This FDU student just opened his third restaurant: The Committed Pig in Morristown

Jerry RotunnoAbove: Jerry Rotunno, a student in Fairleigh Dickinson University's hotel and restaurant management bachelor's program smiles inside the dining room of his restauarant, "the committed pig." Recently opened in Morristown, N.J., this is Rotunno's third restaurant.

 

By Dan Landau

The difference between involvement and commitment are best explained by bacon and eggs, where as the chicken is involved but the pig is committed.

In real life, Jerry Rotunno is committed. This Fairleigh Dickinson University hospitality student is totally committed to “taking over the industry,” as he puts it. To that end, Rotunno recently opened his third restaurant, a burger and pancake house on the Morristown Green that specializes in serving comfort food and is appropriately named, “the committed pig.” Rotunno has another “committed pig” down the shore in Manasquan and also owns “food.” in Summit, N.J.

Rotunno took a meandering path to his present success, but his goal was always the same: to work and thrive in the food industry.

“I was one of those people who was always in the food industry since I was young,” says Rotunno. “My mother and grandmother worked for a catering company, so it was one of those things which was kind of forced on you and you either reject it and hate the food industry or love it. It was instant love for me. That’s how I got my start.”   

To live up to family expectations Rotunno tried the traditional college route, but dropped out of Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J. after a year-and-a-half and went back to food service for a while.

“I was working my butt off with the catering company and I made the decision that working in the food industry was what I wanted to do, but I wanted to do it in a big way,” says Rotunno. He followed that thought up by earning an associate degree in restaurant management from Walnut Hill College in Philadelphia, Pa.

Walnut Hill proved pivotal for Rotunno. “When I dropped out of Seton Hall, I felt like college wasn’t for me and I questioned whether I was smart enough for it. At Walnut Hill, I did phenomenal and graduated in the top 3% of my class. The experience taught me that I wasn’t an idiot.”

Full of confidence, Rotunno took a job with food service company, Gourmet Dining, starting as “the kid who cut carrots.” Rotunno quickly moved up the ranks, becoming (ironically) a chef at Seton Hall University and then quality control director for the Seton Hall account.

Starting to taste success, Rotunno applied to Fairleigh Dickinson University’s hotel and restaurant management program. “I wanted to know, ‘how much further can I go?’ I thought more education would help me in the long run so I applied to FDU. That was in 2003,” he says. Unfortunately, an injury sidelined Rotunno for a while. “I was really close to finishing my bachelor’s when I hurt my knee. I had to stop school and work to pay off the surgery.” 

Time passed and in 2009, everything came together for him and he opened his first restaurant, “food.” at age 29.

committed pig“I always wanted to open my own restaurant and I found a financial backer work with. After a handshake, he loaned me the money and I bought out a partner in a restaurant in Summit. I closed the restaurant for two months and redid everything, from the menu to the physical design of the place.

“When we reopened, we didn’t have a sign, just two stickers in the window that said ‘food.’” says Rotunno. The name stuck and Rotunno eventually did get a sign for “food.”

The concept for “food.” was very much a product of the times. “It was 2009 and the economy was still completely messed up. What people needed was a ‘culinary hug,’ as I call it,” he says. “I wanted to give comfort food in a setting where you feel like you’re going out to a nice place and the prices are moderate.”

Food’s success led to the two “committed pig” restaurants, the first of which opened in Manasquan in 2012.

“I looked at the ‘food.’ menu and saw we were selling the most of cheeseburgers, grilled cheese, pancakes, and omelets. My partner and I said, ‘if we’re making most of our money on these things, why don’t we slim the menu down and take the best of what’s at ‘food.’ and try a whole new place with that?’ It was a roll of the dice,” he says.

Rotunno’s gamble paid off. Despite hitting a big speed bump by the name of Hurricane Sandy shortly after opening, Manasquan’s “committed pig” has been a thriving success. So much so, that people are often willing to wait an hour-and-a-half just to order their burger.

After the triumphs of Manasquan, Rotunno decided to expand his operation and open a second “committed pig.”

“Manasquan and Summit are pretty similar — these are the downtowns of America. Then you have the Hobokens and Jersey Cities and they are a totally different clientele,” says Rotunno. “Morristown is a test run to see how the ‘committed pig’ concept would work in a more metropolitan environment.”

So far, revenues at the Morristown “committed pig” are far above projections.

The success brought Rotunno back to FDU to complete his bachelor’s degree.

“I was 21 credits away from graduating when my knee injury forced me to leave FDU 10 years ago. Now I’m running a multimillion dollar business and with something that large, there’s a lot more risk than a simple mom and pop shop,” says Rotunno.

“Even after opening three successful restaurants, I still learn stuff all the time. I’m learning a lot at Fairleigh Dickinson and I like being able to use what I learn in my classes in my restaurants. For example, in my hospitality accounting classes, they teach how you how to take one unit and turn it into 10 — how to standardize things and evaluate a company on a big scale.”

While he completes his undergraduate coursework, Rotunno continues to plan ways to keep growing and “take over the industry.”