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Two Mall Restaurants Close Abruptly

Benihana, El Chico haven't been open since Valentine's Day

Hanging on the doorway of Benihana in the Ocean County Mall were red heart decorations, setting the mood for Valentine's Day. But the Japanese restaurant chain and its neighbor, El Chico, have been closed since Feb. 15.

The handmade signs on both restaurants' doors read: "Sorry, we're closed."

On Feb. 16, furniture was being loaded onto a moving truck from the restaurant, and questions were directed to the public relations firm that represents the Ocean County Mall Simon Property.

The public relations specialist for the mall however declined to comment on specific tenants and instead said questions should be directed to the tenants themselves. Calls placed to the corporate headquarters of both Benihana and El Chico chains were not immediately returned.

On President's Day, both Benihana and El Chico remained closed. Over the weekend, customers who had signed up for updates and special promotions for Benihana Toms River received an email alerting subscribers that the location is permanently closed.

"Our Toms River Benihana restaurant has closed for business. We want to thank all of our loyal guests for their support over the years," reads the email.

Though Benihana had been in business at the Ocean County Mall for several years, last spring owner Hassan Halani expanded to the right of the Japanese restaurant to build El Chico, a cantina-style Mexican restaurant.

El Chico opened Aug. 9, and Halani said at the time the restaurant would employ approximately 60-70 full-time and part-time positions. The Ocean County Mall location was the first El Chico in New Jersey, and though several operate in the southern states, there are no other locations in the tri-state area.

Halani also operates the Edison Benihana, which remains open. Existing Benihana locations elsewhere in New Jersey are at Short Hills and Pennsauken.

The Benihana and El Chico location had one liquor license serving both properties. The site is approximately 8,000 square feet in size.

The website for El Chico had no mention of the Toms River location on Monday, and Benihana's website lists the Toms River site as closed for business.

. February 21, 2012 at 09:29 PM
Qdoba is disgusting. There is one in Brick. Subway is equally disgusting. There used to be a food court years ago. What happened to that?
Clanmore February 21, 2012 at 11:16 PM
Maybe a Cheescake factory or a P.F. Changs, was at the one in Freehold Mall a few times. Not bad at all.
A-Ball February 22, 2012 at 12:34 AM
Is there one in Bayville too ? The one in Toms River on Highway 9 is great !
A-Ball February 22, 2012 at 12:38 AM
Want a goood local place go to Blue Fountain over by Aldi on 37 W. They use fresh food and give you huge portions. The meal includes soup, salad, dessert and coffee ! Its a major senior hangout, but who cares !
Eddie February 22, 2012 at 06:10 AM
I am going to assume that the rents at the Mall are a bit higher than every where else. There is a lot of maintenance, security, advertising, etc. provided by the Mall owners and that does not come cheap. Large chain stores can afford the rents for a while, than even they have to close and move out. Just a sign of the declining economy which will continue until the USA get's back on our feet.
KC February 22, 2012 at 06:29 AM
I can't stand any of these corporate restaurants. I don't frequent them and never will. Mom and Pop places are the better option. Liquor licenses are not necessary w/ byob - IF the food is good. Granted a bar has a certain atmosphere, but I go to New York if I want that. These days, on the rare occasion that I shop, I take a protein bar and call it lunch. I am not into blowing thirty bucks on corporate junkfood. I got stuck like that a few times and refuse to do it any more. Despite what the powers that be say, unemployment for Americans is up as is the stock market. When gas hits five dollars a gallon I predict we will see more of this. It is unfortunate, but I think we had better get used to it.
Martin February 22, 2012 at 12:30 PM
Scouts for major chains take one look at Rt. 37 (the eyesore to the shore), check the demographics and income stats, and run away from TR. OC Mall is the only decent location in town, but rent is high.
Pat McMahon February 22, 2012 at 01:23 PM
Bring in a Cheesecake Factory or a Cracker Barrel!!
Not Afraid to Rant February 22, 2012 at 02:24 PM
I totally agree with you KC. You pay good money for a lunch or dinner only to be disappointed with taste. It's like slop! Just make your own food. I hate to cook but I make better food. Eating out is expensive and if I am going to pay I want something with quality and taste! I never find that anywhere and I travel all over.
Mike February 22, 2012 at 05:22 PM
I wouldn't mind seeing a German / Polish restaurant in their or something different, tired of the same old big box chains, the old Hafbrugh House in Highlands closed many years ago and fritzys in Howell closed awhile ago, bring back some authentic ethnic cuisine.
KC February 22, 2012 at 05:28 PM
I was a big fan of Fritzy's as well. I keep hoping the former owner's daughter will decide to go back in the business. I miss the salad dressing, that great German potato salad and the schnitzel. And it was all such value for your money. A beer garden theme would be a great thing I think, also cost a ton of money which is where the corporate giants would prevent a Mom and Pop place like Fritzys did so well..
Martin February 22, 2012 at 05:30 PM
Jawohl! Remember Winkelman's on 9 in Lakewood? Auf Wiedersehn.
Carl Medfor February 22, 2012 at 05:54 PM
Well never gonna happen anymore in this town. The demograpics have changed big time in the last decades. Polish/German food is great, not going to draw the masses in this local area anymore.Someone on here mentioned Craker Barrel and or a Cheescake factory they do great for sure.
Billabong February 22, 2012 at 06:36 PM
KC, it's a smaller place but I highly recommend The Alps Bistro in Allentown for good German food. The menu isn't as expansive as Fritzy's but the food is excellent. German restaurants in NJ have been going the way of the dinosaur over the past few years - Fritzy's (Howell), The Black Forest Restaurant (Allentown), The Little Kraut (Red Bank), Triangle Hofbrau (Pequannock) are all gone. So I go to the Alps for my German fix.
KC February 22, 2012 at 07:11 PM
To Billabong, thanks for the headsup.
Noodle and Doodle February 22, 2012 at 09:00 PM
I agree... El Chico was awful. For tasty mexican food, try Cinco de Mayo in Silverton. Lenny is the best!
Noodle and Doodle February 22, 2012 at 09:02 PM
I am so glad they are both closed -- horrible food and horrible service at each. At El Chico, there was plastic wrap in my burrito --- gross!!
Nichole dalton February 23, 2012 at 03:15 AM
Buffalo wild wings would do *amazing* there
Seriously? February 23, 2012 at 03:55 AM
I know this thread is about the poor food at these two restaurants, but let's face it -- the Ocean County Mall is a garbage dump and getting worse every day. The JC Penney's and Macy's anchor stores are extremely shabby and aren't even in the same league with the ones in Eatontown and Freehold; the smaller stores are more in tune with your basic strip mall; and Sears, which is more useful as an appliance store than for clothing and housewares, may end up closing due to their corporate struggles. I thought when the Simon Group took over this mall several years ago they would do a total renovation (even to the point of razing part of it and starting over), but like their other mall in Livingston, they are just letting this mall sink until it ends up looking like the old Dover Mall.
Steve February 23, 2012 at 05:58 PM
What Happened to Boston's All the signs are covered up today?? Another closing???
Pat McMahon February 23, 2012 at 08:08 PM
I notced the other day that the sign was new on the Hooper Ave. side. Maybe they are finishing up???
Mark Wendell February 27, 2012 at 09:10 PM
Mike I like your idea. I miss Fitzy's. New Polish deli on Rt 37 is good.
Mark Wendell February 27, 2012 at 09:11 PM
Martin, Mr Winkelman tried to over do it with the village he tried to build. Would have been cool if it worked. Now it's a dump.
Mark Wendell February 27, 2012 at 09:20 PM
Simons rents have driven away more than a few tenants recently. Malls are to expensive per square foot. Qudoba in Brick has only ok food with a real limited menu and a not so great warehouse style atmosphere and not a huge crowd but it has lasted so far. Has to be the difference in rent. How about a Baja Fresh or Red Robin?
Joecg March 02, 2012 at 02:33 AM
I had dinner at Benihana a while back and was so disappointed by their price schedule, I felt as if I was eating at a MacDonalds, I was asked to supersize my dinner in a couple of ways, a long cry from the Benihana of old, never went back.
just me March 08, 2012 at 01:32 PM
For good Japanese hibachi try Umi on Fischer Blvd. It's in the strip mall behind the Burger King. For good Mexican try Tenampa in the strip mall on the southeast corner of Rt.571 and Rt 9.
knarfie May 03, 2012 at 09:50 PM
Huge portions of mediocre tasting food. Truly a "senior citizen " delight. Went there once, will never go back. It's a typical example of "you get what you pay for" Cheap food, big portions, not very good.
befit May 11, 2012 at 05:05 AM
El Tempanara across from Home Depot (toms river) has fantastic and mexican too!
Elaine September 06, 2012 at 07:23 PM
I think what would do great for Toms River and for the mall is to have The Rainforest Cafe!!!! It has great food and is very entertaining and great for kids as well as for adults!!! There are only 2 locations in Jersey Edison and Atlantic City. This is what we need is something not every town has!!!!
William Hammski February 08, 2013 at 01:39 AM
3B's can afford a liquor license because a martini is $7.00.


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