On any given night, vehicles of all shapes and sizes, late model and old, crowd into the parking lot of Mike and Suzanne Costello’s Library III restaurant -- with good reason. The steakhouse has consistently been voted “Best Steaks” by the local newspaper since 1985. We asked Suzanne for a few secrets to the restaurant's success, from starting it up to maintaining its excellent reputation.
I think the first ingredient of success is choosing quality products. You’ll need to find a good meat purveyor, and that won’t be cheap. And even the best steak won’t be good if it’s prepared with the wrong equipment. A good grill will run you about $4,000. Make sure you have ample funding so your restaurant is the best it can be and you have everything you need when you start out.
Remember not to overstock. You have to order the proper amount of product so as not to create wasteful spending. You want to sell what you’re purchasing, not throw it out because it’s gone bad. That’s just good money down the drain. When you’re first opening, you can’t be positive what kind of crowds you’ll attract, so this can be tricky. By the same token, you don’t want to tell diners you’ve run out of whatever they’re asking for either.
Your staff is an ingredient to your success that can’t be overstated. Hire chefs, then train them to your specific needs. Treat them -- and all your support staff -- with respect. I think of the Library III as a family in many ways -- a little dysfunctional at times, but able to pull together when it’s needed. Getting along is important. There’s no time for personality conflicts. Mike has been with us for over 30 years; he first started working here as a busboy even before that. We’re set up so diners can order their steaks right at the kitchen window, to their specifications, which works well. But the wait staff serves; customers don’t have to come back and pick up their meals.
Having Mike at the helm is a huge aspect of our success. He loves the restaurant, so he doesn’t stay behind the scenes. His enthusiasm is contagious. He’s always there, saying hello and goodbye at the door. He loves seeing our regulars and meeting people who come in for the first time. A good steakhouse is warm, friendly, welcoming. You’ll need this in addition to great food. We also have live entertainment in the lounge area at least four nights a week, and the walls are papered to look like bookshelves. Altogether, it creates a certain ambiance. Choose what you want yours to be, then create it.
I was answering the phone one evening and a man asked me, “How can I get a steak to taste just like your New York on the grill?” I told him he’d need a good steak to start with and the best grill he could afford, then he’d need a good chef who could cut, trim and cook the steak just right. And it would be nice to have someone serve it to him. Or he could just come in to the Library III and enjoy a nice dinner. I didn’t even discuss setting up or cleaning up. I think he got it. He laughed and said, “I think you’re right.” Sometimes, it’s fun answering the phone. Of course, advertising and word of mouth count for a lot, too.
The Library III is inarguably the most popular steakhouse in Atlantic County, New Jersey. Suzanne and Mike Costello and their happily dysfunctional staff have been serving residents and tourists for nearly 40 years.