Long Branch, NJ

BusinessMarch 26, 2004 

Cahill brings hands-on experience to design work
Studio brings the
‘wow’ element to local establishments
Staff Writer

CHRIS KELLY staff Jeff Cahill, owner of Cahill Studio on Industrial Way in Eatontown, has lent his expertise to many area restaurants. He is currently working on Tim McLoone’s new oceanfront restaurant in Long Branch.

EATONTOWN — Space speaks to Jeff Cahill.

The founder of Cahill Studio, which creates distinctive restaurants, hair salons and retail stores, can look at a set of blueprints and quickly see what a building space could be.

He works in "wows."

"I can envision coming through the door and am I going to say wow," Cahill said. "When you walk through the door, the background should be wow."

This rendering is an example of the new look for Cahill Studio’s redesign of the Charlie Brown’s chain restaurants in the Middle Atlantic states.

That should be followed by more wows throughout to engage the visitor, he continued.

"But there should be a rhythm between the wows," he explained, "not wow, wow, wow, wow."

Cahill, who looks younger than his 41 years, attributes his ability to read spaces to his background in construction. He worked his way through college in construction and, after graduating with a major in advertising, stayed in the business.

"I couldn’t afford the cut in pay," he said, with a laugh directed at the advertising field. "At the time I was married and had a child and a mortgage. In advertising, they throw you into a bullpen with a bunch of other graduates and pay nothing, and whoever comes out gets the best jobs."

Cahill finally struck out on his own seven years ago and established the Cahill Studio, which recently moved to Industrial Way. He has such restaurants and bars to his credit as Elements in Sea Bright, Ashes in Red Bank, Windansea in Highlands and the Charlie Brown’s chain.

"I was working with a lot of interior designers in the construction industry and saw what they were doing and felt I could do it just as good, if not better," he said. "So I took the quantum leap and started my own business.

"It was terrifying," he admits now with a smile.

Cahill considers himself a "brand imager," rather than an interior designer.

"Interior designers come in and their concern is to make the place look nice," he said. "Our concern is to make the end product work well and part of working well is to make the place look nice. But we’re also concerned with the marketing, in which my advertising background comes into play, and how they are perceived by the public. The entire look of the place is the brand."

Cahill and his staff design not only the exterior facade and the interior layout and furnishings, but all the other details as well, from a united color scheme to the uniforms the wait staff will wear.

"When you have a separate architectural firm, interior design firm, a graphic advertising firm — all these separate minds — your product is not cohesive. It’s fragmented," he asserted. "But when people hire our company, we are of the same mind-set. We’re all working together."

Cahill said that in designing an interior space he studies the path to be traveled by the workers, such as the wait staff, and places the items they will use in an efficient manner.

"We know every step a waitress takes because we’ve studied it," he said. "We’ve gone out and measured every chair and sat in them and came up with the formulas for the exact amount of inches and still retain comfort. We know the fire codes. So nothing is left to chance."

Cahill stressed that he does not sell architecture, although his six full-time employees include a licensed architect, Anthony Apostolaros, and an architectural school graduate, Michaela Nicolae, who is earning hours toward her license while working as a draftsman.

He said he and his staff prepare a complete set of plans down to the smallest detail and then turn them over to the architect of the client’s choice. Apostolaros makes sure everything in the plans is structurally sound and meets code, he added.

"I don’t want the architect to whom we send the plans to say ‘that’s nice, but it won’t work,’ " he said. The concern may be that the design can’t carry the load or doesn’t have adequate handicapped access.

"With Anthony, I know it’s 100 percent," he said.

Cahill and his staff currently are in the midst of designing the restaurant Tim McLoone plans to open on the oceanfront in the Long Branch redevelopment area. McLoone currently operates McLoone’s Riverside Dining in Sea Bright.

According to Cahill, McLoone started planning for his Long Branch venture but was persuaded by his sister-in-law, who is a sales representative for wall coverings and regularly visits the Cahill Studio, to talk to him. So McLoone came in out of curiosity, Cahill said.

"I sat down with him and explained what I do," Cahill said. "He said, ‘I should have called you last year. This is just exactly what we needed.’ … He seems relieved."

"It’s going to be phenomenal," Cahill predicted of the oceanfront restaurant. "It’s going to be a huge success. It’s got the best location on the beach. I can’t ask for a better ‘wow’ than the Atlantic Ocean."

Cahill said the restaurant presented a challenge because of the shape dictated by the city of Long Branch.

"This was not the ideal shape for a restaurant because it’s long and thin. Where do you put the kitchen?" Cahill said.

But he and his staff have conquered the space with a first-floor dining room flanked by two bars, one a casual bar with a stage for bands and a nice sized area for dancing, and the other a more formal piano bar with lounge chairs. There are outdoor decks on both the ocean side and the boardwalk, and a banquet facility — hopefully to seat 300 — upstairs.

"Weddings are getting bigger and bigger," he said in explaining the proposal for 300 seats for the banquet facility. "It’s really going to be fantastic, with all glass overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Who wouldn’t want to have their wedding here?

"Tim’s hit a home run here," Cahill said of the proposed operation. "It has all the ingredients for success. And then when I drop in all my wows, this should really be a fun place to be."

Cahill’s biggest client is the Charlie Brown’s chain of restaurants, which he has made over.

"I’ve done 40 buildings for them," he said. "They’re in the Middle Atlantic states now, but their plan is to blanket the entire country. It’s really exciting to work for them.

"It’s not as high profile as a nightclub," he allowed, "but to see our efforts having such a profound effect on their business — the changes we have made have resulted in dramatic increases in their bottom line — there’s nothing more rewarding than that."

In the Shore area, the Cahill Studio designed the Charlie Brown’s in Lacey Township, and currently is working on a Charlie Brown’s in Toms River that is scheduled to open in August at the corner of Hooper Avenue and Kettle Creek Road. Cahill has created a prototype for the entire chain.

"They really gambled on hiring someone like me," he said, "because I totally re-created the company. I changed their logo. I changed their uniforms. I changed their advertising. I changed their interior design and architecture. If I was wrong, I could have sank the company."

Like Charlie Brown’s, Cahill now works throughout the Middle Atlantic states, with jobs in Maryland, where he’s doing Fager’s Island in Ocean City, and Pennsylvania, as well as New York and New Jersey. Projects he’s working on locally include Simko’s in Brielle ,and Ciao Baby in Brick on Chambers Bridge Road at Brick Boulevard, which is due to open next month.

"We can’t go any further without cloning me," he said.

"I really have found my niche," he said. "I love it. I love coming to work."