Joe Carnevale and his brother Richard grew up in the Princeton restaurant business, which might be why they are attuned to the marketplace and why they are able to adapt when the winds shift.
This summer, along with cousin and partner John Procaccini, they opened The Princeton Sports Bar and Grill in the same location where their family has operated a restaurant for more than 60 years. And so far, Joe Carnevale said, business has been great.
The Carnevale family took over The Annex, at the corner of Nassau and Tulane Streets, in 1948, when it was already established. The Annex was a cozy pub with wood paneling and a large menu – ”dinerish,” Joe Carnevale calls it today.
“It served Princeton really well. Some of the locals, they really loved it,” Carnevale said. “But this area really started to change in the mid-90’s.”
New development and competition from new restaurants were among the key changes in the market in 2006, when they closed The Annex and changed it to Sotto, an Italian restaurant with a fine-dining feel.
“A lot of our clientele was getting to the age to where they’d moved on to other areas. We decided it was time to do something else, something a little more high end, which is something I wanted to do for a while,” Carnevale said.
Sotto did well at first, but like many restaurants, it was hit hard by the economy. So the Carnevales and Procaccini brought in another cousin, Paul Toto, who had experience running successful sports bars in South Jersey, and changed the business plan again. The Princeton Sports Bar and Grill opened July 5.
“So far, it’s been very well received and a lot of fun. It’s funny, we’re seeing a lot of townspeople we hadn’t seen since we made that Sotto change,” Carnevale said.
He said the food is typical of sports bars: with items like cheesesteaks, burgers, roast turkey and pizza – although there are still some deluxe menu items, like pepper-crusted tuna and bacon-wrapped filet mignon.
And with 17 TVs, including a 110-inch projection screen for marquee games, there’s no shortage of opportunities to see the big game, or even some lesser ones.
I’m very happy with it. I think we’ve really found our niche, and I hope this is our last incarnation,” Carnevale said. “It’s casual enough for everybody and I still think the corporate (customer) would enjoy this venue also. I think we’re onto something.”
The restaurant has also been featuring live music or a deejay Saturday nights.
The Princeton Sports Bar and Grill, 128 Nassau Street, Princeton. Phone (609) 921-7555. On the Web: princetonsportsbar.com.