Dave Jacey, ’88 ’23P
Black Bear Bar & Grill
Hoboken, New Jersey

Bitten by the hospitality bug

The expected path for a Lehigh finance major is to nail a high-paying position at a top firm immediately after graduation and begin ascending the proverbial corporate ladder. When Dave Jacey ’88 ’23P started down that path, he quickly realized it was not going to offer the fulfillment he was looking for in a long-term career. His heart was driving him toward a different goal.

He started renting loft spaces to host parties with his fellow Lehigh alums for special events and holidays and became enamored and energized by the scene. He was inspired to journey further and began working in the trendy Manhattan supper clubs of the ’90s. After five years of managing establishments for other owners, he ventured into self-employment by opening the Blue Star Tavern in 1993.

In subsequent years, he added a whiskey bar, steakhouse, and additional taverns to his hospitality enterprise. Today he owns three establishments on Washington Street in Hoboken, N.J. Namely, his flagship location is Black Bear Bar & Grill. He also owns Mills Tavern and TallyHo Saloon. Jacey is always keeping his eye on new opportunities and has a potential fourth development project in the works, also on Washington Street.

Fewer cigars; more TVs

Over 26 years ago, Jacey was a 30-something in Hoboken, N.J., aimed at building the ideal hangout for himself and his peers: a cozy lodge with whiskey and cigars. The name Black Bear seemed to fit the vibe. Jacey’s first full restaurant and bar opened in 1996 and still appeals to Hoboken crowds — though with fewer cigars and a few more TVs.

The longevity of Black Bear Bar & Grill is a testament of Jacey’s adaptability over time. He has added new offerings as his customers’ needs have changed while still retaining the welcoming lodge atmosphere he aimed for in 1996. Black Bear now has over 50 HDTVs and an impressive 25-foot TV wall above the bar, appealing to sports fans and happy hour visitors. He also leveraged the outdoor spaces built during the pandemic to offer open-air dining options for the corporate lunch crowd and families frequenting his Sunday brunch and weekly dinner menus.

Jacey insists customer service is the key to any business, which is evident in his business model at Black Bear. Weekly events such as Sunday Brunch (with a Bloody Mary bar), Trivia Wednesday, Taco Thursdays, and Bingo Sunday keep the crowds engaged and Black Bear name on their lips when they walk out the door. Even in the age of social media, Jacey insists word of mouth is still his most successful marketing strategy.

“Follow the path you love”

The next phase of Jacey’s journey extends from what he’s learned in the restaurant business. He values owning the real estate for all of his locations and is now venturing into real estate development. Owning his own businesses — hospitality and now real estate — has allowed him the independence he craved in his career, although it required more commitment and risk. He’s not sure his children are interested in the same path he’s taken, but his advice to daughter Maxine Jacey ’23 is the same advice he received as a young alum: Stick with what you love, and it will all work out.

Jacey talks of Robert Gill ’53 ’75P ’88P, former vice chairman of JCPenney, who got a retail job as a buyer after graduation, a path very different from his peers. Jacey remembers Gill once saying, “It’s not where you start out, it’s where you end up.” Jacey has seen this be true for himself as well and reverberates that message for aspiring professionals. “Don’t be afraid to do the work and follow the path you love. In the end it works out.”

A group of friends sitting at a table at the Black Bear Bar & Grill

In This Image: A group of friends and their furry companion gathered for a delicious meal.

Woman smiling and holding a Black Bear Bar & Grill slider

In This Image: Black Bear Bar & Grill staff holding a fresh slider

A burger swimming in mac and cheese

In This Image: A mac and cheese burger topped with pickles

A sandwich wrap resting on a plate, surrounded by french fries

In This Image: A sandwich wrap surrounded by crispy french fries

A group of friends sitting together and smiling at the Black Bear Bar & Grill

In This Image: A group of friends smiling while eating their food

A medium rare Black Bear Bar & Grill burger cross-section

In This Image: A cross-section of a medium rare burger

A stacked burger resting on a plate surrounded by crispy french fries

In This Image: A stacked burger resting on a plate surrounded by crispy french fries

A mac and cheese burger resting on a plate surrounded by crunchy french fries

In This Image: A mac and cheese burger resting on a plate surrounded by crunchy french fries