Posts Tagged ‘History of Ocean Grove: The Homestead’

By Kathy Arlt:  Contributing writer  @Blogfinger  (reposted from 2012 after receiving a January 2016 letter from a former waitress—see comments)

If The Sampler Inn was the most famous cafeteria in Ocean Grove, the Homestead was probably the most famous restaurant. It was in business for a long, long time, as this newspaper advertisement from the May, 1974, Neptune Times shows:

The precise date of its opening is hard to determine. Doing the math from the ad, it would appear to have opened in 1914…except for the fact that the 1973 season-opening announcement boasted that that would be its fifty-eighth season in business. (Somewhere along the line a 59th season got lost.) Ted Bell’s book, Ocean Grove in Vintage Postcards, puts the opening date at 1915, which is what one of the Homestead’s postcards proclaims. But further complicating the story of the Homestead’s very first opening day is a report from the Asbury Park Press in 1979, after the restaurant was closed forever. That newspaper stated that the Homestead began in Ocean Township in 1918 and was subsequently moved to Ocean Grove in 1938.

Whatever the true story is, there’s no doubt that the Homestead was a very popular place (famous for its fruit cup, which came topped with orange ice and a melon ball with a sprig of mint), and there are many people who remember the restaurant. I met one of them two years ago, at—of all places—El Rancho de las Golondrinas, a living history museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico. When a docent saw me write “Ocean Grove, NJ” in the guest book, she exclaimed, “Ocean Grove! I worked there as a waitress one summer, at the Homestead restaurant.”

She was too busy to talk to me about her experience, but no problem. I had another source of information, closer to home: my sister-in-law worked at the Homestead during either the 1973 or ’74 season, and she told me all about it.

Now, my sister-in-law is not from New Jersey; she’s from Massachusetts, and she was attending the College of New Rochelle, in New York, at the time. That was where she saw a notice on a bulletin board seeking waitresses for the Homestead restaurant in Ocean Grove during the summer. She took the job, despite knowing nothing about Ocean Grove, and, in her own words, “nothing about making money as a waitress. Because the town was dry, there were no drinks to pump up the bills and improve the generosity of the patrons. The tips were generally quite small.”

And the waitresses had expenses. They had to buy their own uniforms, and weekly rent for their lodgings in “a large, ramshackle Victorian on Seaview Avenue” was deducted from their paychecks. Everyone working at the Homestead was busy from the minute the doors opened in the morning until they closed at night, including the “rowdy eccentric crew” of dishwashers, who were the life of after-hours employee parties.

“At the end of the summer, I ended up with very little money to show for my efforts, so was not inclined to repeat the experience the following summer,” she told me. “The value of the experience was that I think I was one of the few people at Stetson Law School [in Florida] who had even heard of Ocean Grove, much less experienced the rules of ‘no bathing suits anywhere but the beach and on the boardwalk,’ ‘no booze’ and ‘no cars on Sunday.’” This gave her something to talk about when she met my brother.

But she has other memories of her summer working at the Homestead and living in Ocean Grove. She remembers driving around with her friend Pattie looking for a Saturday night parking space that wasn’t too far from the chained-at-midnight gates. And she got her ears pierced that summer, “in a jewelry store on Main Avenue, by a German lady who told me, ‘Once you do this, you can wear earrings always, and wake up looking vonderful.’” And finally, she remembers hanging out with another waitress, named Chantal, from New Mexico.

It would be too much of a coincidence if Chantal was that docent I met two years ago, wouldn’t it? Well, maybe…but then again, maybe not.

And where was the Homestead restaurant, some of you are probably wondering? Well, it was just too hot for me to go take a picture of it last week, but I’m sure you can identify it from this postcard:

I never had the chance to sample the Homestead’s fruit cup. After it closed in 1978, the site became a Perkins Pancake House. I did eat there a couple of times, wondering how and why a chain restaurant came to be located in such a prime beachfront spot: the view over the ocean was spectacular. I’m not sure what replaced Perkins, or what replaced whatever replaced that. I do know that the beach replenishment project of the 1990s put so much sand between the back windows and the ocean that there’s no table-side view of the ocean anymore.

JOE WILLIAMS AND COUNT BASIE    “There Will Never Be Another You.”

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