Delray Beach Community Reopens Restaurant After Fistfight, Stalking, Screaming, Threats, Lawsuit…
Director May Have Found Recipe For Success.
BY: ANDREW COLTON | Editor and Publisher
DELRAY BEACH, FL (BocaNewsNow.com) (Copyright © 2021 MetroDesk Media, LLC) — In 2001, a Britney Spears ballad became an unexpected hit. The song, “I’m Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman,” was released well before Britney’s documented real-life drama. The song, today, could be reworked for the real-life drama that lives in the Delray Beach community of Seven Bridges: “It’s Not An HOA, But Not Yet A Country Club.”
It’s a distinction with a difference. Seven Bridges is a community full of Long Islanders, and others, who flocked to the perception of a luxury lifestyle promoted in ads produced by builder GL Homes. The ads played constantly on WCBS-TV, and JetBlue, targeting New Yorkers in their daily lives and as they traveled on discount tickets to see grandparents in Boca. Many of these homeowners saw palm trees and pools and thought they were buying into something like a country club, only to find out that if there’s no golf course or roughly $100,000 initiation fee, you’re just like everyone else who lives in a Florida gated community with a homeowner’s association.
And that has led to problems. Homeowners berating, chastising, and threatening restaurant workers because those restaurant workers knew what many Seven Bridges homeowners failed to accept: a restaurant in an HOA’s clubhouse is nothing more than a restaurant in an HOA’s clubhouse.
Tonight, Seven Bridges will reopen its restaurant for the fourth time, with a fourth operator, in less than four years. Those believing they deserve a country club lifestyle on an HOA budget have now pushed out three restaurant operators that weren’t good enough — or were too good — including a celebrity chef.
BocaNewsNow.com was invited to a trial run on Saturday and found both the food and service to be top quality. The experience was exceptional. The restaurant, returning to the original name “Prime 7,” should be a huge success. If the restaurant fails, like three before, it’s unlikely the management, food quality, or Board of Directors will be to blame. But trend lines point to a challenge.
The first operator, Potions in Motion, is suing Seven Bridges for slander. The second operator, E&M, lasted barely a year. The third — famed Chef Angelo Elia — pulled his business after homeowners complained that his high-quality Italian food was too high-quality and demanded that nachos be added to his menu. Elia then had to deal with one woman punching another during a holiday meal, and then a third woman chasing his staffers through the kitchen as she complained about wait times.
Angelo Elia disassociated from Seven Bridges months ago. He’s focusing on his restaurants in South Florida and Aspen. Sources say the restaurateur, whose business is upscale dining, “had never in his career seen customers behaving like many of the Seven Bridges homeowners.”
Now, well-known chef Jorge Negron is at the helm as “Prime 7” reopens tonight. His experience is legitimate. His hopes are high that his company has the magic formula.
“Most of my career,” said Negron, “I’ve been part of high-end hotels including the Ritz Carlton and St. Regis, and I could not be more excited to share all the knowledge and experience in this new chapter here at Seven Bridges.”
Negron and his team are being helped, and watched, by Aliya Unger — a member of the Seven Bridges board of directors who adopted the restaurant makeover as her project. The businesswoman relied on nearly four years of community data from the HOA’s “point of sale” system to see what people were actually buying, and how much they were spending, to craft a business model that works.
“We all know by now that there are no guarantees in life and certainly no guarantees in a community restaurant,” said Unger, “but we did our very best to take in as much community feedback as possible and learn from previous experiences.”
Among data points of note: Unger learned that Sushi is a hot item in the community. So are simple, healthy options along with a menu of items such as Chicken Parm, Crabcake, BBQ Chicken Pizza, and NY Strip Steak. Kid meals are also vital in a community with lots of young families.
“All of the decisions that were made were based on data,” said Unger, who has logged hundreds of volunteer hours on the restaurant’s rebirth.
Social media data reviewed by BocaNewsNow.com suggests that Unger may have found a winning formula. Not only are social media posts largely positive from those invited to trial runs, but reservations are now fully booked for at least a week. The question, however, is what happens then.
“No matter how good the food is,” wrote a homeowner to BocaNewsNow.com, “people here will never be happy. They think they’re living in Boca West, or Polo Club, or St. Andrews. They’re not. You don’t get dressed up to eat dinner in a clubhouse. You eat dinner in a clubhouse because you don’t have to get dressed up. That seems to be lost on these New Yorkers who uprooted their lives for a marketing campaign they saw on TV.”
“There are hundreds of restaurants within five miles of Seven Bridges, The Bridges, Lotus and Boca Bridges,” said another homeowner speaking of the GL enclave on Lyons Road near Clint Moore Road. “The joy of eating in a clubhouse is knowing what it is and understanding what it is not. GL Homes sold a dream. In reality, you are unlikely to sustain a full-service restaurant with just 701 homes.”
“Jorge Negron’s senior team expects to be here six days a week,” she said. “It shows the drive and passion for success.”
For Britney Spears, moving from girl to woman proved to be quite a challenge. For Seven Bridges, where a federal discrimination lawsuit and depositions show lots of women acting like girls, homeowners knowing the difference between an HOA and a Country Club is the key to the restaurant’s future. Will top-quality food served by an attentive, professional waitstaff be enough?
“We believe in the data,” said Unger, “and the restaurant team cares. This will be a success.”
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