GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Chris and Stacey Dempsey remember the days when Al’s Custard was the place to go on a hot summer day for refreshing ice cream.
“Everybody knew where it was,” she said of the restaurant on the western edge of town. “Everybody came here.”
Now, the couple has turned the restaurant into the Chill and Grill, 9 years after leaving New Jersey for new jobs in suburban Austin, Texas.
In May, they returned home to the Chill and Grill.
“My sister kept asking when we were coming back,” Chris said Monday afternoon while seated in restaurant’s 50-person dining room at 1001 W. White Horse Pike.
Nearby, “Surf at Your Own Risk” and “Life is Better in Flip Flops” sayings are painted on the walls. Music from the 1950s and '60s plays through the sound system. Beach towels, wrapped in plastic, form the seat backs.
“We tried to get back once a year,” Stacey said, “but that wasn’t always possible.”
Chris nodded his head.
“It was a 25-hour straight drive,” he said.
And after two years away, the move seemed permanent, Chris said, a Texan accent changing his voice.
“I come from a large family,” she said, “and Chris is very close to his sister. We had tried to get everybody to come to Texas.”
But they didn’t come, except for his mother.
However, when Stacey Dempsey’s sister, Samantha, died nearly three years ago, she knew she had to return to her Jersey roots.
Her decision led the Dempseys to begin researching business opportunities here. Chris returned in November to New Jersey to consider a nearby deli opportunity. While he was here, his sister, Jennifer, called him and they talked about Al’s which was again available. Chris was hesitant at first, citing the building’s age.
“It was Al’s for 36 years,” Stacey said. “And it was the Pizza Shack for 2½ years.”
But when Chris mentioned it, Stacey didn't hide her excitement.
“I loved it,” Stacey said.
Chris called about the nearly 40-year-old restaurant and then he visited it.
“I took lots of photos,” he said.
The Dempseys even researched a survey that showed about 18,000 vehicles pass the restaurant daily on the White Horse Pike. They talked about it and soon realized they had found their restaurant.
The Dempseys leased the restaurant on April 28 and opened with ice cream on Memorial Day. In between, they moved half of their family — Brendan, 16, and Chris Jr., 14, — from Texas to Mays Landing.
Chris said two of his children, Jesus, 19, and Natalie, 19, stayed 6 weeks longer in Texas to finish the school year.
“Then I went back for them and my mother,” he said.
The Dempseys began serving lunch and dinner shortly after they opened the restaurant. Soon, breakfast will come, Chris said.
“It’s going to add 5 hours to our day,” Chris said, shaking his head and wearing a smile.
Their menu contains everything you’d expect at a roadside stop about a half hour away from the shore and 10 miles west of the parkway. Starters include mozzarella sticks, garlic knots, and Hippo eggs.
Hippo eggs, which sell for $5.50, are a creation of the Westphalia Market in Hutto, Texas. They are a cream cheese-filled big spicy green jalapeño pepper wrapped by a sausage and bacon.
There are wraps, burgers, salads, sandwiches, chicken wings, baskets, cold subs, and hot subs, which all cost between $6 and $8.50.
There are pizzas, with an extra large takeout $9.99.
And, of course, there are all types of ice cream treats to eat at the take-out window and the front counter.