GARDEN STATE LEADERS IN BUSINESS, CULTURE, AND THE ARTS SHARE ALL TIME FAVORITE FLICKS, SUMMER DRINKS OF CHOICE, AND THE MOST SALIENT ADVICE THEY WOULD GIVE THEIR YOUNGER SELVES

BY JESSICA JONES GORMAN, ARCHANA AITHAL ROSE, AND AMANDA MCCOY PHOTOS BY TOM ZAPCIC AND AMESSE PHOTOGRAPHY

 

 

Kevin Barry
Vice President and Operations Manager, Molly Pitcher Inn and Oyster Point Hotel themollypitcher.com, theoysterpointhotel.com

For this Garden State native, the Molly Pitcher Inn and Oyster Point Hotel are multi-generational businesses for both his own family and his guests. Barry practically grew up within the walls of the hotels, which were purchased by his grandfather and managed by his parents when he was in grade school.

“As far as I know, I’ve always been in the hospitality business,” noted Barry. “When mom and dad were at work in one of the hotels, they put me in a guest room and ordered room service. So it was either this or become a race car driver [laughs].”

After whetting his hospitality skills in Boston, Barry returned home to spearhead a full renovation of the Oyster Point Hotel, diving headfirst into operational management after. Barry and team have since hosted life milestones spread over generations, from sweet 16s to weddings to baby showers. For him, the key to success is to remember why they are in the business: to create experiences and make people happy.

Cellini Spread

“In a world of Marriotts and Hyatts we need to offer a unique experience. Whether it’s a wedding or a weekend, seeing the experience come together for someone is the most rewarding aspect of this business. To know that we will always be a part of their memories is special.”

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUR YOUNGER SELF?
Listen to my father when he said this is really hard work. I never understood the challenges of a 24 hour business. I saw all the benefits of the hospitality business but never saw the challenges. Don’t assume anything the good, the bad. Every day is a learning experience.

WHAT’S YOUR GO TO SUMMER DRINK OF CHOICE?
Tequila with a little club soda and slice of orange. Clase Azul is my tequila of choice.

ALL TIME FAVORITE MOVIE?
I have to say My Big Fat Greek Wedding. I come from an Armenian family on my mom’s side, so we’re loud and we’re fun. My mom thinks it’s the funniest movie ever, but when my dad first watched it, he told us, “This isn’t funny, this is real life! This was my experience as an outsider coming into this family!”

 

 

 

 

Saki Dodelson
Founder and CEO, Beable / beable.com

Featured in Inc. Magazine’s Top 50 Female Entrepreneurs and a recipient of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award, Saki Dodelson dons a multitude of impressive titles. Having initiated and co patented online techniques for dierentiated learning as the former CEO of Achieve3000, Saki’s ambitious venture Be able connects students to life readiness skills they can use to unlock unique economic opportunities.

“It was based on the premise that all students deserve an equal chance to be successful in life,” said Dodelson. Particularly interested in tackling remote learning challenges that have surfaced throughout the pandemic, Dodelson noted, “Beable’s technology immediately identifies students’ literacy gaps, strengths, and career goals, and prescribes what they need to overcome learning loss and aid in continuous progress toward those goals. It’s also designed to adapt to educators’ need for content and connection that sustain without interruption in any environment and scale.”

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUR YOUNGER SELF?
The discipline to identify your goals and then stay focused on them is essential to success. One of my favorite mantras is “Think big, start small, scale fast.” Mapping out where you need to go today and where you want to be tomorrow is easy enough. Staying true to that plan and being able to evolve as circumstances change is crucial for long term success.

WHAT’S YOUR SUMMER DRINK OF CHOICE?
Fresh lemonade with ice.

ALL TIME FAVORITE MOVIE?
Schindler’s List. My mother is a Holocaust survivor, so I grew up with a fascination of the Holocaust and how it could bring out the worst and best in man. Schindler’s List highlights the human capacity for extraordinary courage and caring, and how one person’s actions can literally save lives.

 

 

 

 

Christian Mayo
Manager, Cuzin’s Clam Bar / bestclambar.com

Christian Mayo graduated from Penn State University with a degree in supply chain logistics management, and zero intentions of getting involved in the family business. But as he watched his father grow a restaurant from the ground up and truly enjoy every minute of the process he soon changed his tune.

“My father worked in the hair industry for decades but finally decided to open his own restaurant because his passion for cooking was so strong,” said Mayo. “As I attended school, I watched him build this incredible concept from a completely empty box. His enthusiasm really motivated me and made me want to get involved.”

The owner of Cuzin’s Clam Bar in Marlboro, Mayo’s father originally wanted to build a drive up establishment where patrons could buy freshly shucked clams. Instead the concept gradually grew into a fine dining restaurant that serves everything from steamed littleneck clams and Linguine Fra Diavolo to angry lobster served on toasted brioche with a touch of tarragon mayonnaise.

“He called the restaurant Cuzin’s because everyone who walks in here is treated like family,” noted Mayo of his gregarious father. “As I watched my father open and operate this business on that level I knew I wanted to be a part of it.”

Mayo serves as manager of the establishment, which is expanding to a second location in New Brunswick this summer. “I basically work 24 7, but truthfully I love it. It’s awesome to be a part of something so incredible.”

And while COVID lockdowns had a major impact on the entire restaurant industry, the younger Mayo helped launch reinvention efforts at Cuzin’s.

“It was tough but we got through it as a team,” he said. “We went from curbside service to constructing a temporary market inside of our restaurant and selling our produce and protein by the pound. All of these efforts kept our employees working and gave the community a place to turn when food supplies were questionable.”

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUR YOUNGER SELF?
Always stay motivated and treat the people around you with the same respect you’d want yourself.

WHATS YOUR SUMMER DRINK OF CHOICE?
Jalapeño margarita

ALL TIME FAVORITE MOVIE?
Back to the Future

 

 

 

 

Tom DeFelice III
Vice President and General Counsel, Circle BMW circlebmw.com

Like his father and his father before him, DeFelice was born with motor oil in his blood. He began washing cars at his father’s luxury dealership at 14, moving through nearly every position and learning all facets of the business throughout college and graduate school. Today, after taking two extended breaks to earn his law degree and practice automotive law, the third generation DeFelice has assumed most of the dealer principal responsibilities at Circle BMW, from executive decisions to strategy

“I’ve always wanted to run my own business, and the car business suits me,” he said. “It rewards bold, savvy, and hardworking operators virtues I believe are of the highest value.”

The attorney’s legal expertise and experience give him unique insight into cultivating the retailer’s future growth strategy, which includes evaluating acquisition opportunities. But even through expansion, he noted, the dealership will always operate as a boutique family owned store.

“I am here every day; you can speak to me and shake my hand. Most luxury dealerships in this age are owned by publicly traded corporations. We are a true family owned operation. We care deeply and personally, so our employees do as well.”

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUR YOUNGER SELF?
This Bitcoin thing is not a joke! Buy!

WHAT’S YOUR GO TO SUMMER DRINK OF CHOICE?
Negroni

ALL TIME FAVORITE MOVIE?
Pulp Fiction. Big Tarantino guy.

 

 

 

 

Demetri Rexinis
Co Owner, R3 Ventures and Over Easy Kitchen overeasykitchen.com

When Demetri Rexinis was 17 years old, his father offered him a major opportunity. “Club Abyss was our college,” the New Jersey nightclub magnate said of the now famous hotspot that was bestowed on him and his brother, Kosta, in ‘92. “My father offered us the opportunity to open something of our own, and we owned that opportunity. Some might call it blood money, taking advantage of an o er so big. But we put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into that building and are proud of what we have produced over the past 30 years.”

For close to a decade, the brothers enticed an entire culture of clubbers to cross two bridges and journey into the depths of northern New Jersey. They eventually added more properties to their roster, most notably Deko Lounge, which was just a stone’s throw away from Abyss. “If you follow our history from the nightclub world to banquet halls and beyond, we have always been big on atmosphere and overall experience. Everything we do, we make sure it’s a destination.”
Several years ago they formed R3 Ventures, a marketing company that encompasses all of their brands. Most recently, the Rexinis brothers have added a few restaurants to their lineup, coming full circle as a complete hospitality group.

“Over Easy Kitchen has been a huge success for us,” Rexinis said of the breakfast/brunch concept that originated in Marlboro in 2016 before expanding to Holmdel. “We are currently in the process of opening our third location in Fairhaven and are shopping around for a fourth addition in Florida.”

Not just a restaurant that serves brunch, Rexinis explained the Over Easy formula has been so successful because the brothers approached it thoughtfully.

“Growing up in the restaurant business we didn’t want to open up just another diner or coffee shop,” he said. “People think they’re showing up for French toast but it’s like they’re having breakfast in Miami. Our plates are like mini art palettes everything here almost looks too good to eat.”

And while challenged by COVID, the brothers remained resilient. “COVID was a hurdle but it forced us to be more creative and opened up a door to the catering business that we would have never before explored.”

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUR YOUNGER SELF?
Over thinking creates problems that don’t exist.

WHAT’S YOUR SUMMER DRINK OF CHOICE?
Simple: Tito’s on the rocks.

ALL TIME FAVORITE MOVIE?
Heat

 

 

 

 

Ernie Hayward
CFO, NJ Gravel & Sand Company Inc. / njgravelsand.com

Born and raised in Brielle and a graduate of Montclair State University, Ernie Hayward enjoyed a fruitful career in engineering before the harrowing terrorist attacks of September 11.
“I worked for Lockheed Martin, testing satellites, verifying their worldwide usage,” said Hayward. “But after 9/11 so many of the companies we worked with went under, and I was laid off.”

Forced to reinvent, Hayward began driving a truck for NJ Gravel & Sand Company, a major landscape and construction supplier in Monmouth County. After one summer with the family owned business, he interviewed for a job in the company’s financial division.

“I don’t have an accounting degree so this was a complete lane change,” admitted Hayward. “But I respected this company and worked hard to become a part of it.”

The hungry professional soon took over all of NJ Gravel & Sand’s financial duties, rising to the rank of CFO. Responsible for managing all of the company’s accounts, billing, and payroll, Hayward is proud to play an important role at this locally focused business. He recently celebrated his 18th anniversary with the company.

“I love working with local businesses and homeowners,” he added.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUR YOUNGER SELF?
Be patient and do a job that you love. Don’t chase money. If you find a position that you love, you will always be happy.

WHAT’S YOUR SUMMER DRINK OF CHOICE?
Cognac

ALL TIME FAVORITE MOVIE?
There’s quite a few but I always love watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

 

 

 

 

Christine Benton
Co Owner, Brando’s Citi Cucina / brandosnj.com

The timing was fortuitous when longtime friend and chef Steven Botta approached Christine Benton about investing in a fine dining Italian restaurant. Though the seasoned dental hygienist and mother of three had no prior ambitions to enter the restaurant industry, the opportunity felt right.

“I was at a point in my life when many things were changing, and I needed to diversify my life both personally and professionally,” noted Benton. “ is was something that was outside my comfort zone but I had great confidence in Steven and his culinary talent so I went for it, and it has been a true blessing.”

Brando’s has cemented its reputation as an Asbury Park mainstay, famous for being the first Italian steakhouse in N.J. and known for Botta’s dry aged steaks, homemade pastas, and signature meatballs. For first timers, Benton recommends the Angelotti, a scratch made pasta dish smothered in short rib and brown butter fonduta sauce and dusted with almond amaretto cookie.

Today, the co-owner effused she is proud to inspire her children and other women to seize opportunities and challenge their comfort zones. Benton noted that while the restaurant business is notoriously cutthroat, her partner’s skills and staff’s dedication are the reasons for Brando’s continued success even when a once in a century pandemic strikes.

“During this recent year, our dedicated patrons have made it abundantly clear that it’s not just about the food but the fact that they consider us a family.”

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUR YOUNGER SELF?
To realize opportunities come along for a reason. When these doors open you should walk through them and see where this beautiful opportunity is going to take you.

WHAT’S YOUR GO TO SUMMER DRINK OF CHOICE?
Watermelon martini

ALL TIME FAVORITE MOVIE?
Birdcage

 

 

 

 

Hazim Yassin
Councilman, Borough of Red Bank, New Jersey

As a millennial in politics, Hazim Yassin is all too familiar with overcoming the challenge of being taken seriously. But in a world where age is often equated with authority and knowledge, Yassin has not only turned numerous presumptions on their heads, but he also opened doors for future changemakers with similar ambitions. Said Yassin of his journey from candidate to councilman, “I’ve always had an unwavering belief in the democratic process from the word go.

It’s obviously tradition to lean on seniority when it comes to decision making jobs. I was often told to wait my turn, but I had a lot of great ideas and wanted to implement real change. So I went ahead full steam with my campaign and let people make their choice.” From facilitating innovative ideas, like Monmouth’s pedestrian plaza, to initiating outdoor dining solutions that helped bolster local restaurant businesses affected by the pandemic to securing donation pledges for the N.J. pandemic relief fund, this councilman continues to be an arbiter of real change in the Red Bank community.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUR YOUNGER SELF?
Remember to have confidence and believe in yourself.

WHAT’S YOUR SUMMER DRINK OF CHOICE?
’m Muslim so I don’t drink anything alcoholic. Diet coke is an all-time favorite, although I’m trying to switch to just plain water. Either way, anything with lots of ice.

ALL TIME FAVORITE MOVIE?
The George Clooney movie Michael Klayton for its amazing storytelling that focuses a lot on the anguish of good choices.

 

 

 

 

Howard Schoor
Artist / howardschoorart.com

For most people, their late seventies are meant for hanging up the proverbial gloves and perhaps taking a cruise around the world or hitting some golf balls with other retirees in Florida, but not for Howard Schoor. The self-proclaimed “trianglist” retired from a 40 year career in engineering and started creating a series of paintings and giclées, launching his online abstract art gallery at 79. “Starting fresh at that age with an entirely new craft and skill,” as Schoor noted, came with its own challenges, “but as with anything else in life, I work at it, constantly. But I don’t see it as work, even though it is a career, I enjoy the process of creating.”

A seasoned art collector, Schoor’s winning strategy is intuiting a running theme. He continued: “I noticed through all those years of observing successful artists that most of their prominent works were almost immediately recognizable. e triangle became my signature and routinely demands attention in all my works.” is talented trianglist not only creates happy art, something he insists “we all need in these dark times,” but also donates a portion of his proceeds to philanthropic causes including the American Heart association, Collier Youth Association, and more.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUR YOUNGER SELF?
It’s pretty consistent with what I partly do on a day to day basis, if you want something in life, work at it relentlessly, that self-consuming tenacity is key to becoming successful. I give all my kids the same advice too.

WHAT’S YOUR SUMMER DRINK OF CHOICE?
Bay Breeze

ALL TIME FAVORITE MOVIE?
I’m not such a huge movie fan, but the 2014 release Big Eyes comes to mind.