This month will be nine years since brothers Michael and John Gondevas took over the Hamilton Inn, quickly creating it into a beloved neighborhood institution. Since then, they have earned many industry accolades and opened the equally successful Hamilton Pork next door. Michael purchased the spot against all advice, leaving his career in a booming Hoboken restaurant scene. At the ripe age of 19, John joined him months later to manage the restaurant, and the rest is history.
For sure, the restaurant business is in the Gondevas family blood. As young as 12 years old, John spent his summers working at his father’s restaurant in Alabama, learning every aspect of the business from the ground floor up. We had the pleasure of a quick chat with John, who kindly found time to speak with us while juggling the endless tasks of running two thriving restaurants.
Tell me, please. The restaurant business is notoriously difficult. What’s the secret to your success?
Working. Working every single day. You have to have the sense of urgency that you cannot stop working and you have to be here. Luckily for me, I love it. So, it’s constant work but it doesn’t actually feel like work.
I completely get that. Why do you think the Hamilton Inn remains so consistently popular, as the restaurant scene in Jersey City keeps expanding?
Well, we know who we are. We are food guys, we are constantly shifting and changing and tweaking the menu in response to what our customers want. At the end of the day, we are a neighborhood restaurant. That’s it.
It’s true. You are the perfect neighborhood restaurant.
And we love it. Michael and I know about 3,000 people on a first name basis.
What’s it like being in business, as brothers?
Hmmm. Let me answer this carefully! My advice to anyone going into business or thinking of going into business with a family member. You cannot be sensitive. You have to have really thick skin. Otherwise, just don’t. Because we’ll argue all the time about something in the business, but then forget about it instantly. It’s just business.
You have and have always had such great staff. How do you find them?
We hire nice. That’s it. Anything else can be taught. Mistakes with orders, stuff like that happens. And we can fix that. But if I ever see someone being rude to a customer, that’s it. You’re out.
Fair enough! So, what do you make of all the changes in Jersey City in the past ten years?
Well, Jersey City was very different 20 years ago and still much different 10 years ago than today, which is hard to imagine now but it was. But we knew the potential and the location by Hamilton Park, we just knew this was the perfect spot.
How do you feel about the current climate, as a local business owner?
It’s great. It’s a real City, it’s super-progressive and we have progressive leadership. And I also give a lot of credit to the Silvermans, who have done so much to create this neighborhood.
Yes, another successful pair of brothers! Agreed. Thanks for your time, John!
Anytime. Ok, gotta get back to work.