Nick Dionisio understands firsthand the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Not only did his 97-year-old grandmother come down with the virus, his mother was hospitalized with the disease not long after. Both have since recovered.
What Dionisio struggles to understand, however, is why outdoor seating isn’t yet allowed at places such as Park Seafood, which he owns.
“I have ample room to set tables 12 feet apart and pay an employee just to sanitize tables when customers leave,” said Dionisio, who has the seafood stand on the southern end of the Seaside Park/Heights boardwalk and a sit-down restaurant on the northern end.
“Who’s to say you can sanitize your house better than I can sanitize my restaurant? I already have the supplies,” Dionisio said in reference to Gov. Phil Murphy’s announcement May 22 that the number of people allowed to gather outdoors was raised from 10 to 25.
Dionisio was among several business owners along the Jersey Shore boardwalk struggling to keep business flowing Memorial Day Weekend – and beyond. And despite cool temperatures and cloudy skies, and a decline in visitors due to coronavirus fears and closed hotels, it still wasn’t enough to dampen the warmth and appreciation they felt for their customers and employees.
“Luckily, we have a pretty strong following of people who have supported us over the years,” said Dionisio, a third-generation boardwalk restaurant owner. “We want them to know we are here for them.”
Kohr’s Frozen Custard: The Original
This is the 101st year for Kohr’s Frozen Custard: The Original, which has four locations on the Seaside boardwalk, one in Lavallette and one in Ortley Beach. For Kohr’s, that’s 101 years of dedicated customer service.
“We appreciate all of our customers, and we like to see the smiles on their faces. So we’re trying our best,” said Greg Kohr, third-generation owner.
To ensure the safety of its employees and customers, all Kohr’s employees’ temperatures are taken when they arrive for work. They then wash and sanitize their hands, and don gloves and masks. At the end of the day, in addition to traditional cleaning procedures, a fog sanitizer is used in its shops.
“Safety means more to me than making money,” said Kohr, who has a legacy of employing generations of families over the years.
Like Dionisio, Kohr has seen a downturn in business due to coronavirus, and he hopes Gov. Murphy will soon open restaurants for outdoor seating.
In the meantime, he hopes a new sentiment will spread: “This is not the new normal. It’s the normal for now.”
Van Holten’s Chocolates and Sweet Shop
Outside Van Holten’s Chocolates and Sweet Shop, a new “normal for now” routine is in place. Because customers cannot go into the store to shop, a table adorned with examples of sweets for sale is placed outside the front door. Employees in masks and gloves gladly answer questions and take orders, popping back into the store to stuff sweets into bags.
“Business is slow compared to normal, obviously. But people are being cooperative with ordering from the front table,” said John Gato, part-owner.
Unlike eateries along the boardwalk, a majority of the shop’s business comes from customers who browse inside the shop, especially because there are multiples of nearly everything the store carries. For example, there are roughly 70 flavors of popcorn and 60 flavors of taffy. To encourage sales of these “ad-ons,” as Gato calls them, there are some small menus on the outside table, too.
Like other business owners along the boardwalk, Gato says he is receiving a lot of phone calls inquiring whether his shop is open for business. He said there has been a lot of uncertainties over the past two weeks, from changing boardwalk hours to new rules from Gov. Murphy.
One thing that hasn’t changed: “We are your neighborhood candy store. In these times, please come support local businesses.”
Not just for him, he stressed, but for his employees, too. As with many boardwalk vendors, Van Holten’s is staffed with high school and college students.
“These students are dedicated,” he said. “They work 10-12 hours a day, many taking money back to college at the end of the summer. I want them to have what they will need.”
Beachcomber Bar & Grill
Michael Carbone, owner of the Beachcomber Bar & Grill toward the boardwalk’s southern end, is looking forward to the day he can bring his staff back to work full time. In the meantime, he’s rotating employees.
“When we’re busy, I depend on them. When we’re closed, they depend on me,” he said.
Carbone stands behind a counter of beverages with his daughter, Kara, as he watches families and small groups of friends walk by.
“For the most part, everyone’s been social distancing and been nice to deal with,” he said. “People want to get out – breathe the fresh air, be by the ocean.”
His business has been drastically affected, he said, “but we are striving to keep on going.”
“Customers all want to come inside, and they’re waiting for some kind of decision about outside dining,” he continued. “We’re praying for it [outdoor dining]. Right now, we are surviving on To-Go orders. But To-Go is just a small part of most people’s business.”
For Carbone, getting employees back to work is his main focus. Typically, he would have about 25 bartenders working on a Memorial Day weekend day. On the afternoon of May 24, he had two.
“We’re doing the best we can to keep the economy going,” he said. “We need public health, but we need economic health also.”
To that end, Park Seafood’s Dionisio has a message to customers.
“Don’t forget about us at the Shore. It’s safe, the towns are taking precautions, and if you’re in an area where there are a lot of people, wear a mask,” he said as his staff bustled about wearing gloves and masks behind a protective shield, with hand sanitizer in full view for customers’ use.
For Kohr, the future of boardwalk business can be summed up in one word: “Sunshine.”
“Like all Shore towns, we need the sunshine and warmth,” he said. “And for the governor to keep the coronavirus numbers down. That is huge.”
• Beachcomber Bar & Grill
100 Ocean Terrace
Seaside Heights, NJ 08751.
• Kohr’s Frozen Custard: The Original
Multiple locations on Seaside Heights boardwalk, as well as a location in Lavallette and Ortley Beach.
• Park Seafood
Seaside Park/Seaside Heights.
• Van Holten’s Chocolates and Sweet Shop
802 Ocean Terrace
Seaside Heights, NJ 08751.