For decades the vacation communities along the New Jersey coastline–the “Jersey Shore” as these towns are known to the residents of the Garden State–were the last bastions of locally owned restaurants and food services. Family owned eateries such as Mack and Manco’s Pizza, Kohr’s Frozen Custard, Johnson’s Popcorn, Three Brothers’ Pizza, and Midway Steak House are the kinds of local joints that make the food culture of the Shore so special. The governments of these communities seemed to always resist the chain restaurants. After all, you can buy a Whopper or drink a cup of Starbucks coffee anywhere, but waffles and ice-cream or tomato pies or an orange-cream custard cone are unique to the Shore–part of the boardwalk experience.
This is why I was so disappointed a few summers ago when I strolled the Wildwood boardwalk, the longest in New Jersey. Wildwood has surrendered some of their local economy to corporate America. You can now buy a Blizzard at the Wildwood boardwalk Dairy Queen or purchase a Big Mac at the boardwalk McDonalds. Needless to say, both of these chain eateries were quite crowded on the day I was in Wildwood. They appeared to be doing a very good business. Ever since that stroll I have been wondering why someone would go on vacation in this seaside community and spend their time standing in line at McDonalds when the boardwalk is filled with places to eat that represent the history and character of the Jersey Shore. To me, this would be the equivalent of vacationing in Italy and eating your meals at the local Burger King. (Does Italy have a Burger King?)
Though Wildwood had succumbed to the corporate world, I still held out hope for Seaside Heights–the town with the boardwalk where I spent most of my vacation time as a kid. Certainly Seaside Heights–the home of 3 Brothers Pizza and Midway Steakhouse and Casino Pier and Lucky Leo’s Arcade–would not give into the chains?
Unfortunately, I was wrong. No place is safe from the reach of corporate America. As I took my yearly stroll through Seaside this past weekend, taking in the annual Columbus Day Italian-American festival, this is what I encountered:
Time to make the donuts.