The Bohlsen family—the brains and brawn behind some of our region’s most beloved and critically acclaimed restaurants: Tellers, Prime, Monsoon and H2O—knows practically everything there is to know about owning and operating restaurants on Long Island. After all, they’ve been successful restaurateurs here for decades—a long time in any industry, but a straight-up eternity in the restaurant world.
Since opening Tellers, the Islip institution, twenty-two years ago, the Bohlsen family has come to exist as more than just an authority on the local dining scene; in a myriad of ways, they’ve actually come to define it. Bohlsen brothers Michael and Kurt, for example, know exactly what Long Islanders want to eat and how much they’re willing to pay for it. They understand intuitively which trends from the city will work here, and which others will simply never catch on. They know how to design stunning, luxurious dining rooms and build talented, collaborative teams both in front and back of the house. They also recognize that, for all the elaborate trappings of restaurants, the economics of their survival is rather rudimentary: “If there are asses in seats, you survive,” says Michael Bohlsen, with all the charming straightforwardness he’s known for. “If there aren’t asses in seats, you don’t.”
“So when you go through a pandemic, you realize that all of your eggs are in one basket,” says Michael. “If we can’t get asses in seats, we’re out of business. So we sat around a lot during that downtime, thinking amongst ourselves, and asking, ‘What is it that we can do to diversify? How can we be of service to the people we, up until now, have always regularly served?’”
After a lot of brainstorming with the BRG team—a pillar of which is Sheila Haile, the restaurant group’s indefatigable director of marketing—they arrived at an answer and launched Central Market.
A boutique, chef-curated marketplace that delivers the fine-dining experience directly to customers’ doors, Central Market offers everything from restaurant-quality meal kits to butcher boxes, bottled cocktails and more. But don’t get it twisted; Central Market has less in common with Blue Apron than it does with Eleven Madison Park’s recent ‘EMP at Home’. Their offerings are intentional, seasonal, high quality and designed to create experiences, not just excellent meals.
“Our goal was never to replicate the BRG restaurant experience, but to offer instead a translation of that experience,” says Sheila Haile. “We know that we work best in a luxury, unique space. It doesn’t work for us to jump on a bandwagon. People expect us to do things a little differently. So we launched Central Market as our way to bring what we do into the home, to offer our guests a taste of what they’ve come to love and expect from us in the privacy and comfort of their own kitchens and dining rooms.”
This is where the Bohlsen Restaurant Group’s approach to business differs from its peers. While so many local restaurants spent the spring and summer of 2020 launching one ‘Covid-inspired pivot’ after the other, BRG designed Central Market—launched in the spring of 2020 itself—as a vehicle built to last. Now, Michael Bohlsen and the rest of the BRG team are working to give it all the gas it needs to carry the brand into the future.
“We’re not Hello Fresh, and we’re not Omaha Steaks,” says Michael. “We’re betting a lot on this program, we know that, but we’re investing in the future. And we’re not going to stop until, instead of seeing Peter Luger steak sauce at the supermarket, you’ll go and see Tellers. To get there, you have to build a brand and you have to invest in it.”
And that’s exactly what they’re doing. Central Market recently moved away from its original model of delivery, with pick ups available at select BRG restaurants, and now offers nationwide Fedex shipping—a “ginormous move,” says Michael Bohlsen, that sees “100 hours of work for every package [they] ship.” Additionally, the BRG team has continued to both expand and refine Central Market’s offerings, with several new seasonal and holiday-specific meal kits—all of which are repeatedly tested and refined by BRG chefs and staff members—and more still to come. This, after all, still only the brand’s beginning.
“None of this is for the faint at heart,” says Haile. “It’s a lot of work—more than any of us imagined, really—but we’re dedicated to seeing it through and offering a way to spread the love to our guests both inside and outside of our restaurants. A current customer said to us recently, ‘Hey, do you ship to Phoenix, Arizona?’ Her kids live in Phoenix and she wanted the experience of being able to cook with them, after months of raving to them about Tellers. It is a gift to be able to say to her, ‘Yes, we do ship! We can make that happen.’ It’s not just about sending packages for us.”
For more on Central Market, please visit centralmarketbybrg.com.