Long Beach Island has this magnetic pull on anyone who has ever set foot on the island. As soon as you cross over the bridge, it’s almost like a time transport to an unpretentious world in which you get the feeling that time has just sort of... stood still for a while. There’s an element sentimentality, which with it brings fond memories of summers past along with an indescribable sense of comfort and serenity. And despite the fact that homes may be getting larger and, sure, the island seems to be bustling more than ever—the core fundamentals of pure and simple, laid-back beach life will always remain a constant on the island. And one of these nostalgic anchors of LBI traditions happens to be celebrating its 70th season in business: The Holiday Snack Bar on Long Beach Island.
In late 1947, two sisters who were both home economics teachers, Elizabeth and Marie Sellers, bought a little clam bar three blocks away the beach, on the corner of what is now Centre Street and Delaware Avenue in Beach Haven, NJ. After sprucing up and putting together basic menu, in 1948 Holiday Snack Bar was born. The local establishment’s vision was aligned with what its name declared — whether working up an appetite at the beach, surfing a session all morning, or just satisfying a sweet tooth— this was the place to pop in for a quick bite or lite snack at the octagonal-shaped wooden counter while “holidaying” on LBI.
The menu was typical of post war-era foods. Homemade vegetable soups prepared from scratch daily, popular 1940s comfort food like a tomato aspic salad, freshly ground hamburger patties cooked to order on a vintage 2-foot-square flattop griddle right in the corner of the dining room for all to see, house made vanilla and cherry cokes, the now-legendary secret sweet-and-sour mustard sauce (of whose recipe is one of the most closely guarded holy grails that has been passed down from owner to owner), and last but not in the slightest bit least—generous servings of delectable signature homemade pies and cakes.
As time went on the sisters retired and sold the eatery to the next family, Betty and Harry Armitage, in 1959—and it was this family who, with the help of longtime family friend and Home Economics /Food Science guru, Katherine Lowe, developed the infamous sweet-and-sour sauce recipe based on the popular sauce that two sisters actually used to purchase. Along with the restaurant came their prized book of recipes, and the Snack Bar was as popular as ever. The eatery was reportedly feeding anywhere from 300 up to 500 people daily, and it is during this time that Mrs. Armitage invented what was and still is in present-day one of the most highly requested cakes—the Lady-Lord Cake, which is alternating layers of yellow and chocolate cake with icings that also alternate. “I might have been one of the first people to ever try the Lady-Lord cake,” recalls Phyllis Roche, who lived in Philadelphia at the time and summered in Beach Haven every year since 1947. “I worked on the island in the early 1960s [while in high school] and was a regular at the Snack Bar. Every holiday or birthday in my family included a cake from Holiday Snack bar. I will never forget my first taste of the Lady-Lord, it was light and chocolatey—the icing was delicious. I remember going there late in the day once and the person in front of me on line got the last piece of that cake. I learned my lesson and from that point on I always ordered my dessert with my hamburger,” she chuckles.
Ellen Fletcher Russell spent the summer of 1967 working at the Holiday Snack Bar and reminiscences to this day how wonderful her experience of working for the Armitages was. The dress code was a neat skirt and top, and she even remembers buying a paper dress or two from the Five-and-Dime store to wear to work that summer. She shares that the Snack Bar was known for having the best burgers on the island. One may assume that is what the employees would eat for lunch, but that was not the case. “Mrs. Armitage always cooked us a nourishing, hot lunch. We had soup, freshly prepared meat and vegetables. The most memorable dish for me was her homemade corned beef hash with a poached egg on top. Man, was it good,” recalls Fletcher Russell. She shares that the yellow cake with chocolate frosting and the chocolate cake with boiled white frosting were the two most-ordered cakes that summer. And of course, the secret sweet-and-sour sauce is an unforgettable item, the taste being “out of this world,” as she describes it, “it was golden brown and sort of thin, mustardy and savory with a little bit of sweetness.” She remembers asking Mrs. Armitage for the recipe once, to which Betty regrettably replied, “It’s my most closely guarded secret, I would never give it to anybody,” and as far as Fletcher Russell knows, she never did… until the Armitages’ daughter, Suzette, took over the family business.
Betty and Harry’s daughter, Suzette, with her husband, Kneeland Whiting, kept the family legacy thriving for almost four decades right through their retirement in 1992 when they sold it to the Buzby Family. The décor and menu remained the same throughout all of those years, and the recipes were kept tightly under lock and key. “We looked into upgrading the stools one year, at a food trade show, when a colleague from the New Jersey Restaurant Association talked us out of buying the newer, more comfortable stools,” laughs Whiting. “He said, ‘You can’t put those comfortable stools in—then people will never want to leave!’ and we realized that we had something special and unique going for us. If it wasn’t broken, why try to fix it?”
In the 1980s Bon Appétit magazine approached Whiting, asking for the recipe for their beloved “No Name Pie” to feature in the publication. While she was both flattered and extremely honored, she responded with a gracious note stating that if they wanted the recipe, they would have to buy the Snack Bar to get it, revealing only the three most obvious ingredients of coconut, pecans and chocolate chips. Even Beach Haven’s own Mayor, Nancy Taggart Davis, who use to work for the Whitings at the Snack Bar, couldn’t crack the code on the family’s secret recipes.
In 2000, Glenn and Amy Warfield purchased the Holiday Snack Bar and it has since been flourishing more than ever before. Working alongside their children, Cameron and Justin, the Warfields have managed to bring this 1940s eatery right through the new millennium with what appears to be ease and enjoyment. Under Warfield’s ownership, the Snack Bar has been officially awarded the title as having one of “America’s Best Burgers” in George Motz’s Hamburger America, and who would’ve ever imagined that the 70-year-old establishment would even have its own Facebook Fan Page (facebook.com/holidaysnackbar), Instagram handle (@holidaysnackbar) and trending hashtags including
But make no mistake, the changes to its façade and menu are minimal—if any at all. “We all need constants in our lives,” acknowledges Warfield of the desire for patrons to come back year after year and sit at the same bar counter on the same bar stool and be immersed in the identical ambience that they had experienced their entire childhood. Warfield prides himself on keeping up with traditions such as embodying the essence of the original Snack Bar and never deviating from the original core menu, as it has been since its inception 70 years ago. He’s added a few new items— including mouthwatering dishes like imaginative burger creations and a gourmet short rib grilled cheese, even an indulgent gluten-free, flourless cholate torte—but they are listed on the daily specials board because the original menu remains sacred and untouched. Rest assured that nothing will ever dethrone the majestic Lady Lord Baltimore from her spot on the infamous cake shelf display at the center of the Snack Bar.
Glenn and Amy Warfield understand how important the nostalgia for patrons truly is, and how much customers love that feeling of coming back to a place that hasn’t changed (aside from a fresh coat of paint) since they left. He mentions one particular customer that has been coming to the Snack Bar every year since 1949, and every year he shares his satisfaction with the family. “We are in the transportation business,” Warfield likes to say, referring to transporting patrons back to the past. “LBI is losing some of these treasured places as time passes, but that won’t be the case with Holiday Snack Bar. We aren’t going anywhere and we don’t plan on changing a thing.”
Cheers to the next 70 years, Warfield Family!