From a way station to a destination.
That’s the vision Jack Wright has with his new project on the Delaware Bay, turning a “glass and metal municipal behemoth” into something stylish and fun with a vibe that will attract people from Delaware to Cape May County and beyond.
Exit Zero Hospitality, where Wright is the owner and creative director, is in the process of turning the Cape May Ferry Terminal — where approximately one million people a year pass through to and from Delaware — into three restaurants and an entertainment venue.
The $2 million attraction will be called Ferry Park and will include three different dining concepts — The Lookout, opening at the end of March, Boat Drinks and Exit Zero Ferry Station, which will be completed by May. Already open is Cafe’ 64, a grab and go cafe with retail space.
Opening in spring of 2023, in the adjacent park, will be an area for relaxation, games and a shopping village.
During a tour of the construction, Wright likened the marriage between the Delaware River and Bay Authority and his “scruffy little upstart” to David and Goliath.
“It’s actually working really well and it’s our job to make this place warm and fun.”
Wright is known in South Jersey as the owner of Exit Zero Filling Station in West Cape May, a restaurant that expands onto the grounds of a former gas station where his use of vintage trailers for private dining stations was a hit during the pandemic.
Wright sees his new attraction as a place where ferry passengers can arrive early to enjoy the different amenities and where locals can make a day out of their visit.
“The overall vibe of Ferry Park is what I like to call fun, stylish and welcoming, the very antithesis of what this building looks like at first with all of its metal and all of its glass.”
Achieving the comfortable, stylish nautical vibe out of a cold government building has been a challenge, he said.
Inside the terminal, behind a makeshift plywood wall with a picture of a smiling bearded sailor smoking a pipe, workers were busy building out bars and installing shiplap paneling that will soften and liven up the once impersonal look of the first floor where a lobby and the casual Ferry Station restaurant will be located.
Six colorful private booths will fill the lobby for passengers to relax in where they can bring their own food and drink and not have to spend any money.
“We want them to have an improved environment while they’re waiting for the ferry,” Wright said.
Separating the lobby from the Ferry Station restaurant will be glass doors where a double-sided gas fireplace, banquette seating, booths and picnic tables, with the tops covered with nautical letters, will lead to the bar. Windows line the walls along the docks to allow plenty of views of the ferries coming and going throughout the day.
The food menu will be a mix of Americana with the Asian influence being more Chinese.
“We’re a restaurant that celebrates diversity,” said Wright, pointing out that the menu at the Filling Station in West Cape May is a mix of Americana, Indian and Thai.
“We all grew up thinking a restaurant that says American Italian Chinese must be diabolically bad. There’s no way you can do all of that,” he said. But that’s not the philosophy for Wright and his team who said it works because it’s the American melting pot and it’s the food they want to celebrate with their customers.
Above the Ferry Station restaurant is what Wright hopes will be the best restaurant in the county with the views to match.
The Lookout will be an approximately 80 seat restaurant that overlooks the canal and Delaware Bay. The menu will feature prime meats and coastal cuisine.
As workers from Backyard Bar Man put together the mahogany bar, Wright talked about how exciting the cocktails will be which will be enhanced by the views, specifically the sunsets, the dolphin sightings, and when the ferries travel the canal.
“We’re putting a lot into very, very imaginative cocktails.”
The drinks (Don’t Pay)The Ferryman, based on the biblical tale, and served with chocolate coins and Songbird, served in a glass bird, will be just a few of the featured cocktails.
The Lookout’s outdoor patio will have more than 40 seats with fire pits, a perfect romantic spot as the sun begins to set.
“The play of the light on the water at different times of the day from sunrise to sunset is magical,” said Patrick Logue, director of operations for Exit Zero Hospitality.
Logue made sure to point out, from personal experience when they were sampling the drinks on the menu, that sitting dockside or up in The Lookout at night watching the ferries glide in without a sound, completely lit up against the black sky, is something that should not be missed.
“You just don’t get tired of it,” said Logue.
Alongside the docks will be Boat Drinks, an outside bar and restaurant that will serve local drafts, fun cocktails and frozen drinks. The simple healthy menu will include salads, a raw bar and soups.
To celebrate the ferries coming and going, because it’s always an event, said Wright, Boat Drinks will be offering a special $2 shot for those at the bar.
“You’re going to feel like it’s a sexy island beach vibe because you’ve got a great sunset, you’ve got sunshine, you’ve got the boats.”
Phase two of the project will involve the park where there will be local shops, a hammock grove surrounded by trees, bocce ball courts, outdoor table tennis and a stage for concerts.
Even though the installation of the park won’t happen until next year there will still be events happening this summer that include a concert series and Monday night movies. Ferry Park will also be the official home of the Exit Zero Jazz Festival.
For the kids there will be a playground and mini-golf.
Logue said that one of the elements that was never capitalized on is the fact that the terminal is a prime waterfront location. And in Cape May County there are not a lot of restaurants that are on the water.
“This place has just been this behemoth of a building that just hasn’t really been warmed up and have life breathed into it,” Logue said. “So that’s really what we’re hoping to achieve.”
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