By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
When Tim Fox bought the Deauville Inn last year, he was determined to blend the historic building’s old-fashioned charms with modern upgrades to create a more upscale experience for customers.
Over the winter and spring, there has been a whirlwind of construction activity for a transformation that will recapture the atmosphere from the Deauville’s heyday in the Roaring Twenties and Prohibition era.
Fox is eager to unveil the Deauville’s new look as soon as the coronavirus restrictions are lifted and businesses begin welcoming customers back to the Jersey Shore after a prolonged shutdown to slow the spread of the lethal contagion.
“The first thing they’re going to do, after their jaws drop, is say, ‘Wow.’ My feeling is they will be flabbergasted,” Fox said of how customers will react to the makeover.
Perched on the bay at the foot of the Corson’s Inlet Bridge in Strathmere, the Deauville came under Fox’s ownership last October after he purchased it for an undisclosed price from the Carpenter family, which had held it for 40 years.
“The charm of that building is amazing,” Fox said. “I fell in love with the charm.”
For now, the Deauville is offering takeout service while the statewide ban on in-person dining continues at New Jersey restaurants during the coronavirus outbreak.
“As soon as we get the thumbs-up, we’re ready to go,” Jason Tell, Deauville’s director of special events and marketing, said of reopening the restaurant after the coronavirus restrictions are over.
Fox explained that he will have extensive safeguards in place to protect customers and employees from COVID-19. Plans include having personal protective equipment at every door and countertop. Employees will wear gloves and will also thoroughly sanitize the restaurant and bar areas.
“We’re going to handle it safely and properly,” Fox said.
Fox, a Strathmere resident, is the founder of the Cherry Hill-based Fox Rehabilitation, a healthcare company that specializes in physical and occupational therapy for older adults. He has a doctorate in physical therapy and is board certified in geriatrics.
After he bought the Deauville, he immediately set out to freshen up the landmark building’s interior and exterior. However, he said he always kept the inn’s historic appeal in mind.
Fox has likened the Deauville to a treasured piece of artwork that was in need of a touch-up.
The building dates to the 1880s and originally operated as the Whelen Hotel before becoming the Deauville Inn, according to the historic website Strathmere.net.
The Deauville was popular during the 1920s and ’30s, operating as a speakeasy and illicit casino during Prohibition. It was able to attract famous entertainers of the day, such as Eddie Cantor, Sophie Tucker and Jimmy Durante, the website says.
Renovations under Fox include changing the color of the roof with green shingles to return the building to its vintage look. Next year, there are plans to top off the roof with a replica of the Deauville’s former iconic sign.
Updates to the building’s interior include a remodeled dining room and bar. The bar has been renamed “The Pub” and includes new walls with mahogany touches, new TVs and a new sound system.
“It’s more homey and has got a lot of charm and personality,” Tell said of the revamped bar.
Connected to the pub is a new packaged goods store.
The grand patio overlooking the bay will continue to be a focal point of the Deauville. Covered by a new canopy, the patio has also been given a new 40-foot-long bar where customers will be seated for drinks and meals.
There is also a new 50-foot-long patio bar allowing patrons to stand and savor the water views.
Helping Fox oversee the renovation project is Taffer Dynamics Inc., a hospitality company headed by Jon Taffer, the celebrity entrepreneur best known as the host of the reality TV show “Bar Rescue.”
“Bar Rescue” focuses on Taffer’s attempt to save distressed bars and restaurants. However, Fox stressed that Taffer’s consulting company is simply helping to upgrade the Deauville Inn’s menu, operations and amenities.
Capitalizing on its bayfront location, the Deauville will also have a new outdoor beach bar for the summer crowds.
Not only is the Deauville getting a facelift, there will also be an addition. Fox has acquired the former Uncle Bill’s Pancake House next door and is rebranding it as the Deauville’s breakfast-style restaurant.
Fox said the breakfast eatery’s menu may expand to hamburgers, French fries and other lunch fare. He would also like to rent out the building for private dinner parties and other special events.
Longer-range plans for the Deauville include replacing the old docks that accommodate the summer boating traffic. Fox said he must secure waterfront construction permits before installing new docks.
Although the Deauville is called an inn, no rooms are currently rented to guests. Fox has discussed the possibility of renovating the three-story building’s upper floors for B&B-style lodging. There is no timetable for possibly converting the rooms.
According to Strathmere.net, the Deauville Inn once offered 22 guest rooms on the top two floors.
Meanwhile, while all of the renovation work has been occurring Fox has been busy hiring more than 100 employees.
“We’re staffed up and ready to go,” he said.
Fox emphasized that he wants the Deauville to excel in customer service. The British-born Fox said he began appreciating the importance of customer service in the restaurant business after he came to the United States with his now-deceased parents and began working as a bus boy and waiter.
While discussing the Deauville’s renovations, Fox repeatedly praised the employees for their dedication and service.
To reward them, he implemented a benefits package that includes healthcare coverage through Blue Cross/Blue Shield. Rather than resorting to layoffs during the coronavirus shutdown, Fox offered employees the choice of having him pay their salaries or allowing them to go on unemployment.
“When you put the tools in place and respect your people, it helps you to achieve your goals,” Fox explained of his relationship with his employees.