Jack Baker's Lobster Shanty in downtown Toms River is no more. The next chapter of the longtime waterfront restaurant will be the Water Street Bar and Grill.
Since January, the Lobster Shanty has been closed to undergo a massive renovation under longtime owners Chef's International.
Bob Cooper, president and CEO of Chef’s International, which owns the Jack Baker’s chain of restaurants, said he and his crew have spent the winter season working on a major renovation of the Toms River Jack Baker’s Lobster Shanty located along the town’s namesake river on 4 Robbins Parkway.
In fact, renovation does not do justice to Cooper’s undertaking. Though the exterior of the aged waterfront building appears business as usual, the interior is a far cry from antique. The restaurant that was once a Lobster Shanty is gutted, the only remnants being old kitchen equipment and booth seats sprawled over what appears to be nothing short of a full scale construction site.
Framework, rafters and beams are present where barstools, patrons and tables once were. The amount of work that has yet to be done on what Cooper said will be “a major sports bar” is striking when considering he plans to re-open the doors — as the Water Street Bar and Grill — for business on May 1.
Cooper said the changes to the iconic restaurant were inspired by renovations made last year to the Monroe Township Lobster Shanty, which is now Baker’s American Bar and Grille. Seeing the success the changes had, Cooper said it felt appropriate to mix up the tried and true Lobster Shanty experience with a blend of cuisine and atmosphere that will appeal to a new generation of patrons.
“We’re casting a wider net,” he said. “If you’re looking for chicken wings and a couple of beers to watch the ballgame we’ll have that. If you want a really nice seafood dinner or steak dinner we’ll have that.”
Another major addition to the menu will also serve as the centerpiece of the new-look bar and grille--a wood fire brick pizza open. Cooper said the inclusion of the pizza oven will not only give the menu much more variety for his patrons but will also act as a form of entertainment for customers, as all the pizzas will be made to-order from the freshest ingredients, by in-house pizza chefs.
“It’s going to be spectacular looking but it also produces a tremendous product,” he said.
In addition to altering the menu and adding a new pizza oven; Cooper also described a revamped audio and visual system, more bar space, a wrap-around porch and live entertainment. His enthusiasm is infectious as he describes the many alterations to the establishment and his unabashed ambition is a testament to the job at hand and the people he works with to get the project completed.
“I’ve done tons of [renovations] and every single one them makes my head spin,” he said. “I am the president and CEO [of the company] and I was underneath the floor with the plumber. Everybody who works within this company is deeply involved in what we do,” he said.
Kevin Mizikar, director of Downtown Toms River, said the renovations to Jack Baker’s Lobster Shanty are nothing but a positive step in the right direction for the area and could be a sign of things to come economically.
"I think the effort they’re undertaking is fantastic it’s really helped to spur additional investment…it can really be a catalyst,” he said. “It’s a showpiece we can use to showcase the downtown area.”
Despite all the changes to the old Lobster Shanty, Cooper stresses the importance of his long time clients and is keen to reassure them that the renovation is not intended to drive away a valued customer base, rather simply to expand upon it.
“When you’re pigeon holed into doing a certain type of business you alienate everybody else around that,” he said. “I don’t want ‘boom-boom’ but we do believe we’re going to have customers from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.”
Chef's International, which also owns the original Jack Baker's Lobster Shanty in Point Pleasant as well as Escondido's in Freehold, had a March reopening date on its corporate website originally. The Water Street Bar and Grill is now looking toward a May 1 grand opening.