MOONSTRUCK RESTAURANT OWNERS TALK 20 YEARS
LAST month, Howard Roche and Luke Magliaro [photo left], owners of the iconic Moonstruck restaurant, quietly celebrated two decades of palate pleasing. In an exclusive Coaster and TheBPlot interview, they discussed the evolution of their business, partnership and passion for putting the customer first…
“Twenty years ago we cracked our first egg, diced our first onion,” said Howard, referring to their first restaurant in Ocean Grove, The Raspberry Cafe. “This is our passion and our pleasure.”
Before everything new in Asbury Park, there was Moonstruck on Lake Avenue, which Luke and Howard opened in 2000, after a three year search for the ideal spot.
“We always knew Asbury Park had a pulse and was alive – it was a natural fit for us, living and working in the area since the early 1980’s,” said Luke, who worked at the Adriatic and Cypress Inn earlier in his career. “Howard and I would ride our bikes around the City scouting out locations until we saw the ‘For Sale’ sign on this beat-up building that used to be a bar and restaurant – which in the 20’s was a guest house, the 40’s was reported to be a ‘house of ill repute’ and from the 60’s on was some form of bar, restaurant or dance club.”
The guys jumped through fiery hoops to purchase the building [photo below left] and worked even harder, with local architect Jim Watt, to gut it to “almost nothing,” then adding everything it takes to run a first-class restaurant, the exterior porches you see today, a warm, welcoming interior, luxe restrooms and pristine landscaping.
“In the beginning it was Mr. Fashion and us in town,” said Howard, who recently introduced valet parking for guests.
After twenty years of unwavering dedication, Luke and Howard have earned effusive praise and hugs. Moonstruck, to me, is absolutely the number one, best and most consistently indulgent and welcoming restaurant around – from original entrees to detailed service to luscious drinks to the relaxing and elegant atmosphere.
“I defy anyone to find a finer, top-notch restaurant from front to back of the house than Moonstruck…anywhere,” said Carolyn Curtin, Asbury Park resident. “Luke and Howard are first-class men. Congratulations to them for twenty years of excellence.”
Every customer I spoke with echoed Carolyn’s sentiments, however Luke and Howard don’t rest on praise, working with an ever-evolving menu.
“We serve what we would like to eat and what reflects the personality of our customers – the menu has no ‘sleepers’,” said Howard who has prepared meals at Moonstruck for James Gandolfini, Katie Couric, Ben Affleck, Frankie Avalon, and Mr. Springsteen among other top-secret fancy names. “Our seasonal menu is focused around what’s fresh and what we can be proud of. Many of our customers don’t want to feel stuffed, eating heavy food during the summer, so we make sure we have amazing salads and fish, like our Wild Alaskan Halibut.”
Moonstruck is the place I take any first-time Asbury Park visitor because it’s a guaranteed great evening, minus the chaos of the boardwalk.
“Luke and Howard are gentlemen who care about their customers, employees and the community,” said Janet Manni, Century 21 Coastal Realtors, who has known Luke and Howard for decades.
In a town where chefs send out press releases announcing a new chicken breast recipe and expect a parade when they give back to the community, Luke and Howard enjoy the subtlety of their restaurant rock star-dom, calling themselves the “Wayne Newton” of dining.
“We are not the hippest or coolest but we have a great audience who keeps coming back and who appreciate the quality we insist on – just like Wayne,” said Howard. “Every award we’ve received over the years is because we earned it. We’ve never lobbied our customers to vote for us. There is a attractiveness to learning about a special place instead of being told.”
Finally, after twenty years, what was their biggest mistake?
“I should have gone to refrigeration school,” said Howard, laughing, during one the last week’s 95 degree days in town. “I wish I could fix everything myself to make sure everyone is always, always comfortable.”
Read TheBPlot’s additional coverage of Moonstruck through the years, including how the restaurant got its name by searching “Moonstruck” or clicking HERE.
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