By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
During the depths of the pandemic, when the restaurant industry was all but closed down and millions of workers were laid off nationwide, the Deauville Inn kept its entire staff intact.
“We didn’t have any layoffs – anybody,” the Deauville’s owner, Tim Fox, stressed.
Fox noted that he invested $4 million in payroll and also established medical coverage for his employees to help them survive the economic and health crises caused by the pandemic.
“A lot of businesses are struggling in the restaurant industry up and down the East Coast. But if you don’t take care of your people, stuff falls apart,” he said of his workers.
Now, the Deauville Inn and its 240 employees have emerged from the pandemic together and are poised for a big recovery as the summer tourism season approaches at the Jersey Shore.
The landmark restaurant overlooking Corson’s Inlet in the tiny town of Strathmere, between Ocean City and Sea Isle City, has been given a sweeping makeover under Fox’s ownership since late 2019.
Fox and his employees officially unveiled the Deauville’s latest upgrades in a grand opening celebration Thursday. The event set the stage for the Deauville to begin welcoming customers back to the shore this summer after a prolonged shutdown and safety restrictions on New Jersey’s restaurant industry in 2020.
Renovations have blended the historic building’s old-fashioned charms with modern upgrades to create a more upscale experience for customers.
“It’s all about preserving the history. This place could have been demo-ed,” Fox said of the possibility of the Deauville being torn down if another buyer had acquired the property. “I wanted to preserve it. It’s important to the town.”
More than the Deauville’s physical improvements, Fox emphasized the importance of his employees for the restaurant’s operations and customer service. He called the workers “my family.”
“It’s all about customer service. When you respect your employees, they’re nice and they return the favor,” he said.
Fox, the founder of Fox Rehabilitation, a healthcare company that specializes in physical and occupational therapy for older adults, bought the Deauville and its liquor license for $6.8 million and has spent close to $5 million renovating it, he and his partner, Robyn Kjar said in an interview.
The building dates to 1881 and originally operated as the Whelen Hotel before becoming the Deauville Inn, according to the history of the property that can be read on the back of the menu.
Fox immediately set out to freshen up the interior and exterior while also preserving the building’s historic appeal.
Among the major changes made by Fox, a new beach bar was built last year to capitalize on the bayfront location.
Combining flair with flavor, the Deauville’s menu has been reshaped by newly hired executive chef TJ Ricciardi.
In addition, the main dining room was completely renovated to give it a more upscale feel. The bar area was turned into a pub.
The Deauville’s grand patio was also remodeled, giving customers the option of dining outdoors during the pandemic. It includes a 50-foot-long patio bar, allowing patrons to stand and savor the water views while sipping drinks.
Most recently, Fox spent $500,000 to replace the weather-beaten old docks for the restaurant’s boat slips. The new docks give boaters a grander sense of arrival when they pull up to the restaurant for drinks or a meal.
Giving the renovations their stamp of approval during Thursday’s grand opening celebration were 95-year-old Gloria Carpenter and her 62-year-old son, John. Gloria and her late husband, Walter, bought the Deauville in 1980 and owned it for 40 years before selling to Fox.
“He did a great job,” Gloria Carpenter said of Fox.
Gloria, the matriarch of the family, would still make cakes for the Deauville after the sale. She still spends time at the Deauville these days, but joked that her main responsibility now is supplying the bartenders with cookies.
John Carpenter said he was elated that the Deauville was purchased by Fox instead of falling under the ownership of a chain restaurant.
“It didn’t get converted like a chain restaurant would do it. He kept to his own vision rather than take on someone else’s vision,” Carpenter said of Fox
“You can go anywhere for dinner, like at a Red Lobster,” he continued. “But there are very few places where you can go to that are like this one. In fact, I would say there are no other places where you can go to that are like the Deauville.”