By Marybeth T. Hagan
Like more than a few of its members, the historic Union League of Philadelphia now has a summer place on Seven Mile Beach – a newly acquired restaurant dubbed The Bungalow.
The Union League, a private club founded in 1862 as a patriotic society to support the policies of Abraham Lincoln, recently purchased The Back Yard Restaurant on 81st Street in Stone Harbor for $600,000. The Bungalow opens for members and their guests on Wednesday, May 28.
“We’re very excited. This is our first off-site venture,” says Union League General Manager Jeff McFadden, who introduced the concept of “small satellite facilities.” The Jersey shore, especially Stone Harbor and Avalon, proved to be a natural site since so many members frequent it. “The Bungalow will be small, quiet, pleasant and upscale,” McFadden says. “It’s in a neighborhood. We want to fit into the neighborhood. We don’t want to stand out as a restaurant. We want to be good neighbors, business partners and part of the community.”
With just two months between The Back Yard’s sale and The Bungalow’s opening, local workers and Union League employees in Philadelphia hustled to put all into place.
Saws buzzed, drills whirled and hammers banged at the restaurant building late in April. Shades of its days gone by – bright yellows, lime greens and hot pinks on the cottage-like structure’s exterior – could still be seen at this point in the restaurant’s renovation. Hues at The Bungalow will be more subdued in tones of gray and blue with touches of bright color.
“Timing is now key on this job since the restaurant will be opening soon,” says Don Miner, owner and president of D.L. Miner Construction in Cape May Court House. Miner’s six-man crew bustled about the building as it worked on interior areas in disrepair. The men also rejuvenated the building by adding an up-to-date façade, complete with new siding.
Meanwhile, back in the magnificent French Renaissance-style brownstone building that occupies a full city block on South Broad Street, Union League staffers addressed various details of opening and operating The Bungalow so that it will be a success.
“When we surveyed [members about opening a restaurant at the Jersey shore], we included the area extending from Brigantine to Cape May,” Food and Beverage Controller Katie Sacchetta says.
Bungalow Manager Rachel Hutchinson, a longtime Avalon summer resident, notes that she regularly runs into Union League members on the island during the summertime.
One recent springtime weekend, Sacchetta and Hutchinson came into town and hired seasonal cooks, servers, bussers and hostesses in preparation for the restaurant’s opening. Hutchinson will work at The Bungalow full time for the summer season. Sacchetta will be there as needed. When the BYOB opens, “it will be all hands on deck,” Hutchinson says.
While the builders rebuild and the managers plan, members of the Union League’s executive chef team weigh how to effectively manage The Bungalow’s kitchen and menu.
On a late-April afternoon, Executive Chef Martin Hamann, The Bungalow’s Chef de Cuisine Ed Vadden, Executive Sous Chef Denny Santiago and Mike McFadden, chef de cuisine of the Union League’s Café Meredith, each examines an appetizing assortment of rolls and loaves of bread that are spread across a long table in the Union League’s sparkling, spotless new kitchen. These Aversa’s Bakery products will be served at The Bungalow.
Like other food suppliers with whom the chefs plan to conduct business, Aversa’s Bakery is a New Jersey company, with bakeries in Turnersville, Washington Township, Margate and Brigantine. Executive chef team members agree: They want the fresh produce and seafood that will be served at The Bungalow to be purchased from local farms and seafood suppliers.
“We’ll be serving Jersey Provencal,” quips Hamann, the group’s lively leader, before clarifyng how they will incorporate favorite Jersey summertime staples into the Mediterranean type of cuisine common to southern France’s Provence region. The Bungalow’s patrons can look forward to dishes seasoned with lots of herbs like thyme, basil and chives, touches of garlic and splashes of olive oil. New Jersey food favorites that the chefs plan to feature in salads, main courses and desserts and more include tomatoes, sweet corn, zucchini flowers, scallops, tilefish, bass, peaches and blueberries, among other tasty items.
“We want to keep it simple but bring substance to the food,” Hamann says.
The chefs determined that the restaurant will comfortably seat 85. Weather will be a factor in seating at The Bungalow, since there will be both indoor and outdoor garden-style dining Wednesday through Sunday nights.
“Two months is not a lot of time to open a restaurant,” Vadden says. “Even six months is a short time.” Some restaurants take as much as a year or two to launch, his associates explain. “We already went down to thoroughly clean and organize the kitchen,” Santiago says. “We will work with what we have and make it function.”
These Union League employees move forward confidently, because as each colleague in this congenial bunch of chefs makes clear, they work as a team. “Everybody – chefs, general manager, assistant general manager and restaurant managers – had a say in setting up The Bungalow,” Santiago notes, “even in choosing its logo.”
Union League management values employee input when making club improvements, like the new kitchen completed in 2013 and now The Bungalow. Says Hamann: “Such decisions are made with input from people who are really doing the grind.”
Sacchetta and Hutchinson and the chefs unanimously agree that the force behind this practice and the innovations that have raised the bar for private-club standards at the Union League and beyond is Jeff McFadden. Their general manager comes up with project ideas, completes projects to perfection and immediately begins another, they say. He, on the other hand, calls each project “a huge team effort.” Having “a spark, a vision” is easy when one works with “a great team” that takes that spark or vision and runs with it, he adds.
“We want to serve our members,” Sacchetta says of those who invest in the club’s many amenities and generously support its Youth Work Foundation, Scholarship Foundation and Abraham Lincoln Foundation with their time and contributions.
“The members are amazing. They’re the reason why people work here for years,” says Hutchinson, whose first job was at Hoy’s 5 & 10 in Avalon when she was 14. “Once I started at the Union League [five years ago], I never wanted to leave.”
The Union League staff’s motto is: “Whatever it takes, make it happen!” If their enthusiasm is any indication, that’s precisely what The Bungalow’s managers, chefs and other Union League staffers intend to do, with help from D.L. Miner’s local construction crew.
“We’re always looking to improve services for our members, especially for younger members,” Jeff McFadden says. “Hopefully, The Bungalow will attract new members.”
Marybeth T. Hagan is a freelance writer. Her commentaries and stories have been published by: The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, The Bulletin, The Delaware County Daily Times, The Catholic Standard & Times, The National Catholic Register and The Christian Science Monitor. She is also the author of Abortion: A Mothers Plea for Maternity and the Unborn, a Liguori/Triumph publication.