Ocean City icon, Chatterbox using Sandy as an excuse to update

Attention: open in a new window. PrintE-mail

There is still a lot of work to be done inside The Chatterbox. There is still a lot of work to be done inside The Chatterbox.

OCEAN CITY — From 1937, the iconic Chatterbox has been “where the town meets,” but since Hurricane Sandy blew through town the only people meeting there are the Repici’s, insurance adjusters and contractors.

Sandy dumped 13 inches of water inside the brilliantly pink, family restaurant, on the corner of Ninth Street and Central Avenue. Along with a couple of ovens, the water took out all of the booths and most of the walls. It was a mess, and with so many difficult decisions to make, Aimee Repici didn’t know where to start. She questioned her every move, and even with the help of her four sons, Tommy, 29, Michael, 27, Matthew, 23 and Jon, 18, she was at the end of her rope.

The late Tom Repici had a habit of putting his initials on things, particularly when he was renovating or updating his family’s business. During a major overhaul in 1984, he wrote “TR” on the back of a newly installed wall in big black letters. He could not have known the impact it would have on his family 28 years later.

Aimee Repici looked up to the heavens for a word with Tom.

“My Tom has been gone almost four years now,” she said. “In those years, things have broken and gone wrong at the ‘Box and of course I look up and say, ‘Honey, can I have a break?’ I do that from time to time, I talk to him. We were all in there working, and it was a mess I looked up, and said to Tom, ‘You know, can I get a little help here?’”

With that her sons pulled down the wall that Tom built in 1984 and unearthed the big, bold “TR.”

“Low and behold it was revealed,” she said. “My wonderful helpers tore out the booths and some paneling. Tom painted this the last time we completely remodeled, nice and big for us to find!

“I said, ‘There he is, there’s our sign,’” she said. “In big letters, Tom was telling us it was going to be OK. That moment, finding those initials made me feel like a million bucks. I knew then that we were headed in the right direction.”

Repici said she hopes to have the “new” Chatterbox open by Easter.

“That’s a big holiday for us, the Easter Bunny is huge,” she said.

Repici said she hopes to secure a small business loan to completely overhaul the restaurant.

“We’re going to have a whole new perspective, a new menu; all in all it’s going to be great,” she said.

There are many new rules and regulations to follow in rebuilding, Repici said.

“We have to be prepared for this to happen again,” she said. “We’re going to build solid wood booths, the walls and floors will be more waterproof.

“We’re going to put in a counter. It’s going to be really nice. We’re going to open up the back room with a six foot arch, so the two rooms feel more connected. We’ll have a new bathroom, so the ladies don’t have to line up waiting.”

The mural on the wall will come back, as will all of the old pictures.

“It will still have its charm, we’re not changing that,” she said.

The kitchen, she said, will be redesigned with efficiency in mind. Matthew Repici, a graduate of Stockton who is in the culinary program at Atlantic Cape Community College, is revamping the menu and will help his mother with the transformation.   

The Chatterbox was all about nostalgia, with a juke box and the comfortable trappings of an all-American, “just good food” style. With 6-ounce freshly ground burgers, homemade Chatterbox chowder, thick milkshakes and sliced steaks hot off the grill, there was nothing trendy about the entrée items. The overhaul will see the old favorites sharing space on the menu with some new exciting offerings.   

The outside of the building will not change.

“The building was originally pink, though I think it’s a little brighter now,” Repici said. “It stands out and I like that. It’s very noticeable from the new bridge, and we’re going to put up some LED lighting.”

“We’re a tradition,” she said. “People have come here not just for years, for generations. It’s a favorite spot, a memory, a place that they have to come back to. We get a lot of families. The kids draw the parents in.”

The Spanish Mission Revival-style building was designed in the 1920s by famed architect Vivian Smith, who also designed City Hall, the Music Pier, The Flanders and the Central Avenue School, which now houses the Ocean City Police Department.

“Jean Campbell was the original owner, she had it for 30 years,” Repici said. “Bob Becotte had it for three years, he painted it green. My in-laws bought it in 1972.”

The late Tom Repici Sr. and Marie Repici ran numerous restaurants before fate brought them to The Chatterbox.

“They had restaurants in Delaware and they owned a business on the corner of 12th and Asbury,” Repici said.

They owned the Crosswinds, and the original Tom’s Deli.

“When they came from Delaware they owned a custard stand where the McDonalds is in Cape May Court House. They managed parking lots. They had been in the business for a number of years, and when the opportunity came up to buy The Chatterbox, they jumped on it,” she said.

The move was serendipitous for the younger Tom. Working his way through various jobs, from washing dishes to cooking, a cute young waitress named Aimee caught his eye. Their first date was the opening of Resorts in Atlantic City for “play money night” in 1976.

Over the years, the elder Repicis renovated and redesigned the restaurant. They sold the restaurant, only to buy it back in 1991 after turning down an opportunity to buy the old Daniel’s Restaurant in Somers Point.

The Repici family has faced many challenges beyond losing both father and son. Winters are tough, Aimee Repici said as a dwindling year-round population means fewer customers. Those looking for summer rentals used to come down through the winter and stop for lunch, now they do their hunting on the Internet.

Summers, she said, are very, very busy. So she is focusing on another great summer.

“Hopefully. We’re optimistic,” she said.

Repici said a lot has happened since she saw waves coming down Ninth Street at the height of the storm.

“Nobody got hurt,” she said, adding that the steel-framed building was akin to a fortress that took on water.

She wishes Tom was still with her, but she feels his strength guiding her.

“We had 29 great years together, we were very happy,” she said. “His hand is with all of us. I have my mother here. Marie is next door, so I have two moms, and everyone gets along.”

Last week, her first grandson, Robert Thomas Repici, was born.

“I’m very blessed,” she said.

The late Tom Repici painted his initials on this board and left it inside a wall of The Chatterbox restaurant 28 years ago. Four years after he died, his family unearthed the board while renovating after Hurricane Sandy. The serendipitous find inspired his family during a tough moment. The late Tom Repici painted his initials on this board and left it inside a wall of The Chatterbox restaurant 28 years ago. Four years after he died, his family unearthed the board while renovating after Hurricane Sandy. The serendipitous find inspired his family during a tough moment. The Chatterbox took on 13 inches of water during Hurricane Sandy. The Chatterbox took on 13 inches of water during Hurricane Sandy.


blog comments powered by Disqus