September 23, 2018 | ° F

A hearty history of strombolis at Stuff Yer Face

Photo by Shirley Yu |

The pepperoni boli is one of more than 30 bolis offered at Stuff Yer Face.

After Bill Washawanny graduated from the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, he did what most prospective pilots only dream of doing: he opened a stromboli restaurant in New Brunswick.

During his time in Florida, Washawanny, founder and owner of Stuff Yer Face, became fascinated with the stromboli at a local pizzeria. It wasn’t long before he introduced friend and business partner, Anthony Tola, to the pizza-like sandwich.

From the start, Washawanny and Tola were an entrepreneurial pair, working on a photography company together as well as the construction of a planetarium.

While visiting friends at Rutgers, Washawanny and Tola realized the late-night dining scene in New Brunswick was severely lacking. It needed elegance. It needed pizzazz. It needed ... the “boli.”

Photo: Shirley Yu

Stuff Yer Face does not only offer bolis, but meals like the garden burger as well.

Photo: Shirley Yu

Stuff Yer Face opened in New Brunswick on Oct. 22, 1977 with a minimal menu featuring pizza, subs, pasta and only a single boli — the ‘Original.’

When Washawanny and Tola came across a vacant Easton Avenue storefront, the adventure began. Purchasing dough, cheese and tomato sauce from their neighborhood supermarket, the duo experimented with making stromboli in the kitchen of Tola’s parents.

After about an hour of work, they managed to create a quality boli recipe. With no prior restaurant experience whatsoever, Washawanny and Tola signed the lease, and 43 Easton Ave., now home to Noodle Gourmet, was soon theirs.

On Oct. 22, 1977, Stuff Yer Face in New Brunswick opened its doors for the first time. The menu was minimal, featuring pizza, subs, pasta and only a single boli — the “Original,” with mozzarella cheese, capicola, salami, onions and peppers.

Over time, Stuff Yer Face employees began to experiment with different combinations of ingredients in the stromboli. This brought about the addition of numerous new bolis to the menu.

For example, the “Emily Boli” was named after a Cook College student and waitress at Stuff Yer Face who supported the use of fresh vegetables in the kitchen, and proposed topping pizzas with broccoli and eggplant.

Before long, Washawanny began calling himself “Bill Boli.”

Feeling restricted by the restaurant’s diminutive size, Washawanny embraced the need to expand and moved Stuff Yer Face up the street to its present location in 1982. Over 150 years old, the former house at 49 Easton Ave. underwent many renovations before becoming the new homebase for boli business.

In the early 1980s, Stuff Yer Face became a small franchise. Restaurants were opened in locations such as Long Branch, Elizabeth, South Orange, Newark, East Brunswick, Delaware and Washington, D.C. In 1983, Stuff Yer Face went public, selling 5 million shares on the NASDAQ stock market.

With his business rapidly expanding, Washawanny soon realized it was all too much. He never wished to be in charge of such a colossal company, so he opted to reduced the size of his business, closing many Stuff Yer Face restaurants.

In 1990, Washawanny struck a deal with Michigan-based submarine sandwich chain Tubby’s, merging the two businesses into Tubby’s, Inc.

Hoping to hold on to his original creation, Washawanny purchased the rights to franchise two Stuff Yer Face restaurants back from Tubby’s. For 10 years, he paid royalty fees to Tubby’s for this privilege. In 2000, Washawanny once again became an independent owner of Stuff Yer Face.

These days, Stuff Yer Face is still alive and kicking, but times have changed. Tola moved on to start The Old Bay Restaurant in New Brunswick. Washawanny remains the owner of Stuff Yer Face, but the restaurant is now in the hands of general manager Matt Poznick.

At the age of 15, most boys are occupied with video games, skateboarding or television. Poznick, on the other hand, was busy handling the cash register at the East Brunswick Stuff Yer Face.

When the East Brunswick location closed in 2001, he relocated to the New Brunswick restaurant. During his time with Stuff Yer Face, Poznick has worked nearly every position, including bartender, busboy and cook. In 2004, he took on the role of general manager.

Poznick attributes much of the New Brunswick Stuff Yer Face’s success to their location and affordability. Because the restaurant is in proximity to College Avenue Campus, much of its clientele are university students. Furthermore, the restaurant provides quality eats for a reasonable price.

“You could have a family of 10 come out here and spend less than $100,” Poznick said. “We’re affordable. You get a good meal for what you’re paying.”

On occasion, Stuff Yer Face will encounter a customer from their past returning to experience the beloved bolis they encountered during their college years. Sometimes, these patrons are still in possession of their “Boli the Kid’s Gang” membership cards, which provided a discount to recurring customers in the 1980s.

In those days, Boli the Kid was the restaurant’s mascot, a chubby-cheeked cartoon cowboy complete with hat and spurs. The Stuff Yer Face website jokes that “Boli is retired now and only makes special appearances.”

The restaurant now seats around 155 people and features a bar, outside dining area and upstairs dining area. The menu includes 35 toppings and more than 30 different bolis. Each can be ordered in three different sizes: a 4.5-inch “baby,” a 9-inch “large” or an 18-inch “huge.”

Poznick estimates that the restaurant prepares around 300 bolis per day. He believes that after years of refinement, the Stuff Yer Face boli has reached a noteworthy degree of excellence.

On the menu, Stuff Yer Face offers a “My Favorite Boli,” allowing customers to choose any five toppings in conjunction with peppers, onions, mozzarella and tomato sauce to customize their boli.

“People like to mix up sauces that you wouldn’t think would go [together], like honey mustard, tomato sauce and hot sauce,” Poznick said. “If that’s what the customer wants, we’ll put it in there.”

The restaurant features 14 draft beers on tap and more than 100 bottled beers, including many international brews. They even offer Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier, a wheat beer produced in the world’s oldest operating brewery.

“We pride ourself on having a great selection from all around the world,” Poznick said.

In 2007, Stuff Yer Face received a commendation from AOL City Guide for “City’s Best Beer.” Similarly, the restaurant made top 10 for AOL City Guide’s “Best Beer” in 2008.

To motivate customers to expand their palates, Stuff Yer Face offers membership into their “Stuff Yer Face Beer Club.” Patrons taking part in the program work toward the goal of tasting 75 different beers, receiving various rewards along the way. Those who reach the mark receive a $50 gift certificate.

Throughout the years, Stuff Yer Face has seen some famous faces. Celebrity chef and Rutgers alumnus Mario Batali began his cooking career at Stuff Yer Face.

Batali has mentioned his roots at the restaurant in New Jersey Monthly Magazine, during an episode of ABC’s “The Chew” and on numerous other occasions. A picture of Batali in his youth hangs on the wall of Stuff Yer Face immediately to right of the entrance.

Stuff Yer Face was even showcased in a 2009 episode of Travel Channel’s reality television series “Man v. Food.” During the segment, Poznick leads host Adam Richman in the creation of his very own custom boli.

Immediately after the episode aired, Stuff Yer Face began receiving phone calls from customers eager to try the boli constructed by Richman. Due to high demand, the restaurant had no choice but to add the “Man v. Food Boli” to the menu.

The Man v. Food Boli features brie and cheddar cheeses with onions, spinach, tomatoes, garlic, steak, chicken and ancho chipotle sauce.

Yesterday was Stuff Yer Face’s 36th anniversary. As one of New Brunswick’s most cherished restaurants, it has secured a reputation for quality and effectively integrated itself into Rutgers culture.

By Matt Mikolay

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