The Connell Co. has embarked on a $400 million improvement and expansion of its flagship, 185-acre Connell Corporate Park in Berkeley Heights, now known as The Park, with plans to add new apartments, restaurants, entertainment and park spaces to its existing office buildings and hotel. — Courtesy: Connell
By Joshua Burd
The Connell Co. has unveiled three key additions to the culinary team at its sprawling business and hospitality campus along Interstate 78 in Union County.
The firm, the owner of the 185-acre complex known as The Park in Berkeley Heights, said Brian Bistrong will serve as the property’s corporate executive chef and culinary program director of Table & Banter, its catering and events hospitality group. Also joining the Table & Banter team is Ashley Davis as director of pastry and baking and Louis Bayla as executive chef for Grain & Cane Bar & Table, The Park’s on-site restaurant featuring traditional American fare.
Together, they bring decades of experience working with world-renowned chefs in the New York City dining scene.
“The Connell Company is carefully curating The Park to be more than a place to sit behind a desk for eight hours every day,” said Shane Connell, executive vice president of The Connell Co. “Instead, we’re working to transform the property into an inclusive activated campus that offers a more fulfilling and productive alternative to working from home. I’m incredibly excited to welcome Brian, Ashley and Louis to our hospitality team, and I look forward to their unique contributions to the world-class dining experiences we’re creating here at The Park.”
The new hires come in the midst of a $400 million redevelopment of what was long known as Connell Corporate Park. Taking cues from West Coast-based tech firms and their respective corporate campuses, Connell said The Park’s new culinary offerings will be complemented by new and upgraded design, operations, wellness features and shared amenities.
The owner is also taking a new approach to the traditional multitenant office park, in that users across the campus have access to shared amenities and services, including indoor and outdoor workspaces, gyms, game rooms, fitness instructors and nutritionists. Those offerings also include wellness services, on-site health care and a broad range of food options.
The new culinary team will also support The Park’s forthcoming destination restaurant and entertainment concepts — part of the campus’ ambitious expansion plans that also include retail and residential uses, Connell said. When complete, The Park will be a suburban campus with cuisine, services and amenities that the firm feels will rival offerings in New York City.
“At The Park, our culinary approach prioritizes health and wellness and the inherent belief that food experiences are an opportunity to help people create lasting memories, share connections and ultimately lead healthier, happier lives,” Bistrong said. “I’m eager and excited to work alongside Ashley Louis, and the other team members at The Park, combining our shared passion for fresh, locally sourced ingredients and high-end cuisine to bring first-rate fine dining to Berkeley Heights.”
Bistrong, a veteran of the New York City restaurant industry, has worked alongside acclaimed chefs such as Wolfgang Puck, David Bouley, Gray Kunz and Bernard Loiseau, according to a news release. His move to The Park is a homecoming, Connell said, noting that he grew up in rural New Jersey.
For her part, Davis previously served as pastry chef for Dean & DeLuca, one of New York City’s best-known gourmet markets. While there she was responsible for developing all menu and holiday specialty items and creating items for its signature pastry line.
As executive chef for Grain & Cane, Bayla will leverage years of experience working in Manhattan’s dining scene, including at Danny Meyer’s Gramercy Tavern, and as executive sous chef at Andrew Carmellini’s Tribeca-based Italian restaurant, Locanda Verde, the news release said. At Grain & Cane, Bayla will be responsible for menu curation with a focus on seasonality and ingredient-driven courses, while partnering with regional farmers and suppliers to source fresh ingredients.
The Table & Banter team is focused on expanding The Park’s dining options, with new offerings such as a high-quality office dining concept known as The Counter Marketplace that includes preorder and grab-and-go meals. Tenants also have access to a higher-end food hall-style café providing hot and cold breakfast as well as lunch options and RT Fresh, The Park’s exclusive customizable meal plan service, which offers on-site and to-go options.
“At The Park, we take pride in being able to elevate the experiences across our entire campus, including all of our dining options,” said Steve Kilroy, Connell’s senior vice president of hospitality and marketing. “Whether you’re grabbing a meal to take home to the family at The Counter Marketplace, or sitting down at Grain & Cane for a relaxing dinner — we’re curating high-end, thoughtful menus that reflect both our appreciation for fine dining and the fresh ingredients made available thanks to our regional farmers and artisans.”
Future plans to expand dining options at The Park include new additions such as a Southern California-style taco stand, a brewery and a beer garden with rooftop event space and a 1950s-inspired hamburger restaurant, the news release said. In addition to dining, Connell plans to add a 328-unit residential component, which will be known as The District, along with entertainment retail, outdoor parks and athletic fields.
The Park’s existing buildings include 1.5 million square feet of office and flexible workspace that is home to the likes of L’Oreal, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Samsung. The campus also features a 176-room Embassy Suites, a Life Time Fitness, programmed green spaces for active and passive recreation and Round Table Studios, a new 40,000-square-foot social club and co-working and flexible workspace facility.
According to Connell, the phased upgrade plan at The Park is slated for final completion in 2023.