Bertha D. Torres, owner of La Councha Restaurant, was a key figure in the Jersey City Community.
Bertha D. Torres, owner of La Councha Restaurant, was a key figure in the Jersey City Community.

Jersey City mourns beloved restaurant owner

Bertha D. Torres, 64, a proud resident of Jersey City and beloved owner of La Concha Restaurant on Central Avenue, died on Tuesday, April 16. She owned and operated the restaurant for nearly 30 years and was an icon in the community.

“Central Avenue will not be the same without Bertha,” said Sanford Fishman, CASID President and pharmacist at Bond Drugs. “She was a successful entrepreneur, and we were lucky to have her as a member of our main street community for well over two decades. Not only was she a go-getter, people loved her and her food. On behalf of the Central Avenue SID, we send our sincere condolences to her family, friends, and all who share in the loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”

Born in the Dominican Republic, Bertha began her 30-year career as a restaurateur in Hoboken and moved to the current location on Central Avenue around 1995. The business was established in 1957 and had two previous owners. Bertha ran the family-style restaurant with the help of her three adult children, Gilfredo O. Dejardens, Nathalia B. Dejardens and Rogelio E. Dejardens.

“Bertha’s love of cooking and the people she served motivated her to work hard every day,” said Nathalia. “She was always very grateful for the blessings in her life and gave back to the community every chance she had.  Whether it was patrons in need of a meal or a poor family in another country, Bertha would give of herself to help those in need.”

Bertha was known to greet customers with a big smile and an “Hola!” Nothing made her happier than serving what was quite possibly the best homemade Spanish food. She was known for her roast pork, beef stew, and beans.

Hundreds of local residents and longtime customers took to social media this past week to share fond memories and the impact Bertha had on their lives. “She was the best person and always made me feel so welcomed,” said Marisol Cruz Artega in a Facebook post. “She always remembered me and my family no matter how long we hadn’t seen each other! My heart is heavy knowing that I’ll never see her smiling face!”

Bertha’s legacy will live on through her three children who have announced that they will honor their mother’s memory by continuing to run the family business. La Concha Restaurant will reopen soon and will continue to serve Jersey City for years to come.

County court house will be demolished soon

After decades of planning to replace the Hudson County Administration Building on Newark Avenue, the county’s plans to replace it are underway.

“We’re moving ahead with the plans,” said Freeholder Bill O’Dea.

A new complex is planned for the property directly across Newark Avenue from the existing site, property the county has already acquired. The project will create a complex that will handle all court operations, but will include street revisions that include the extending of Central Avenue, a critical route to the Heights, to Newark Avenue for the first time.

Assignment Judge Peter Bariso, Jr. has been pushing for the new complex for years. Studies conducted since the 1980s showed the current building to be in horrible shape.

Named after Frank J. Guarini, a former congressman with deep roots in the Journal Square area, the $300 million project will take years to complete. Once constructed, the county is expected to sell off the existing court house property to a private developer to offset the cost of the new court complex.

The current building was constructed in the 1960s on a site that also housed the original county jail until the 1990s when the jail was relocated to Kearny.

VIP Diner is sold

VIP Diner, well-known as a political hangout for generations, has been sold. One proposal for the site, on Sip Avenue just south of Journal Square, is a 25-story building.

The VIP, because of its proximity to the county court house, freeholder offices, and numerous other services connected with Jersey City and Hudson County governments, served as a meeting place.

Sweeney and Cunningham address reentry conference

Participating in the legislative panel discussion at the New Jersey Reentry Corporation’s Annual Conference, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senator Sandra Cunningham addressed the importance of reentry services as a key part of the broader criminal justice reforms in New Jersey.

“We have been pursuing a broad criminal justice reform effort in New Jersey, with Ban the Box, bail reform, expungement laws, and the creation of a Reentry Services Commission,” said Sweeney, a south Jersey senator. “Reentry should be part of these reform efforts.  If we want to give a second chance to those who were incarcerated, we have to provide them with a fair opportunity to succeed. Addiction to drugs or alcohol is a barrier to success and a destructive burden in their lives.”

“My late husband, mayor and State Senator Glenn Cunningham, established the Second Chance program in Jersey City,” said Senator Cunningham (D-Hudson), the Legislature’s leading advocate for criminal justice reforms, including expungement legislation. “It’s been fulfilling to watch this initiative grow and expand throughout New Jersey. The New Jersey Reentry Corporation has provided critically needed services, including addiction treatment, housing referrals, job training and employment, legal services, and linkage to healthcare, which are all necessary to support persons returning from incarceration.”

“Senate President Sweeney and Senator Cunningham have been steadfast advocates for criminal justice reform and reentry,” said former N.J. Governor Jim McGreevey, chairman of the NJRC. “We would not be here today, but for their commitment to continue the late Mayor Glenn Cunningham’s Second Chance Program throughout our state.”

The NJRC provides critically needed services to court-involved individuals to empower them to achieve healthy self-sufficiency, reduce recidivism and foster safer communities. The recidivism rate for formerly-incarcerated individuals in New Jersey is 50 percent. The rate for NJRC clients is 20 percent.

The day-long conference, “The Road to Salvation: From Addiction to Employment,” put a focus on addiction treatment, healthcare and job training for those reentering society. The NJRC provides clients with substance abuse treatment, structured sober housing, job training, employment opportunities, linkage to legal services and healthcare, as well as spiritual mentoring.

The Reentry Services Commission created through legislation cosponsored by Sweeney, will review all aspects of prisoner reentry, including specific services necessary for successful reentry, current obstacles to prisoners receiving these services, and it will propose solutions to improve the process. Former Governor McGreevey was appointed to the commission by Sweeney.

HCCC to launch Workforce Leadership Academy

Hudson County Community College (HCCC) announced that it will sponsor a Workforce Leadership Academy, a program designed to develop a local network of workforce development leaders to collaborate on solutions to common challenges. The academy will be run in partnership with The Aspen Institute.

The Hudson County Workforce Leadership Academy is the latest in a series of Aspen Institute-sponsored academies in the United States and Canada, and the first offered in partnership with a community college. The Hudson County Workforce Leadership Academy is one of four to be launched this year through the support of JPMorgan Chase, The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Hudson County Community College has received additional funding from the County of Hudson, the LeFrak family, and Mack-Cali.

Academy Fellows will be selected in a competitive application process. The college and its partners encourage senior-level managers from nonprofit organizations, business associations, union-based training efforts, public agencies, and community colleges, who have the authority to implement changes, to apply. Applications are available online. The deadline is May 24, 2019. Interested applicants can learn more about the academy on an informational webinar, Friday, May 3 at 11 a.m. ET. Registration can be found here.

“Hudson County Community College is proud to sponsor the Hudson County Workforce Leadership Academy in partnership with The Aspen Institute,” said HCCC President Dr. Chris Reber. “The Workforce Leadership Academies have a proven record of successfully advancing greater economic opportunities and developing networks of leaders and talent. We are sure the academy will significantly benefit the people, businesses, and industries in Hudson County.”

The Academy will create and support a peer-learning community of workforce leaders with a one-year educational and networking experience to help them manage challenges in addressing changes in technology, business norms, and policy. These senior-level workforce Fellows will work with leading practitioners from throughout the United States, learn about practical planning tools, and collaborate to reflect on and develop effective strategies to strengthen the local workforce system. Alumni of the academies become part of the Aspen Institute Economic Fellows Network.

“We look forward to working with Hudson County leaders and observing what they can accomplish over the next year as they work and learn together,” said Sheila Maguire, Senior Fellow at The Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Program and director of the local network of Workforce Leadership Academies. “The Academies are a rare opportunity for reflection for these local leaders and will help to build a long-lasting network that can bring more people into quality jobs in the Hudson County community.”

Library Foundation to host 16th annual fundraiser

The Jersey City Free Public Library Foundation will host its 16th annual fundraiser, “Masquerade Ball & Last Dance,” to celebrate the 50-year career of Library Director and Library Foundation founder Priscilla Gardner, while also raising funds for capital improvements to the Main Library, including the restoration of the historic Tiffany glass window and monumental marble staircase.

“In light of Director Gardner’s upcoming retirement later this year, the Foundation wishes to honor her 50 years of service to the Jersey City Free Public Library,” said Foundation Board Chairman Michael Ryan. “Priscilla Gardner has made a lasting impact on the Library and the Jersey City community in her tenure as Library Director, and throughout her career.”

For tickets, contact Library Director Priscilla Gardner at 472 Jersey Ave., 3rd Floor, or by phone at 201-547-4788, or Library Public Information Officer Shane Smith at 201-547-4579 or Tickets may also be purchased online at

All proceeds from ticket sales, silent auction bids, and other donated funds will benefit the Jersey City Free Public Library Foundation, in support of the Main Library’s renovations.