Nestled behind the dunes of South Seaside Heights, N.J., Chef Mike’s ABG is one of the area’s most popular restaurants—especially for members of the local high-performance boating community. That’s not just because Mike Jurusz, the restaurant’s owner, founder and executive chef, is a go-fast powerboat owner and a wizard in the kitchen. From supporting charities from Shore Dreams for Kids to Arcuri For SUDS (Soliders Undertaking Disabled Scuba), Jurusz gives back. Through his his efforts, he raises $500,000 a year for some 65 charities.
In 2019 alone, Jurusz donated $74,000 in restaurant gift cards.
Mike Jurusz (above left) didn’t just participate in last year’s 1,000 Islands Charity Poker Run, he was one of the event’s sponsors (click image to enlarge). Photo courtesy/copyright Tim Sharkey/Sharkey Images.
Now, with the Garden State shut down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Chef Mike’s ABG—short for Atlantic Bar and Grill—is dark. Jurusz temporarily closed the restaurant late last month. He hopes to reopen it, though just for gift-card sales, in May.
“We tried the food-to-go route—I even created a $20 to-go menu—but our food just doesn’t work in that format,” he said. “Plus, when we opened for take-out, we had three people working as we had to cut staff and we had more than 1,000 to-go orders.
“Our last night was March 21, and it was crazy,” he added. “I am blessed and cursed, blessed to have such incredible customers and cursed that, with just three people and me being a perfectionist with my food, we couldn’t handle it. We were overwhelmed, and if I can’t execute something properly in my restaurant I won’t do it.”
Among the customers who visited Chef Mike’s ABG during its final nights open was Bob Christie, a well-known member of the New Jersey go-fast boating community who lives in Seaside Heights and owns a MTI 340X catamaran.
“Bob ordered two salads and two soups—and $1,000 in gift cards,” said Juraz, who paused for a moment to collect himself. “This community has a heart of gold. My friend Tim Sharkey (a longtime speedonthewater.com contributing photographer) has been coming by every week to throw me a couple of bucks. He’s old school, like Bob. We take care of each other.”
“Mike is a true friend,” said Christie. “He donates so much to charities especially the food banks. He is always the first to raise his hand and first to show up. When his business was put in a tough position because of the virus so many stepped up. I supported him that first weekend and I encouraged others to do the same. He did not stay open (for in-house diners) past the first weekend or I would have supported him seven nights a week until this mess is over. The world needs more Mikes who always step up for others.”
From his three businesses, Arcuri For SUDS founder Nick Arcuri sent Jurusz a trio of $500 checks. Before Jurusz shut down the restaurant, he gave his employees the run of the pantry and they took home not just the restaurant’s perishable food stuffs but its dry goods as well. Most have applied for unemployment insurance, as has their former employer.
Said Bob Christie (above in the starboard-side front seat of his MTI 340X catamaran), “The world needs more Mikes who always step up for others.” Photo from the 2019 MTI Owners Florida Keys Fun Run coutesy/copyright Pete Boden/Shoot 2 Thrill PIx.
Understandably concerned for themselves and their families, his employees—many of whom have been with him for 20 years—actually thanked him for closing, Jurusz said, as well as for the food to take home to feed their loved ones.
“They cleaned out the place,” he said, then laughed. “Which was exactly what I wanted. They were so grateful.”
“Mike is such a giver,” said Sharkey, who as an essential employee is still working in the field for Verizon. “I just learned yesterday that I will be receiving hazard pay. That will help me give more to Chef Mike.”
Though he knows he’ll face significant hurdles reopening after closing for more than a month—and likely more based on even the most conservative novel coronavirus projections— Jurusz remains positive and optimistic. He believes that all of the giving he has done during the years is coming back to him, and he is humbled and grateful for the support he has already received.
“All of those good deeds are coming back,” he said. “I am truly blessed. Karma really does exist.”
Tim Sharkey: “Mike is such a giver.” Photo from the 2014 Buffalo Poker Run by Matt Trulio/copyright speedonthewater.com.
Ongoing COVID-19 Related Coverage
Wish Fulfillment Reigns At 1,000 Islands Charity Poker Run
A Need We Feed
Wall Of Fame
Chef Mike’s Secret Ingredients—Love And Passion
Gallery of the Week: Shore Dreams For Kids by Tim Sharkey