It’s been another year and we’re back with our annual roundup of business changes: new shops opening their doors, well-known businesses passing the torch, and a few goodbyes. Like last year, Cape May saw a number of big-name properties close and change hands in the latter half of 2021 through today. Let’s dive in.
In October, the Mission Inn announced the sale of the B&B. “When we purchased the inn back in 2016, we planned to own and operate it for at least ten to twelve years,” the owners said in an email last fall. “But, the recent rise in real estate prices made us consider the idea of selling the property much sooner than expected. And we recently received an offer that we could not refuse.” The Mission Inn is now a private home available for rent.
In February of this year, the Menz family sold the Inn of Cape May to the DeMutis Group, the people behind Madison Avenue Beach Club and the Jetty Motel. The historic hotel, constructed in 1894 by William H. Church and originally called the Colonial, is keeping its current name, but the restaurant and bar will be rebranded as Ocean 7 and The Porch. The Inn of Cape May had originally announced a spring reopening, but updated their social media last week to say it has been delayed.
After fifty-six years at the helm, the Hirsch family has sold the Montreal Beach Resort to Madison Resorts for $23 million. The hotel and its on-site restaurant, Harry’s Ocean Bar and Grille, will continue to operate under their current names. Next year, they’ll be joined by The Madison House, a beachblock micro-hotel.
Bob and Linda Steenrod have sold the dog-friendly Billmae guest house at 1015 Washington Street. It is now the Red Fox Suites, and yes, still welcomes dogs!
The Henry Sawyer Inn has closed. The property at 722 Columbia Avenue sold last April for $1.35 million. According to Cape May County public records, long-time owner Barbara Morris bought the property in January 1992 for $375,000.
The Mt. Vernon Motel at Beach and First Avenue has closed. The Hober family announced the decision on Facebook in March and held a contents sale. They operated the motel for fifty-eight years. The planning board approved the motel’s demolition last September.
The Buttonwood Boutique Hotel is now owned by RL Cape May and operates as a guest house. It’s one of the company’s four properties.
After thirty years as a bed and breakfast, the King’s Cottage has converted to a weekly rental. Owner Barbara Preminger is still managing the circa 1878 property at 9 Perry Street.
The Merion Inn, 106 Decatur Street’s iconic black and white restaurant, has closed. They’ve sold the property, and according to an email, are in talks to sell the liquor license to another party.
The 140-year-old building was bought by the Carroll Villa Hotel and will reopen this summer as The Cricket Club of Cape May, under the direction of Chef Jon Davies (our Persnickety Chef and a contributor to Cape May Magazine). Don’t let the name mislead you. We asked, and the Cricket Club will not be private. According to Chef Davies, the interior will be “modernized and streamlined.” When asked what the Cricket Club means to him: “[It’s] the opportunity to work with the Kulkowitz family again, because I worked for them twenty years ago, [and] the opportunity to create something in a historic space in Cape May, with a family with such a strong restaurant legacy.”
Godmother’s Restaurant has closed. Chef Carl Messick, who made a name for himself as the chef at Peter Shields Inn, has opened Grana BYOB in the former Godmother’s location at Seashore and Sunset. “It means the world to me to be able to open this restaurant,” Carl told us in an email. “I just wanted to bring Cape May a restaurant that reflects my style of food. Seasonality will be key with us. The last twelve years at PSI I put my stamp on it, and now I get to do that over here at Grana BYOB. I couldn’t be more excited for this opportunity.” (We had a chance to dine at Grana in early June and can say it’s excellent!)
Oyster Bay Restaurant & Bar at 615 Lafayette Street is under new ownership. We emailed the new owner, Gary Cardi, for details. “We are beyond excited to take over a Cape May staple,” Gary told us. “Oyster Bay has been part of the Cape May community for thirty years and the legacy left by Jerry and Chris is not one that should go unnoticed. We are most excited to meet and greet people that have been coming to Oyster Bay over the past three decades. Executive Chef Joe Dodds has a few ideas up his sleeves, but he will also be super focused on making sure the classics are done just as they always have.”
(We double checked, and they are keeping the duck.)
Taco Caballito—formerly Cabanas Beach Bar—will be expanding into the second floor at 429 Beach Avenue, taking over the former Iron Pier Craft House. The restaurant is now owned by RL Cape May, the company that recently acquired the Buttonwood Manor.
We spotted Cape May Grilled Cheese Co. over in Washington Commons. Good news: according to their Facebook page, they are currently training staff and plan to open this summer!
George’s Place has officially opened their Washington Commons location.
Let’s start down Liberty Way on the 500 block of the Washington Street Mall. Boutiques So Soleil and The Little Fish have moved in. So Soleil, which carries women’s and children’s clothing, has two other locations in Stone Harbor. We peeked in the window at The Little Fish and spotted summer clothing and accessories for kids.
While we were down that way, we also noticed that the Museum of Fine Arts & Pop Culture is now open. We mentioned they were coming soon in last year’s roundup. According to their signage, admission to the non-profit is by donation. We couldn’t see over the window coverings to the interior (the point, we assume, of their presence), but according to the Washington Street Mall website, the museum houses 190 pieces of art from various periods, including Victorian.
On the 400 block in City Center Mall (the building with the escalator), Collar & Bone, a dog ice cream bar and boutique, has taken over the space previously occupied by Latitude (they’ve moved to 711 Beach Avenue). The boutique is run by the people behind Muddy Paws in North Cape May.
Further down Washington Street, clothing company The Days has opened at 660 Washington Street. They carry sustainable clothing, accessories, and home goods designed and made in the tri-state area. They’re currently working on upcycled totes made from the Chalfonte’s awnings!
Let’s move up to the promenade. As you might remember, the Morrows family sold its two Cape May locations in 2016. The former promenade candy store is being split into four units: an ice cream shop, coffee shop, clothing store, and an Asian restaurant. The change required three variances from the city’s zoning board; previously the space wasn’t zoned for restaurant use. McGlade’s on the Pier won’t be affected.
O’Neill’s Estate Jewelry and Gems has moved into in the former Artisans Alcove building, at 523 Lafayette Street, the corner of Lafayette and Elmira. Diane and Daniel L’Neill are continuing Artisans Alcove’s twenty-year legacy, and pledge to donate a portion of their annual sales to addiction recovery. They also have a booth in West End Garage.
Secondhand book shop Barrier Island Books has opened in the former Gecko’s location, next to Key West Tacos at 479 W. Perry Street. This is their second location; the first is in Stone Harbor. You’ll find books in a range of genres, from popular fiction to classics to history. In addition to books, Barrier Island offers Cape May memorabilia and local artwork. According to Facebook, they’re hosting an open house later this month.
In Washington Commons, we spotted the new location for LiLi Health Spa next to Cape May Grilled Cheese Co. They offer various types of massage. According to Yelp reviews, Lili’s daughter also offers manicures.
A brand new type of leisure activity has arrived in Cape May: Cycle Cruises. What’s a cycle cruise? A pontoon that you pedal like a bicycle! According to owner Kyle, “Picture the bike bars that have become popular in cities like Nashville and Denver, except we are on a boat.” Spend the day with friends and family, pedaling through Cape May Harbor. Cycle Cruises accepts all ages, and their cruises are BYOB. They’re located at 954 Ocean Drive.
North of the bridge
Let’s start in North Cape May:
Latin American grill La BAHIA has opened at 3845 Bayshore Road. “I was in the healthcare industry for twelve years and got tired of the corporate life,” owner Raul Fernandez told us by email. “I am [a] poor kid from the Bronx [who] grew up with nothing at all . . . so to be able to work so hard and now share our culture and appreciation for food means everything to me!” The grill serves a variety of foods, from traditional Puerto Rican dishes to hot dogs. North Cape May is their only location at present, though Raul told us they hope to expand to more locations and eventually introduce a food truck. In English, la bahia means the bay, “in honor of our beautiful bay and area,” said Raul.
Exit Zero (yes, that one!) is renovating the Cape May-Lewes Ferry terminal as part of the new Ferry Park, a year-round shopping, dining, and leisure destination. We asked Jack Wright about the plans earlier this year. Ferry Park will offer four dining experiences: Boat Drinks, Cafe 64, Exit Zero Ferry Station (opening this month), and The Lookout.
Further up Seashore Road in Erma, Behr Brewing has opened up across from Church’s Garden Center at 513 Seashore. We stopped in during their second day of business and enjoyed the lemon shandy!
Big change in Rio Grande: The Rio Station at 3505 Route 9 has been sold to The Surfing Pig in Wildwood. They released a video on Facebook in April with the details. The quick version: New menu (some favorites have stayed, and some items have come over from the Surfing Pig items), revamped indoor and outdoor seating, and the liquor store has been replaced with a stage for live music. After this summer, they have huge (but unrevealed) plans for the restaurant. Since they’re promoting the hashtag #LastChanceRio on social media, we suspect rumors about a brand new restaurant are true.
In Cape May Court House, Popeyes Chicken has opened near the Court House Village shopping center (where Big Lots and TJ Maxx are).
Last October, the Bread + Butter Restaurant Group opened Tacoshop at 5 Court House S Dennis Road in Cape May Court House (the plaza where Acme and Staples are). Chef Lucas Manteca’s menu takes inspiration from Oaxacan cuisine, fusing it with flavors from Argentina, Peru, and the US. The menu also indicates vegetarian, gluten free, nut free, and vegan options. And yes, they have guac.
Finally, at the Cape May County Park and Zoo, the Safari Cafe Restaurant celebrated its grand opening on June 10th. The cafe is located inside of the zoo and offers thefare you’d expect: burgers, chicken sandwiches, hot dogs, pizza, and BBQ pork.
There you have it, the changes we know about so far. There are bound to be more we haven’t heard of yet. Help us update this post by sending details to email@example.com.
Jessica is the Creative Director at Cape Publishing and reports on business changes and historic preservation in Cape May. Is there something going on that we should know about? Email tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.