Out With The Old, In With The New: Changes To Stafford Business

The Route 72 Shopping Plaza in Stafford Township remains empty on the west end. (Photo by Kimberly Bosco)

  STAFFORD – With the New Year, comes new business for Stafford Township.

  In 2019, Stafford saw the opening of a handful of new businesses as well as the long-awaited approvals of some-to-be-built establishments. In 2020, residents will finally see some movement in the development of township commerce.

  According to township administrator Matthew von der Hayden, the Stafford Township Planning Board approved the following commercial businesses in 2019:

  • Ocean Acres Veterinary Office
  • Manasquan Bank
  • A car wash
  • Panera Bread
  • For-Shore Weed Control
  • Chick-fil-A

  Of these new additions, the Panera Bread and Chick-fil-a restaurants have bred a lot of excitement in the southern Ocean County area.

  The popular eateries gained official site plan approval at the March 2019 planning board meeting. Applied for by Parsi Investments, LLC, the Chick-fil-A and Panera Bread will be constructed at 434 Route 72 West, Block 70 Lot 13.

  The future site of the two restaurants is located on Route 72 approaching the Garden State Parkway from the east. It is sandwiched by Manahawkin Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram and KFC. The property formerly housed a bank and a medical office, according to the applicant.

  Chick-fil-A will have a double drive-in that allows for a duel ordering system. Customers will branch off from one line into one of two drive-thru lanes to order, and then merge back together into one line to pick up food from the window. The professionals noted that this system keeps lines shorter around the restaurant and increases efficiency.

  Chick-fil-A’s hours will be Monday to Saturday, 6 a.m.-10 p.m., closed Sunday. Panera will be open 6 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday to Saturday, 7 a.m.-9 p.m. on Sunday. All 2,000 of Chick-fil-A’s locations throughout the country are closed on Sundays due to the company’s strict business model.

  Construction on these restaurants is expected to break ground in 2020. This is exciting news for southern Ocean County residents as the closest Chick-fil-a location is in Brick Township to the north or in Galloway to the south (Atlantic County). For Panera, you can find locations in Toms River and Howell.

Last year saw the opening of a Chipotle and Xfinity store in Stafford. (Photo by Kimberly Bosco)

  In 2019, Stafford also saw the construction and opening of a Chipotle Mexican chain restaurant and an Xfinity store at 451 Martin Truex Jr. Blvd. These stores, which recently opened their doors, are two halves of one structure built on the property of what used to be a Sonic drive-in restaurant.

  Chipotle is an American chain of fast casual restaurants specializing in tacos and Mission-style burritos, according to the chain.

  A similar style Mexican restaurant, Bubbakoo’s Burritos, also opened up shop in late 2019 in what was once a Subway location at 601 Washington Ave.

   Bubbakoo’s is a local chain with Jersey Shore roots, serving up burritos, tacos, and quesadillas in a choose-your-own style. The burrito restaurant got its start in Point Pleasant in 2008. In the last decade, the spot has expanded to over 20 locations throughout the Jersey Shore including Bayville, Toms River, and Brick in Ocean County.

  Bubbakoo’s filled in the empty space in the small Stafford strip mall next to TGI Fridays, which includes a Dunkin Donuts, hair salon, and Chinese restaurant.

  While Stafford foodies have been graced with a few new eateries, one local favorite said goodbye. Shore Fire Grille announced at the end of 2019 that it was shutting down its Manahawkin location effective Dec. 31. It was a difficult decision to make just four months after owner Timothy Kohlheim died in a motor vehicle crash.

  Taking over in his place is his wife Samantha Kohlheim, who posted the announcement to the restaurant’s social media: “With a long debate in my head I have come to the realization that closing our Manahawkin Location ONLY is the best decision I can make to be able to continue to produce great food, service, catering and of course continue to be a great momma to my babies (my most favorite job ever)!”

  Despite closing down the Manahawkin location, Shore Fire Grille will continue catering services and Shore Fire Grille II, the Surf City location.

  On the retail end, Stafford said goodbye to AC Moore arts and crafts store and welcomed an Ashley HomeStore in its place, 297 Route 72 East, in May 2019.

  AC Moore announced its closing at the end of 2018. The 20,000 sq. ft. space is situated between a Dollar Tree and Leslie’s pool store in the plaza. This is the second Ashley HomeStore location in Ocean County, in addition to the Toms River location.

  Back in 2018, Jersey Shore Online covered the “Case Of Stafford’s ‘Phantom Walgreens’” at the corner of Route 72 and Nautilus Drive in the township. What was once intended to become a Walgreens convenience store and pharmacy never came to be. In 2019, residents finally saw the location find a resident in Hackensack Meridian Health.

  Hackensack Meridian Health secured a long term lease in 2017 for the building to further develop Southern Ocean Medical Center’s medical services. It is now the Hackensack Meridian Health Vascular Surgery and Vein Center.

  A point of contention for many local consumers is the lack of business at the west end of the Route 72 shopping plaza. Here is where Kmart formally operated before closing its doors.

  Back in November of 2017, Jersey Shore Online reported that the plaza would see the addition of newer businesses following the closure of the Kmart. Township officials stated at the time that residents could expect an Old Navy, Burlington Coat Factory, and a Chick-fil-A restaurant, but movement has not been seen on the retail end thus far.

  After Kmart went, so did the clothing store, pizza restaurant, ice cream shop, and a few others, leaving the end of the plaza a hub for vacant storefronts and empty parking lots.

  Jersey Shore Online has reached out to township administration on occasion regarding the development of the plaza under its new ownership; however no news has been relayed by ownership.

  According to administrator von der Hayden, township officials have not yet received any news on the progress in the Route 72 shopping plaza.

  Perhaps 2020 will see new storefronts breathe life back into this plaza.