First jobs don’t often portend where a person will wind up professionally, something for which anyone who has bagged groceries as a teenager is probably grateful. Not so Eric Magaziner, who began his career cleaning clams at age 14 on Long Beach Island. It wasn’t so much the bivalves that made Magaziner want to spend the next 30-plus years shucking shellfish. It was more the people who showed him how.
Magaziner, who lives in Manahawkin, is one of the founders of Tide Table Group, a company that owns and operates five restaurants in and around Long Beach Island, all of them nearly impossible to get into in July and August. He doesn’t look the part of the corporate exec. On this sunny March afternoon at Beach Haven’s Black Whale Bar & Fish House, Tide Table’s third restaurant and, with 150 seats, one of its biggest, Magaziner, in T-shirt and baseball cap, slouches in a booth picking at oyster crackers with his wife, Melanie, and two of their Tide Table partners, Ginna and Bob Nugent.
Though they’ve just closed on their seventh property, a 5-acre tract on the mainland side of Barnegat Bay in Eagleswood that won’t become a restaurant until 2020, and are less than two months away from opening their most ambitious place yet, Beach Haven’s Bird & Betty, no one is in a hurry. Stress levels are happy-hour low, and everyone is up for tracing the trajectory that has won them local fame and the kind of fortune that can’t be counted in dollars.
“It started with Ginna and Bob,” says Melanie, a Manahawkin native. “Ginna’s family has been in the seafood business going back more than 50 years.” Ginna’s father, Marti Cassidy, fished out of Barnegat Light in the 1960s and ’70s when she was growing up in Beach Haven Terrace. Cassidy sold what he caught at his own place, Cassidy’s Fish Market. Ginna didn’t intend to surround herself with fish forever, but then she started dating Bob.
“Bob was getting the business going,” she says, meaning Ship Bottom Shellfish, the 50-seat seafood market and restaurant they opened in Ship Bottom in 1981, four years before they were married. Ginna, then a college student in California, came back to LBI to help Bob launch the tiny shop at the former site of an ice cream store. The work was hard, but business was good: “People loved the freshness of the local seafood,” she says. Four years in, they hired Eric, whose father, Bill Magaziner, was a regular and a friend.
Eric, who grew up in Philadelphia and spent summers in Beach Haven Park as a kid, liked the work at Ship Bottom Shellfish, partly because it was seasonal—six months of intense fish, clam and oyster slinging, followed by six months of doing whatever he wanted, including surfing with Bob—and partly because of the laid-back atmosphere fostered by Ginna and Bob. By the time he was in his mid-20s and a Stockton College graduate, Eric had his eye on a place of his own.
“A piece of land opened up at Mud City, and we got it cheap,” says Bob of the site that would become the Nugents’ and Magaziners’ second seafood restaurant, Mud City Crab House, in Manahawkin. “By then, we knew that Eric wasn’t going to pick mussels and clean clams the rest of his life.” Eric was 26 when he signed on as a partner in Mud City. Then it was Melanie’s turn to blow off grad school and join her boyfriend in becoming an entrepreneur.
“I had always worked in restaurants, so I knew the front of the house,” says Melanie. “I was just about to go away to school. That got thwarted.”
Mud City opened in 1999 and, like Ship Bottom Shellfish, was an instant success, says Bob. And that’s despite the fact that, when it was under construction, “people would drive by and tell us we were crazy to open a restaurant there, because it was out of the way and in a marsh.”
Now, Melanie says, “for people to think it was out of the way is mind-boggling.”
Within three weeks, the 65-seat crab house was one of the most successful restaurant in the area, the partners agree. All four credit the seafood and the fact that Manahawkin residents didn’t like having to cross the bridge to LBI for something good to eat. “Beach Haven West, across the highway, did not have any restaurants at the time,” says Melanie.
Though the partners got used to seeing each other every day at their restaurants, roles were never clearly defined. They still aren’t. All four of the partners do a bit of everything. “He cooked,” says Bob, meaning Eric; “She cooked,” he says, meaning Ginna: “and I just came along for the ride,” he jokes. Eric, Bob says, lost 30 pounds the first year Mud City was open because he was working so hard. “At one point,” says Bob, “we realized Eric hadn’t had a beer in like a month and a half. I go, ‘Are you sick?’”
Eric was not sick, just consumed by his new responsibilities. But he had already been through a major health scare. “Eric had cancer as a child,” says Melanie. He doesn’t talk publicly about his past affliction and current health status, she says, but it’s obvious he’s a survivor. Though he is upbeat and talkative, his voice is all but missing; he can barely speak above a whisper.
“It’s one of the reasons we work with local cancer organizations,” says Melanie. Typical of their efforts is Crabbin’ for a Cure, for which Tide Table hosts a crabcake dinner each year that benefits Jetty Rock Foundation.
Tide Table Group’s charitable instincts don’t end there. The foursome, together with Linda and Bill Burris, the couple with whom they partnered in the Black Whale and two more Beach Haven locations—Parker’s Garage & Oyster Saloon and Bird & Betty’s (due to open this summer)—are known throughout the area for their support of local nonprofits. In addition to Melanie’s volunteer work on the board of the Hunger Foundation of Southern Ocean County, there is Chowderfest each fall and each winter, Arctic Outreach, an organization that helps local people and environmental causes. The partners also support Clam Jam and Coquina Jam, surf competitions that bring the surf and business communities together; Coquina also raises funds for women with cancer.
Even that barely scrapes the sandy surface of their local good works: Jeremy DeFilippis, Jetty Rock’s treasurer and one of three directors, says his organization collaborates on about 10 charity events with Tide Table every year. “They are over-the-top dedicated to their community is why,” he says. “We partner with other restaurant groups, but none of them anywhere near the extent of Tide Table. They were the first, and the relationship blossomed from there 15-plus years ago.”
Tide Table’s willingness to pitch in sealed its relationship with Jetty Rock, but it’s the vibe of their establishments that makes it a pleasure, DeFilippis says. “Not only are they great people, their places are fun,” he says. “They’re places where you find yourself having a good time.”
That seems to be the case regardless of what each new restaurant has to offer. The first two restaurants did not always have liquor licenses, for example (Mud City now does), so regulars got used to bringing their own coolers of beer and wine. The coolers were fully packed, says Billy Mehl, the Nugents’ son-in-law and Tide Table’s general manager, because most patrons knew they might wait outside upwards of two hours for a table. The Black Whale Bar & Fish House, Tide Table’s third location, opened with a liquor license in 2006.
Though the formula for the Black Whale is slightly different, the result upon opening was the same. “It was a new adventure, because this place is a little more refined than the first two,” says Melanie. “But it was instantly successful. I think our reputation followed us. Plus, in Beach Haven, once the summer gets here, you’ve got a captive audience.”
The reliable formula of fresh, local seafood in a town where every summer night is a Saturday night, according to Bob, accounts for why Tide Table has focused on Beach Haven for its latest openings. After the Nugents and Magaziners joined forces for their fourth place in 2014, a 100-seat seafood and steak house next door to Mud City called Old Causeway Steak & Oyster House, they returned to Beach Haven to open Parker’s Garage, their most ambitious restaurant to date.
Parker’s opened in 2017 in an old boat-engine repair shop right on Barnegat Bay. It’s the only restaurant for which they brought in a top-tier chef, Kyle Baddorf, who formerly worked with the Garces Restaurant Group of Philadelphia.
“When you have four restaurants that are established, you can’t just do the same old thing,” says Melanie. “People expect more from you.” With Parker’s, they got it.
The restaurant’s view across the bay “is like being on Key West every night of the summer,” she says. Summertime sunsets, seen out the open back of Parker’s Garage, can be extraordinary. Parker’s also opened a new chapter in local farming for Tide Table. In 2017, just as the restaurant was opening, the partners started an oyster-farming co-op with the Barnegat Oyster Collective.
“We have 75 cages, called float cages. You get a few thousand oysters in each cage,” says Eric. Tide Table also has its own local oyster farmer, Shane Logo. DeFilippis likes the plan for oyster recycling that Melanie implemented after learning about a Virgina-based program. After the staff collects empty oyster shells, they are dried and returned to the bay, where spat, or oyster larvae, can attach to them and grow. “One oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water each day, so in essence, they’re cleaning the bay and contributing to the health of our coastal waters,” he says, of the program now run by Jetty Rock Foundation, Stockton University, Parsons Seafood and Long Beach Township.
The Nugents, Magaziners and Burrises weren’t necessarily looking to expand when they landed their sixth property, a giant nightclub and restaurant across the lane from Parker’s, in 2017. The historic building, which can accommodate 1,200, opened as a hotel in the early 1900s and is believed to have been home to Long Beach Island’s earliest tavern. Melanie dug into local history books to research the onetime fisherman’s bar and found that it was popular during Prohibition. But a more recent chapter in its history interested the Tide Table partners.
In the 1950s, the building, then known as the Acme Hotel, was sold to a local married couple, Bird and Betty Clutter, who owned it until 1976.
“Betty was well known in the community for yelling at everybody to leave when it was closing time,” says Melanie. “She’d shout, ‘Get out!’ But nobody ever did. People have been stopping by to tell us stories about them. They were characters.” Acme changed hands again in the 1980s and became the Ketch, a nightclub and restaurant. Tide Table plans a throwback 1960s and ’70s feel for the location, which they dubbed Bird & Betty’s. It will be their first expansion into nightlife.
“We’ll have a talent booker. We may get national touring acts,” says Bob. The menu will include Neapolitan pizza in addition to seafood and cocktails. Baddorf will be executive chef.
“It’s kind of monstrous, but it’s a natural progression for us,” says Melanie during a tour of the vast building, which Tide Table GM Mehl was gutting in anticipation of a pre-Memorial Day opening.
For the moment, the partners are too preoccupied with Bird & Betty’s to think of a name for their seventh place, the 5-acre site in Eagleswood that will become a restaurant in 2020. But no one minds the distraction.
“As crazy and as busy as we are, we’re in a fun profession where we get to try new food and cocktails daily. We’re lucky,” says Melanie. Her partners are quick to chime in about the other things that make them feel lucky: the quiet winter months, when several of the restaurants are closed and the Nugents and Magaziners often travel together; the five or six employees, including waitresses and bartenders, who have been with them for more than 20 years and feel like family; and the promise that Mehl and his wife, Brianna, the Nugents’ daughter, are on board to guide the business into the future.
“It’s not a bad life,” says Melanie.
“We wouldn’t trade it,” says Ginna.
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