Above: Lacey’s The Waterfront opens outdoor dining in 2020.
Berkeley and Lacey may not be best known for their fine dining, restaurants with waterfront views and diverse food scene, but elected leaders in both townships hope to change that.
Lacey’s recreation director Jim Wioland applied for a matching grant from Ocean County’s Division of Tourism to set up a “restaurant week” for both municipalities in early October. The event would help spread awareness about the area’s multitude of restaurants, particularly along Route 9, Barnegat Bay and Berkeley’s section of the northern barrier island.
“We love LBI (Long Beach Island) … we love heading up to Point Pleasant and some of the Shore towns to the north, but we have a lot to offer,” Wioland said.
Berkeley Mayor Carman Amato says the restaurant week would help promote the area’s struggling restaurant industry that has faced severe financial impacts from limits on indoor seating and the closure of outdoor dining over the winter.
Restaurants in the region “are doing the best they can under the circumstances,” Amato said.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday relaxed pandemic-related limits on indoor dining and allowed restaurants to increase indoor capacity from 25% to 35%. Murphy also canceled an earlier, statewide 10 p.m. dining curfew.
But Murphy’s critics urged the governor to do more to help the ailing restaurant industry.
State Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, in a statement said the restrictions were “draconian” and were “killing our restaurant and hospitality industry.”
Michele Siekerka, president and CEO of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, said Murphy’s action was “a good step in the right direction,” but continued to urge him to allow more indoor capacity at restaurants.
Lacey and Berkeley officials hope their Restaurant Week and related advertising campaign will help relieve some of the financial struggles facing their share of the restaurant industry.
They are asking Ocean County’s tourism division to award $1,000 toward the project, with the towns supplying the other half of the $2,000 advertising campaign.
The goal is to draw new customers from the surrounding region to each township’s businesses as well as extend Lacey’s and Berkeley’s tourism season into October, Wioland said.
“There’s a lot of dining variety,” said Amato, adding that Berkeley has everything from the casual Bill’s BBQ Shack in Bayville to ocean views at Chef Mike’s ABG in South Seaside Park.
When Lacey officials reached out to Berkeley about partnering for their own Restaurant Week, “we (Berkeley officials) couldn’t say yes fast enough,” Amato said.
The Berkeley mayor and Wioland said both townships are discussing holding small events during Restaurant Week, like outdoor concerts, drive-in movies and activities that can be held safely and socially distanced.
Lacey officials expect to receive an answer about their grant application from the county sometime in April, Wioland said.
“We hope to make it an annual tradition,” he said.
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Amanda Oglesby is an Ocean County native who covers Brick, Barnegat and Lacey townships as well as the environment. She has worked for the Press for more than a decade. Reach her at @OglesbyAPP, [email protected] or 732-557-5701.
This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Lacey and Berkeley: Here’s their pitch to help save ailing restaurants