By Donald Wittkowski
Lucas Manteca has traveled the world while serving as the chef or owner of a series of restaurants. The Argentine-born Manteca opened his first eatery, in Costa Rica, while still in his teens.
His next stop on the culinary circuit brings him to Sea Isle City, where he will open a new bar and restaurant called Beachwood at The Dunes. He will take over the space formerly occupied by Doc Magrogan’s Oyster House at 8600 Landis Avenue in Townsends Inlet.
The 41-year-old Manteca is already a well-known restaurateur at the shore. He owns the Quahog’s Seafood Shack in Stone Harbor, the Red Store in Cape May Point and the Taco Shop at the Cape May County Airport. He formerly operated the now-closed Sea Salt Restaurant in Stone Harbor.
Beachwood at the Dunes is scheduled for a soft opening April 13 featuring cocktails and light fare. By Memorial Day weekend it will operate on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and then will expand to seven days a week by Father’s Day in June, Manteca said.
The main menu will include traditional coastal cuisine featuring fresh seafood dishes and seasonal vegetables. Manteca will work with South Jersey commercial fishing operators and farmers to use local foods.
“We will be embracing local produce and cuisine at the shore,” he said in an interview Tuesday.
The Beachwood will become the new anchor at The Dunes, an upscale restaurant and residential complex developed by business partners Christopher Glancey and Bob Morris on Landis Avenue in Townsends Inlet in 2016.
The Dunes was the first of three mixed-use projects built by Glancey and Morris along the Landis Avenue corridor between 85th and 87th streets. It features restaurant, bar and banquet space on the first floor and luxury condominiums on the two top stories.
The next two projects developed by Glancey and Morris in Townsends Inlet were called The Cape and The Cove. They followed the same theme as The Dunes by combining commercial space such as restaurants and retail space on the first level with high-end condos on the higher floors.
In the past three years, the upscale Doc Magrogan’s Oyster House was the main attraction at The Dunes. Glancey said the restaurant’s owner, Dave Magrogan, is pulling out now that his three-year deal is over.
“We wish him well. It worked out great,” Glancey said.
Magrogan will instead focus on his Harvest Seasonal Grill restaurant business in Florida, which he hopes to develop into a national brand, Glancey noted.
Glancey said he wanted a local operator to take charge of the restaurant space at The Dunes, so he brought in Manteca.
In addition to switching the restaurant operator at The Dunes, Glancey and Morris are gearing up for their redevelopment of the LaCosta Lounge in Sea Isle. They bought the nightclub last year for $7.3 million and are planning to begin construction by the end of 2019 on a new hotel, bar and restaurant complex on the LaCosta property.
LaCosta is expected to remain open until the fall. After it shuts down, the nightclub will be demolished to make room for the new redevelopment project at the corner of John F. Kennedy Boulevard and Landis Avenue.
Manteca, meanwhile, has big plans for his new restaurant at The Dunes. He said the Beachwood will feature three main areas, each with its own distinctive vibe.
The bar will have live music to give it a high-energy atmosphere. The main dining room next to the bar will be partitioned off with a glass wall to create a more intimate space. Reservations will be required for the dining spot.
The third part of Beachwood will transform the Breakwaters ballroom and banquet facility that was in operation at Doc Magrogan’s Oyster House.
Manteca said he plans to convert the Breakwaters area into a lounge-like “social space” by adding sofas, low chairs, live music and possibly karaoke nights.
Helping Manteca with the new restaurant will be his wife, Deanna Ebner, who grew up in Avalon. Manteca met Ebner when they were both living in Costa Rica. A surfer and traveler, Manteca got into the restaurant business by opening his first eatery, called Natural Mystic, when he was just 19.
Leaving Costa Rica behind, Manteca and Ebner lived in Miami for a few years and then moved to New York, where Manteca attended the prestigious French Culinary Institute.
“New York was overwhelming,” Manteca recalled.
He and his wife also spent some time in England and Spain before establishing their restaurant business at the Jersey Shore.
Opened in 2005, the Sea Salt Restaurant in Stone Harbor was their first place. They followed with Quahog’s in Stone Harbor, the Red Store in Cape May Point and the Taco Shop at the Cape May County Airport.