The panorama of Cookman Ave. on a dark, cool, fall night is satisfying for anyone who hoped Asbury Park’s recent shore-front revival would come to fruition. The windows of Brickwall and the newly-opened, world-class vegan restaurant Goldie’s are decorated with the silhouettes of people drinking and laughing. Right up the road on Kingsley Street there is a line out the door for Porta, which has become commonplace because of their deliciously-fresh food and late-night dance club.

One-by-one each restaurant has popped up at a different time in this revitalization, like acts in a play, with a beginning, middle and ending yet to be determined. And like a play, there’s been one director creating it all – Smith.

Smith is not a person, but a branding firm, whose success can be traced back to when it was known by another name, Knockout. Mark Hinchliffe, who has been the company’s head copywriter for seven years, says Meg Brunette founded Knockout in Rahway in 1990 as a printing company. Hinchliffe explained Brunette’s vision was “to bring integrity to the print industry.”  As the company grew, Knockout began to venture into graphic design. In the mid-90’s Brunette and her partner Kyle Lepree moved to Asbury, seeing potential, when many others had given up on the city.

3-(1)Some examples of Smith’s design and marketing work

Lepree, along with friend Jason Watt, became business partners with Brunette and opened up in an office on the 8th floor of the 601 Bangs Avenue building (where Asbury Anchor and parent triCityNews are also located). After years of success, Hinchliffe says all three partners discussed their futures and what they wanted for the company.

“Essentially, they wanted to create, ” says Hinchliffe. “One of the possibilities that came out of this meeting was to open a restaurant.” And with little-to-no experience in the industry, Knockout opened Brickwall in 2006.

DSC_8475Photo by Kerri Sullivan

9The new Raw Bar at Brickwall

DSC_8477Photo by Kerri Sullivan

“Asbury was something of a ghost town. Brickwall really anchored Cookman Avenue for the locals of the city, and created a destination for people that wanted to feel a sense of city living, ” said Hinchliffe. “It felt a little dangerous to come to Brickwall back then – there was a sense of excitement for people and a sense of in-the-know.”

Eventually The Annex opened in the space next door to Brickwall which served as the neighborhood dive of sorts. The Annex recently underwent a rehab which saw its dark, lowlit atmosphere transformed into an extension of the Brickwall for the most part.



Porta came along five years later, anchoring an area that, frankly people were staying away from. Hinchliffe credits Brunette with being the real visionary, always creating something that currently doesn’t exist.

DSC_8441Photo by Kerri Sullivan

10The Pan-roasted Day Boat Octopus at Porta

After the opening of Goldie’s back in late August of this year, one had to wonder if the company knew Asbury’s comeback was partly because of them. Hinchliffe says he doesn’t think there was ever a conscious thought of, “Hey, we can bring this city back, ” but the company had an innate feeling that building a meaningful brand would attract people.

“If our focus had been to bring people to Asbury, we probably would have asked them what they wanted. And they would have told us. But that’s not how we operate. You have to be a committed stand for your own vision, to deliver to people something they didn’t know they wanted because they weren’t aware of the possibility of it. You create the desire out of an all-in commitment to your vision.”


14The dining room and bar at Goldies

Each restaurant has opened after one person has championed the next idea (Hinchliffe, who is vegan, pitched the idea for Goldie’s) and they don’t just do it for the sake of being different.

“There is a very fierce commitment, passion and excitement to each brand vision. That’s what guides us, ” says Hinchliffe. We feel that we can create anything – it doesn’t matter what industry it’s in, or what our experience/lack of experience is on it. We get passionate about something, we align to going after it, and then we go after it with velocity.”

DSC_8491Coming Soon! Pascal & Sabine. Photo by Kerri Sullivan

Though some may falter for a fear of over extending themselves, Hinchliffe says him and his team operate on a high level of communication. They expect breakdowns will happen, and from that comes “breakthroughs.” There is a belief their work will transform their personal selves.

This year, Knockout turned into Smith, because they wanted to put all of their talents under one roof (Watt’s brother Jim is an architect who built Porta) and named themselves “Smith” because of the anonymity (Smith being the most common name) and this idea of a “maker.” (wordsmith, blacksmith, etc.).

DSC_8488Coming Soon! Pascal & Sabine. Photo by Kerri Sullivan

Smith plans to open three more restaurants in New Jersey. Pascal & Sabine, a European brasserie-inspired restaurant that’s opening up on the ground floor of the 601 Bangs building that they now own. The other two are The Monk Room in Newark, part of the Porta brand without the park or club, and a three-floor Porta in Jersey City.

Hinchliffe knows as they get bigger they will still operate under the same philosophy.

10-(1)Inside Goldie’s

“Everything is brand. Which means that every choice, no matter how small, is ultimately a further curation of the brand. Everything matters. All of our brands have their own core purpose. They allow us to see, very quickly, whether our choices are on-brand or off-brand. Because when you operate from purpose, you are able to see things much more clearly.”

For more information on the Smith empire visit



  1. Hi
    You as a team deserve acclaim and recognition for what you created and achieved in revitalizing Asbury Park neighborhood. Awesome, indeed! Wish you great success in your next project. I have a Fine Dinging Restaurant in New Brunswick, HOTOKE. If you ever wish to venture your creative ideas, you could utilize our place.
    With warmest regards,

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