Moving their restaurant to the city was simply a matter of good business
IT would be easy to look at the presence of Moonstruck on Lake Avenue as a symbol of Asbury Park's revival or the trend toward gentrification that is happening across the country. But for the folks at this bustling eatery, the focus is on the food. The cowboy steak is particularly good tonight, a customer is told as she is greeted with a friendly buss by co-owner and chef de cuisine Howard Raczkiewicz.
"For us, this was a pure business decision. We weren't trying to be part of the resurrection or trying to be first," says Raczkiewicz, referring to himself and his business partner Luke Magliaro.
The two moved the restaurant from Ocean Grove, where it opened in 1995, across Wesley Lake to Asbury Park two years ago.
"By moving, we were able to have more space, and we were able to get a liquor license. We couldn't have a liquor license in Ocean Grove because it's a dry town."
Not that the Moonstruck folks don't support Asbury Park and its revitalization efforts.
"The city has been wonderful to us. We couldn't ask for anything more. The community has been great. The locals have been supporting us," he says. "It's a nice feeling, a really nice feeling to be here. We're very happy here. Very happy."
Still, it is impossible not to notice that, for whatever reason, the crowds filling the dinning room and outdoor porches, at least on this weekday evening, don't exactly reflect the rich mix of ethnicities to be found in most of Asbury Park.
That is to take nothing away from the magic of Moonstruck itself and the rich beauty - inside and out. The tastefully refurbished Victorian with its two levels of wraparound, outdoor porches, is an inviting presence. That welcoming mood continues inside where dark wood and flickering candles on tables create an atmosphere that is at once intimate and spacious.
Just one block over, one sees a desolate, empty network of downtown streets still waiting for more successful businesses like Moonstruck to come and trigger a similar revival.
Raczkiewicz, proudly extolling the highlights of the restaurant during a brief tour, shares, innocently enough, that one of the things his customers comment the most about is that they feel like they're stepping into another world when they enter Moonstruck .Says Raczkiewicz, "A lot of people say, `Oh, I felt I was on vacation when I went to your restaurant. I just felt I was some place different. I just didn't feel like I was in Asbury Park."