A few weeks ago we launched our first “Chicpea Goes To Asbury” post; a series where we explore what I think is Jersey City down the shore. Since it’s summer time, Asbury is the hot place to be (literally and figuratively) and we wanted to feature a few local spots you should check out. Here at ChicpeaJC we pride ourselves on telling people’s stories, and although we aren’t based in Asbury, we thought it would be cool to actually sit down with a few locals to get their stories as opposed to writing a list of places to try or a quick writeup.
When arriving to Langosta Lounge, a super cute restaurant by the beach I didn’t expect to meet such an inspiring entrepreneur, boss lady, philanthropist, chef. author!! I am definitely missing something because Marilyn literally does everything. Who knew that behind this cute spot would be such a powerhouse woman in charge… or on the other hand, I should have know.
The takeover has begun a while ago.
What’s your name?
And what do you do?
I am an entrepreneur, chef, restaurateur, mother, non-profit founder.
You do it all! So tell me a little bit more about your restaurant. Where did is start? Where did it begin?
Oh, you have a few?
Well, I have this pavilion but I’ve had many over the years.
In Asbury, in Monmouth and Ocean County.
Everything from French and Japanese to Mexican. I started in 1980-something when I was 18 and I just opened a restaurant on my own and just kept going for 30 something years.
So when did you open this lounge?
We have our 10 year anniversary this year.
Yeah. So we opened at the end of 2008 and we were the first kind of new place on the Boardwalk. When we got here, we were Downtown. We had a place called Market in the Middle, which was kind of a farm-to-table menu done daily restaurant, in the middle of a wine shop and specialty market. And then we got coerced to come up here. My husband and I surf so we wanted to do kind of a surf, beachy, but elevated food and cocktails in a kind of relaxed fun atmosphere. This used to be a surf shop when we opened, called Lightly Salted. My husband ran this and I ran the restaurant with my brother – now it’s just me. My husband has gone into art full time. My brother, as brothers and sisters do, sometimes are better family than partners so we’ve parted ways but he’s still involved with our catering.
That’s amazing. Tell me a little bit about the food and the inspiration.
So we have the pavilion from here all the way down. This part of it is what I call coastal farm-to-sea. We source a lot of our product locally. Every Wednesday, my husband and I drive out to Heights Town for date night and we fill a van of produce up and bring it back.
That’s your date night?
Yup. He used to hate it but now he likes it. It’s fun to meet all the farmers and really get to know where your stuff is coming from. Then we buy a lot of local in town and we grow some stuff ourselves. So this part is, by day, restaurant and cocktails. By night, live music so we have a stage in the front and at about 10:00 it transforms to a music venue, which is fun but complicated. Then you can keep going and next door is a popup in the summer we call The Aloha Market. We do fresh coconut and pineapple drinks.
I feel like I’ve seen it.
Yeah – we have smoothies, coffee and nitro coffee out there. In the afternoon, in the evening, it’s a live music space called the Asbury Park Yacht Club. Behind it is going to be a wine shop opening this summer. Specialty market wine shop slash art gallery bar space.
That’s awesome. Have you always lived in Asbury?
No – I’m from Belmar originally. When I first opened, I was seasonal for my first couple of restaurants. Every winter, I would leave and go travel the world, and I got a husband and a life. I have to stay put. I have twins, 6 year old.
So how do you balance it all?
I try not to think about it. I think the more you ponder how crazy your life is, the more anxiety you have.
People ask me that question actually and I’m always like, “you just do it.” You don’t think about it.
Yeah – you just get up and go with the flow. You have to be a little more or less rigid in life to be able to have your own business and do your own thing and have kids. My husband is great. He likes to chill, make art and hang with the kids, so he’s kind of a stay at home dad sort of. We’re renovating a house in Asbury so he’s doing construction on that right now.
How long have you been in Asbury then?
We’ve been living here full time since Sandy. We had a restaurant in Normandy Beach called the Labrador Lounge, which we started together. That was our first business together 15 years ago. After Sandy, we were evacuated. The girls were only a couple of months old and we had to move and we were in the process of buying an income property here, so we just moved in to the back of it and now we lease out that place in Normandy. We keep an apartment there to go to the beach, it’s really beautiful and chill down there. Very different than here.
As a business owner in a beach town, how do you balance the busy season when it’s warmer and you have all these people coming to the beach as opposed to year-round?
It’s hard. I was just discussing with somebody today the problem with finding staff for 4 months of the year. Good staff in a place that doesn’t have that many people in the hospitality industry living here, and then how do you lay them off. This year we are starting – we’ve been doing a lot of advertising in Colorado, Florida, Vermont for seasonal management and seasonal front of the house. I say all the time that I feel like I’m in purgatory here because I’m a water enthusiast and I never go there. I watch it all day and I’m like, “Oh my god. I just want to go in there.”
I was just saying, it’s such a tease. If I lived here I’d want to go to the beach. I’d probably be sitting right now with my winter coat without my shoes just sitting on the beach.
We used to have our staff meetings out on the beach, but now it’s crazy here, it’s really busy – we can’t do that. I have to leave early today because I’m taking my teacher training Chi Gung but I told my instructor, “Why don’t you come here? We’ll do it here.” So they’re coming here because this is beautiful instead of being inside. So I try and bring things here that fulfill me. We do yoga here, we teach surfing to the Boys and Girls Club.
Because there’s a local community that needs it.
Yeah – and you can kinda say, “I’m not off right now. I’m teaching little kids how to surf,” but I get to get in the water and have some fun.
So you were saying you also own a non-profit. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?
It’s called Food For Thought by the Sea. I started it about 12 years ago. We do free community dinners here for Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter. We feed like a thousand people. People who don’t have a place to go, don’t have any money, who lost somebody in their life and don’t have family. We have about a hundred volunteers that work it. When we started it, it was complicated to take donations for it so we were working with other people to make that happen. Then I just said, “Why don’t we just do our own non-profit and make it easier?” So we also started doing surf classes for the Boys and Girls Club out of the shop 10 years ago. So those were the 2 programs that we did every year and then like 3 years ago, I don’t even know how it came about but I mentioned how I would never do a food truck unless it was a non-profit truck. Somehow, the Asbury Park press heard me say something about it and they wrote an article. We got all these people calling us to help us fund it, help us build it out.
A year later, we had about 10 grand in the bank in donations for a food truck so I don’t even know how I met the person from Land Rover, but one of their sales people convinced Penske Automotive, which owns Land Rover, to donate a truck, which they did so it’s being wrapped right now. Ice Stars is helping us get it on the road. They’re letting us do a big event there, they’re wrapping the truck for us. We have 15 board members, all kinds of people; creative people, politicians, local and state, and business people. Everybody is very excited for this project to happen so the gas company gave us a $30,000 matching grant to fit out the truck and we’re about $10,000 from that match. We’re having a big event in 2 weeks to honor them and then we’re doing a big event at the Lanes in September.
That’s amazing. You do so much!
When the truck is on the road, it basically will be a vehicle for change; a non-profit catering truck that works with whatever organization. Surf Rider comes and says “We’re doing a big clam bake” and we have the truck. We bring the truck and kids from the community work on it, they raise the money and they get to keep the money off the truck.
That’s amazing, that’s awesome. So I don’t know much about the Asbury community. Can you tell me a little bit more about the people who live here, the creative community, what goes on?
About 15 years ago, nobody lived here except for a community of people who had lived here for generations. I went to Asbury Park High School. There is a group of people local that have always lived in stayed in Asbury Park through corruption, through horrible downturn of financial greed and just lack of interest in Asbury Park. My whole life I was like, “Why isn’t anybody doing anything about this? This is Coastal, there is no more of this, this is what we’ve got. Why isn’t anybody coming in?”
When I opened Market in the Middle, I met with one of the developers who came in early on who actually ripped off a lot of people. The cycle of corruption that’s come to Asbury is still somewhat here, not the way it used to be. But what I’ve always said being here is, I don’t wanna push anybody out of here – I wanna figure out how to embrace the people that are here, lift them up and draw them into all of this. That’s why we started Kula and that’s why we have a non-profit. It’s not necessary to say, “Ok, all these people from Brooklyn, or New York, or Jersey City or wherever, come to Asbury and take over and make all this fabulous, and then tell everybody else to leave.” I think the nice thing about Asbury is there is enough people like me preventing that from happening. You go up to Long Branch and you see Kushner taking over the oceanfront, building all these condos, eminent domaining everything. It hasn’t happened in Asbury and it’s changed it.
My kids go to the Charter School in Asbury Park. They’re a minority here as far as their race and their color, but they are so void of any kind of judgement for little kids because they’re growing up with Spanish culture, African American culture, beach culture, city culture.
And that’s why I like Asbury and I feel connected here because I see a lot of similarities with Jersey City. There is a creative community, there’s changes going on but there’s still this energy that’s very true to Jersey City but it’s really about preserving the culture, the people, and the businesses, and that’s our thing.
And I’m kind of an anomaly here because I’m a beach girl. I grew up skateboarding and surfing. There is a little of that here, but it’s more urban than it is beach culture, which I fight to hold on to because I wanna live by the beach and I don’t wanna leave here. It’s beautiful and I’m always trying to draw all the community; the new people coming in and the Westside community. That’s why we do surfing for these kids and bring them to the beach. We’re doing an art project with the city and my non-profit and the Boys and Girls Club. We’re having the kids paint all of the recycling cans on the beach so next summer, the entire beach will be all this art from these kids from the community and the public gets to buy into that and the kids get to learn about taking care of the ocean, recycling, taking care of the beach and the environment, which they don’t necessarily learn in these urban settings. They throw their garbage out the window and they’re not used to what I grew up with. If I wanna make a living here, if I wanna surf here, I need a clean ocean and I want clean food. That’s important to me that we not only take care of the business here, but we take care of the environment we’re creating because of that impact that we’re making.
Anything you’d like to plug for the Spring and Summer?
We do 3 menus a year – they’re all seasonal. The Spring and Summers, we go back to a big menu because the tough thing about being up here, when I had my first restaurant I grew all of the food around it and I loved that piece. Here, the volume we do here, it’s so hard to say, “I want to be this super hyper local farm-to-table environmentally conscious restaurant but I also have to serve 2,000 people here today and how do I do that?” So it’s a huge undertaking for us and I have great staff. Most of my front and back staff that’s here now have been here anywhere from 6 to 15 years with me, which is not normal.
Amazing. It’s a true testament to your leadership skills as well.
And we’re very conscious, we don’t allow straws here. We just printed metal ones to sell for the non-profit. We don’t have plastic products so we’re trying to be the cool, little, hip place in the big pond.
Are we ready to eat? Let’s eat!
1000 Ocean Ave, Asbury Park, NJ 07712