Drawn to the Difficult
American Underground Construction, LLC digs in to take on the tough jobs and build ‘a solid foundation of good guys’
Whether it’s for a confined-space city project or an open, multi-acre development, the team at American Underground Construction, LLC (American Underground) thrives on successfully completing the tough jobs—the ones from which other contractors turn away.
Jon DeBeVoise founded the South Plainfield-based company in 2018, later bringing in his stepfather, Angelo Porchetta; his mother, Laurie Porchetta; and brother, Anthony Porchetta. The firm performs heavy civil construction, which includes heavy highway, mass site, concrete, sewer infrastructure and hardscape work, along with soil stabilization and storm drainage systems.
American Underground was an ideal joint venture for this family with deep roots in the construction industry. Before they joined forces, they spent years preparing for what was to come.
Angelo had decades of experience as part of the leadership team of V. Dilorio & Son Inc. (V. Dilorio), a firm that started out mainly doing utility work in the 1950s, eventually growing to handle a variety of heavy highway and underground civil site work including concrete, sidewalks and excavating. By the 1980s, much of its work was for the New Jersey Department of Transportation and included bridge and highway projects, as well as private work, such as airport runways and residential developments. By the 2000s, V. Dilorio had operations in New Jersey, North Carolina and Florida.
And while Jon, a fourth-generation construction worker, was eager to jump right in after finishing high school and join his stepfather in the business, Angelo insisted that Jon start his own. Jon obliged and pursued his own construction company, Absolute Construction Services, which he says built residential and commercial hardscapes and performed excavation. He spent the next decade growing that business and honing the construction and management of large-scale projects.
Meanwhile, Laurie’s family has a long track record of running construction businesses that she assisted with on the office side.
When Angelo retired from V. Dilorio, he joined American Underground to assist with estimating and fieldwork. Laurie and Anthony manage the office.
Jon’s determination to take American Underground to a higher level resulted in the company rapidly gaining a reputation for conquering difficult challenges across large residential, commercial and civil heavy projects in just four years.
Taking on the Toughest Projects
One of the projects Jon is most proud of is Autumn Ridge at Lopatcong, an 11-building apartment and townhome complex in Lopatcong that they completed in 2019.
“Sitewise, that was my biggest package to date,” Jon says, of the 16.5-acre project. “And there were a lot of technicalities to the project, like a large retention pond we designed for them. It also involved large retaining walls—including a single wall that was about 17,200 square feet—and the site had a lot of rock underground.”
Jon says the company ran into unexpected challenges when the site ended up having rock at a much shallower depth than what a geotechnical report had claimed. It meant American Underground needed to extensively hammer, crush and stockpile what amounted to 38,500 cubic yards of stone, which they were able to crush and recycle on-site.
They got it done by adding more of everything—more work hours, more people, more crews and more equipment.
“We worked nonstop,” Jon remembers. “We had four or five hydraulic excavators with hammers and four crews at one point, working 14 hours a day including weekends, to get it done.”
And that is American Underground’s M.O.: building up efforts in every way to successfully complete even the most difficult and unusual projects. Jon finds these tougher projects especially appealing.
Another example is The James, a five-story, mixed-use development in Park Ridge named in honor of the late “The Sopranos” star James Gandolfini, who grew up there. Jon says it was a fun job.
American Underground was tasked with installing a 30,000-square-foot, 96-inch retention system under the parking deck. That wouldn’t be remarkable for this type of development, except that American Underground had to install it after the building’s foundation was already built.
The storm drainage system also entailed nearly 3,500 linear feet of storm piping, 19,000 square feet of flat work, 170 linear feet of concrete seat wall, 1,950 linear feet of curb and almost 15,000 square feet of brick pavers.
Undeterred and even excited by the challenge, Jon and his crews—he is out there every day right beside them—dug about 13 feet below the foundation to successfully install the retention system with the foundation above, despite the confined conditions. He says it would be hard to find another company that would have taken on the job, and it was worth it for American Underground.
“It wasn’t supposed to be that way, and we had to adjust and overcome the challenge of the foundation already being built,” he says. “But it’s one of those things where now I can say, ‘We did this.’ There’s that added payout down the line.”
A Mentor Lost
Through tough projects like these, Jon used Angelo as a sounding board. And when Angelo died suddenly in February 2021, it was a huge loss for Jon.
Angelo was a tough, hard worker, Jon says, adding, “There aren’t many around like him. He could build the project in his mind or see the prints in estimating once and always know where a job should be months later. He was amazing at visualizing the finished project and understanding what it would take to accomplish it.”
Learning from Angelo and other family members in the industry throughout his life helped instill in Jon the work ethic, determination and desire to push through any challenge. He brings that mentality to his team at American Underground today.
“I find a window of opportunity there for us, where we’re willing to do things that others aren’t.” Jon DeBeVoise, Owner, American Underground Construction, LLC
‘A Window of Opportunity’
“I like to work. I like to be out there operating in the field,” Jon says. “I like the difficult stuff, technical work like areas being tight, obstacles, anything that would make it harder. I find a window of opportunity there for us, where we’re willing to do things that others aren’t.”
American Underground is experienced in working on everything from industrial or warehouse projects on large acreage to tight urban sites. Jon says most companies only do one or the other. But he likes the variety because of their unique challenges.
American Underground bids on projects when necessary, but Jon especially enjoys working for clients he has a past relationship with, and he is focused on building repeat customer business.
“My goal is to partner with good companies that are on the rise so we all grow and build good relationships for our future,” he says.
Building on Momentum
As focused as he is on building strong client relationships, Jon also highly values the yearslong relationships he has with the tight-knit group of employees who help him get the work done. He says the core team has been together for eight or nine years, since working together at Absolute Construction, and that’s helped them grow together and build a tight bond.
“We’re all young and we’ve been together a long time. When we started, everybody was hungry to prove themselves. That carried with us,” he says. “We’ve worked that way for so long now, I feel like we keep moving forward with the momentum we’ve built.”
Jon recognizes that while that family-like company culture goes a long way, workers need to have skin in the game for the business to thrive and for employees to be happy.
“My philosophy is that anybody can be anything they want to be as long as they are able to put in the work and prove themselves, and they deserve to get paid well for their work,” he says. “Every year the company profits, we make sure our employees share in that profit. It gives people a drive and they want to be involved. I want to see everybody grow. I don’t see them as shovels.”
Typically, he has about 28 employees. Staffing peaks to around 60 during major projects.
Jon has a clear vision for the future of American Underground and its growth. He wants to maintain the company’s position as a small business that exceeds client expectations on projects of all sizes.
“I would like to build a solid foundation of good guys and stay there, because then you’re able to take care of the people that are with you,” he says.
To help build that foundation, Jon plans to reopen Absolute Construction by spring and use it as a training platform for new workers who could ultimately move up to working on bigger projects for American Underground.
Making his Mark
While Jon found his footing in the construction world and is making his own imprint, he initially resisted joining the family industry.
“I tried not to do it when I was in high school. I thought everyone in my family worked all the time and that they were crazy for it,” Jon says.
But ultimately, he came to love the business.
“I like the challenge. I like the reward if it’s done right. I like how you can put something together and be proud of it,” Jon says. And not the type to sit in an office, he doesn’t only supervise the work but actually enjoys getting in the holes in the ground, doing the work with his crews.
“When people hire us, I’m going to build it for them—literally,” he says.
And is Jon a workaholic like the rest of his family? You could say that.
“Now I work all the time, exactly like I didn’t want to do,” he says with a laugh. “I’m just geared for work.”