Hundreds Light Nautilus Park in Memory of Tim Kohlheim

Memorial GoFundMe Nears $70,000
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

Stafford Township — On Saturday night, Aug. 17, community members flooded Nautilus Park in Manahawkin by the hundreds to remember Shore Fire Grille founder Tim Kohlheim in a powerful candlelight vigil that lit an entire field.

Kohlheim was not only a successful local business owner, known for revolutionizing the burger through his creative culinary endeavors, but also a devoted husband, father, son, brother, neighbor, friend and altruist. His community suffered a devastating loss when he died in an auto accident on Route 72 Aug. 15. He was 36 years old.

Stafford Police Department members expressed astonishment and grief upon arriving on the scene.

“Tim and his family are friends of our department,” Stafford PD later posted on Facebook. “They have been very supportive and generous to us and the entire community. He will be missed. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his young family and friends.”

Kohlheim leaves behind his wife, Samantha, and their two daughters, Avalon, 5, and Addison, 2.

Within hours of his passing, family, friends, neighbors and patrons of all ages declared themselves members of “Tim’s Tribe.” The vigil was organized by Kohlheim’s neighbors, Rafael and Danielle Torres. Stafford EMS, police and volunteer fire companies donated their time and service to the vigil, providing light and an honorary siren sound-off, as well as traffic control. Many mourners walked to the park from the neighborhood they shared with Kohlheim in Ocean Acres.

The heavy, humid air was befitting of the park’s atmosphere, its own heavy, emotional cloud. And yet, every trembling hand held a flame high, and every free hand embraced another. Overheard across the field were soft spoken sentiments: “heart of gold,” “hardest worker,” “best friend.”

Beyond his outstanding and innovative work, Kohlheim was known for his dedication to helping struggling or less fortunate members of his community. According to Adele Berardi, Tim and Samantha Kohlheim organized a successful charity drive that allowed them to take 19 underserved Southern Regional Middle School students for back-to-school shopping items. Afterward, they treated the students, their chaperones and their bus driver to lunch at Shore Fire Grille.

Kohlheim was also known for bolstering neighboring businesses with a community-over-competition mindset.

It seems all of Southern Ocean County has joined together to remember and celebrate his efforts.

The Torres family stood beneath their “Parker’s Army Lacrosse” tent, from which music was played, and a space was held for friends and loved ones to share their memories of Kohlheim.

Rafael Torres began with his own touching speech. When his family moved next door to the Kohlheims, Tim was the first to make them feel welcome in the community.

“He had your back. He appreciated you,” said Torres.

When 7-year-old lacrosse player Parker Nork lost his battle with leukemia, Torres explained, Kohlheim was the first to reach out to the family, saying, “Whatever you want to do, I got you.”

And that’s how Parker’s Army Lacrosse was founded. Kohlheim supplied them with equipment and uniforms, according to Torres, and asked for nothing in return, not even for his business to be promoted on the uniforms.

“All he wanted was to keep Parker’s name alive in our community,” Torres said. He spoke for everyone when he expressed, “Our hearts are broken. He had such ideas on how strong our community could be. We lost a brother. We lost someone who had a heart of gold.

“We are all better having known him.”

He addressed Kohlheim directly, in a promise to carry forth his commitment to community.

“Like you always told me, you got me. We got you, now.”

Joe Mangino, who could not attend the vigil, requested Torres read a moving speech on his behalf. It began, “ ‘Yo, bud!’ That’s how almost every conversation started.”

“Yo, bud” meant it was time to rally the tribe to take action.

“I knew I could count on him,” wrote Mangino, a local activist on behalf of neighbors in a years-long struggle to recover from Superstorm Sandy. “I’m eternally grateful for our time spent together.

“Through tragedy comes triumph, and growth,” he continued. “His legacy of kindness will live on in those he inspired.”

To fellow members of Tim’s Tribe, Mangino requested, “You ‘yo, bud’ me, and I’ll ‘yo, bud’ you.”

The Shore Fire Grille crew then stood before the vigil in their staff shirts, several of them sharing through waves of tears, describing their feelings of indebtedness and kinship to the Kohlheim family.

Then the fire company turned off the lights, and the entire field of somber faces aglow in warm candlelight, stood still for a solemn moment of silence.

Tania Meredith shared her insight into the love, strength and dedication of Tim’s Tribe, forged by Kohlheim and his wife.

“Tim and Sam are who you would call in a crisis. They would do anything for anyone,” she said. “What do you do when you lose someone like that? I don’t know the answer.

“People know Tim for many things, one being his strength. You’re about to see what strength is from his family and friends, a.k.a. Tim’s Tribe.”

Samantha Kohlheim is a driving force for strength and perseverance as she continues to manage Shore Fire Grille despite suffering the loss of her husband and partner. Not even a day following the loss, she posted via Facebook on behalf of Shore Fire Grille, “I wanted to take a moment and thank everyone from the bottom of my heart for all of the love and support. This is going to be extremely difficult to push through, but it is what Tim would want!”

Mark Keeler of MK Productions and Kohlheim’s friend Chris Laba have been instrumental in organizing Tim’s Tribe, even stepping into the restaurant to help keep Shore Fire Grille operating through the loss.

During the vigil, Laba’s wife, Dierdre, recalled spending many nights at Shore Fire Grille’s original Barnegat location seven years ago. She explained they would wear their coats and not mind enduring the cold to eat good food and spend time with good friends. “I hope Shore Fire will continue – and that we can find 10 guys to fill Tim’s shoes,” said Dierdre.

Chris Laba organized a GoFundMe campaign to help support Kohlheim’s family. It drew an overwhelming response, raising $67,000 and counting. Virtually every local business is dedicating all or part of their proceeds this week to the Kohlheim fundraiser.

Keeler organized an all-day community event at the Stafford firehouse Tuesday with everything donated by local businesses. Keeler’s event description read: “Walk the walk – that is what Tim did, and now it is our turn. The Celebration Of Life Gathering will host live music, food, drinks and lots of hugs to go around. Please be respectful and come throughout the day and share some love.”

In lieu of flowers, the community is encouraged to help support the Kohlheim family with a donation on; search the name Tim Kohlheim.

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