New Chapter Begins for Surf City Hotel

May 18, 2017
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

The Surf City Hotel has new owners and a fresh look to start the 2017 season. The strategy has been to make improvements and updates only where necessary and with a light hand: rejuvenation, not total reinvention.

“We’re not The Arlington or daddy O – we’re the Surf City Hotel,” General Manager John Beale said. Preserving the building’s spirit, integrity and historical feel is important to the new owners as well as to the staff, he explained, so they have taken care to make changes they were sure would be enhancements.

Greg and Colleen Gewirtz closed on the sale April 18, but the ownership transition began earlier this year, during which time the hotel and its dining rooms and bars started undergoing their facelift and makeover, which include all-new paint, carpet and flooring, upgrades to technology and bedding, cosmetic changes to walls and furnishings, light fixtures, décor and signage and new state-of-the-art kitchen appliances and equipment for new chef Paul Percussi and sous chef John Braddock, who head up the restaurant under its new official name, Surf City Bistro.

The core staff has been kept in place because they already know and understand how everything works, Colleen explained. “I’m following their lead right now,” she said.

The Gerwitzes live in Freehold and have a second home in Ship Bottom. Colleen grew up vacationing on the Island with her family in their bayfront house on South First Street in Surf City, so the Hotel holds memories for her parents. “I know enough about LBI, and specifically Surf City,” to know what the clientele want, she said.

Greg is an attorney, and they have four kids, ages 12 to 19 (all of whom will be working at the Hotel in one capacity or another). Colleen volunteers as a nurse practitioner at Parker Family Health Center in Red Bank. Together they have always been interested in property investment, so when Greg noticed the listing on Bonanni Realtors site, they decided to give it a whirl.

It’s the Gerwitzes’ first foray into hotel/restaurant ownership – and a sizable undertaking to manage 29 hotel rooms, a two-bedroom apartment and a third-floor suite, a full restaurant and five bars – but they are “definitely drawn to it,” she said. And they are no strangers to hospitality. Colleen has always had a flair for throwing parties, entertaining and decorating for guests.

Colleen said the feedback thus far has been wholly positive. Everyone has been great, welcoming and excited about seeing the place in a new light, she said. The previous owners had held on for 13 seasons.

As always, the Hotel’s three and a half dining rooms offer multiple solutions to accommodate weddings and private parties of any size. One seats 70, one seats 60, and then there’s the “balcony,” a nice spot for buffet setups, separate from the street-level pub tables and the seating in the beloved old clam bar which will remain, simply, The Clam Bar.

Immediately upon setting about the project, Colleen said she realized the Clam Bar was hallowed space and should not be dramatically altered. So they opened it up by eliminating two layers of unnecessary ceiling and removing two corner “stages” that were serving no purpose but to take up valuable floor space. Doing so has created some additional seating and breathing room.

Contractor John Egan is her brother (and, incidentally, second cousin to Ken Egan of Kubels in Barnegat Light and Kubels Too in Beach Haven Gardens) so he took care of the renovations, which included some structural issues and “raising the roof” in the Clam Bar.

“We must have gone through eight or nine Dumpsters,” she said.

The real emphasis right now is on the food, she said. The new look may draw people in to see the changes. But a good meal will be the determining factor in their decision to come back again.

The menu stays largely the same, with plenty of seafood, steak, chicken and pasta dishes for families, but a lot of the fried dishes are replaced with fresher options. As a mom of four kids with differing tastes, Colleen noted the necessity of keeping the chicken parmesan, marsala and Francaise on the menu. For variety, daily specials will bring in fresh fish, prime rib, filet mignon, tuna, sea bass and more.

With an eye toward ramping up the lunch business, the Bistro offers an array of sandwich options, salads and bar pies.

Looking ahead, the owners would like to be open full-time, year ’round, which calls for further heating and water considerations.

The Beach Club will get something of an overhaul next year and further down the road. The central bar will be reduced in size and the two other bars may get reconfigured to make the whole space flow more efficiently. As it is, customers cram themselves into the perimeter spaces and have little to no dance floor. The entertainment schedule everyone knows and loves will remain more or less the same. A new LED sign will replace the old-fashioned marquee.

“We’re optimistic,” the new owner said.

— Victoria Ford

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