related entities with tax advisory and accounting services and business consulting for the past 15 years. We have always thought that the restaurant business is hands down one of the most challenging businesses to navigate successfully and operate over long periods. After all, so many things can go wrong. In addition, it is a fickle business. People’s tastes and preferences change over time. Karen and Carmen are proof that, if done right, you can absolutely sustain and succeed. However, it takes a team, a lot of effort, self- awareness, business acumen and the ability to continually plan but remain open to change when warranted.
After enduring 4 feet of water from Sandy in 2008, Tomatoes would be open within 7 weeks. When a global pandemic hit during the winter of 2020, Carmen and Karen surveyed the landscape and saw opportunity where others may have panicked. The Lot concept was born out of necessity. Done Take out would have its best year ever in 2020. These restaurateurs have the gift of understanding what the next best thing will be, while realizing the importance of maintaining diversification of revenue streams.
Karen and Carmen have long lasting and deep ties to the Southern Jersey shore community. In the darkest days of the pandemic, I witnessed Karen and Camen taking a stand for their employees before any government stimulus programs were launched. I remember receiving a call from them directing us to secure lines of credit so that they could keep employees on payroll. Although they are running a big operation, a family feel still pervades. You are even likely to find some cases of husbands and wife’s working in different roles within the organization. The core staff has been part of that family for years, not months.
At the start of the shutdown, I remember pulling up to their closed restaurant, and their daughter Alexandra handing me cartons of eggs because the grocery shelves were empty. I recall Carmen donating 400 pounds of tuna to a local not-for-profit last summer; and that is after feeding his neighbors and friends, my family included.
Good intentions but possibly bad government policy have created unintended consequences for the food service industry, leading to present day staff shortages. Hence, Carmen now finds himself back in the kitchen, at least for the time being. Regardless, Tomatoes and affiliated entities may find that they have another competitive advantage when it comes to employee acquisition and retention: their businesses operate full year as opposed to seasonally, and they have an employee retirement profit sharing plan dating all the way back to 2008.
Memorial Day weekend 2021 was pretty much a total washout weather-wise. Not to worry, with government restrictions now lifted, it was time to pivot back inside to Tomatoes. Problem solved.
Article Submitted by – Tom Reynolds, CPA