By TIM KELLY
Beachwood at the Dunes had established itself as the formidable new kid on the block on the Sea Isle dining scene when the “old normal” went away.
Owner and chef Lucas Manteca and team created their own niche by being different: delivering traditional and “edgy” menu choices in a unique setting.
Located at 8600 Landis Ave. in Townsend’s Inlet, Beachwood at the Dunes opened in time for the 2019 summer season and made an immediate statement. It bears little resemblance to the venerable Busch’s seafood restaurant that occupied the location for more than a century.
Here was an upscale, elegant space that managed to be casual and laid-back at the same time.
“This is one of the best restaurants in Sea Isle,” an online reviewer enthused. “I’ve never had a bad meal here and the staff is great.”
Such comments were standard until everything changed this spring. The restaurant and cocktail bar was perking along on point when the property, like eateries all over the Jersey Shore, was blindsided by mandated Covid-19 pandemic safety guidelines.
Given their creative talents, it only stands to reason that Manteca and staff saw the new rules as an opportunity. They came up with a new spin on outdoor dining and put it into motion as soon as the opening guidelines first allowed it.
“We pride ourselves on being different,” said Manteca. “We wanted to create a new kind of option for being safe but also to provide something more than what he terms “the ‘takeout style’ of outdoor dining. We envisioned every possible opening scenario, based on what we would be allowed to do. When (reopening) was allowed, we were ready.”
The result: “Beachwood on the Rocks,” a mini outdoor dining and live entertainment area that has transformed the parking lot across the street from the restaurant.
“It’s about a half block walk from the kitchen to the (outdoor setup),” Manteca said, “but we’ve worked out a great system with walkie talkies and servers who do a great job of running the food out quickly.”
The area is also cleaned and disinfected regularly and tastefully decorated, as customers came to expect of the restaurant’s interior spaces.
The first thing customers will notice is the staff will get their drink orders filled almost immediately upon being seated.
“That’s one of the things that sets us apart from many outdoor dining arrangements,” said Lucas. “The customer isn’t going to have a long wait for drinks. We’re going to get an electronic tab going for them and serve those drinks right away. That makes a big difference and is more like (the old) normal.”
Masks are required of customers, and masks must also be worn if the patron gets up from his or her seat, he noted.
Strict social distancing is observed in the outdoor seating assignments. Beyond that, the Beachwood at the Dunes staff strives to keep it elegant, while retaining its signature informality and fun.
“Our customers tend to be very relaxed,” Lucas said, “and we try to keep it relaxing to every extent that we can. (The outdoor café setup) fits right in with that.”
A small stage has been erected on one side of the “on the Rocks” tent, and there’s a regular schedule of live music featuring favorite local bands from rock to reggae. Check out the Beachwood at the Dunes Facebook page for complete details.
Deanna Ebner, Manteca’s wife, maintains a strong social media presence and the page is updated regularly with news, specials, menu updates, exclusive deals, a listing of the entertainment schedule and much more.
For example, the restaurant is forming a VIP Club. Customers provide an e-mail address to receive the latest info and to automatically register to win a Beachwood at the Dunes T-Shirt. Members also receive a free glass of wine or draft beer simply for signing up.
Beachwood at the Dunes “On the Rocks” can also be used for private parties and events, Manteca noted.
“It’s not quite the same as before, but there’s still a way for us to help people host a great wedding rehearsal dinner or business meeting or other events,” he said. Anyone interested should contact Beachwood on the Facebook page or call 609-263-3627.
Manteca said that just like everyone else making adjustments during the crisis, he hopes the property will soon be able to return to a form closer resembling last year’s smashing debut season.
“We have a clean, sophisticated look to the place and comfortable atmosphere people were really enjoying,” he said.
Until folks can once again take their dining inside, Beachwood at the Dunes On the Rocks aims to fill the void.
“This has been a summer like no other,” he says. The restaurateur also owns Quahog’s Seafood Shack in Stone Harbor, Red Store in Cape May Point and the Taco Shop at the Cape May County Airport.
“Each place and each clientele is different,” he said. Meeting the demands of each requires separate marketing efforts and “is what we do,” Manteca said.
For now in Sea Isle, that means pivoting on the fly to make the most of a situation no one could’ve foreseen six months ago.
“It’s about doing what we can to best serve people and deliver great food and an enjoyable experience.”