Stewart’s in Tuckerton for 50 Years

By PAT JOHNSON | Jul 31, 2019
Photo by: Pat Johnson LOVE ME TENDER: 'Elvis' watches over Brad and Cheryl Bennett in their updated Stewart’s indoor dining area at Tuckerton Creek and Route 9.

Tuckerton — The 1950s-style Stewart’s Drive-In in Tuckerton has been serving Stewart’s root beer for 50 years in the same location. The restaurant is owned by Brad and Cheryl Bennett, who explained they own the license to sell the famous root beer, but they are not a franchise – the restaurant menu of a hundred items and the dairy bar are their own creation.

The drive-in has had only two owners in all those 50 years. The Bennett’s have owned the store now for 23 years and are keeping it the ’50s style their customers have come to love.

“Some people come back just to sit at the counter like they used to in the old days,” said Brad. “We still hang trays and offer the frosted root beer mug and the same hot dogs – Kohler from North Jersey.” By hanging trays, Brad means the old-style drive-in practice of having a “car hop” waitress come outside to take an order and then deliver the tray and hang it on the car door. That’s the real doo-wop way of a ’50s drive-in.

But don’t honk – “It’s ‘lights on for service,’ in designated spots,” explained Cheryl. These parking spots are head-in close to the store. “We’ve trained our girls to look out the windows,” said Brad. They also keep a watch on the marina out back for the boating public who want to eat on their boat and the outside umbrella tables for those who bring their dogs. “They keep hopping,” he said.

The inside store is a throwback to the ’50s. Tables have checkered cloths, the booths are upholstered in orange, and the Bennetts searched for the “boomerang” style of Formica for the table tops, popular in the 1950s.

But it’s the statues of Elvis, Marilyn Monroe and Betty Boop that thrill the crowds. “Everyone takes a selfie with them; our older ladies in particular love Betty Boop,” said Brad.

Around the enclosed eatery – recently done to allow for creature comforts people expect these days such as air conditioning and a relief from the occasional biting flies – is a museum of ’50s memorabilia. “People donate stuff. They want to be part of this; it’s a real landmark,” said Brad. There’s an abundance of 45-vinyl platters, a ’57 Chevy car hood – “The world’s most popular car,” said Brad – and two pairs of roller skates donated by a woman who used to be a Stewart’s Root Beer carhop. “We can’t have the waitresses on roller skates today because of insurance,” he said.

Cheryl said the menu is now almost 50 percent seafood. “Everyone loves our lobster rolls,” she said. “We’re an old-fashioned mom-and-pop-type restaurant. We bread our own seafood. We have steamers, fried lobster tail, mahi-mahi fish tacos, and we make our own crab cakes.”

“We have a pulled pork taco with slow-cooked pork in our root beer,” added Brad. “It’s so soft and so flavorful that people say, ‘Oh my God, I’ve never had anything like that!’”

About the root beer. A doctor created Stewart’s Root Beer in Mansfield, Ohio, in 1923 and it’s the same recipe today. The history of the drink is printed on the drink cups.

The dairy bar has its own counter. Here they serve 36 flavors of hard and soft ice cream plus Italian ice and gelati. On the menu are root beer floats, shakes, sundaes, three kinds of cones and all kinds of toppings.

The restaurant is also a gathering place for ’50s motor heads: Thursday is Cruise Night, attracting antique and classic cars, motorcycles and boats with ’50s music; twice a month Michael D’Amore sings; he’s the lead singer for the new Capris. Check Stewart’s Drive-In Facebook page for dates and times.

About the Facebook page: you might see one of your friends or neighbors dancing the cha-cha or jitterbug – it’s been known to happen.

Cheryl and Brad are Manahawkin natives. Both graduated from Southern Regional High School, Brad in ’73 and Cheryl in ’75. “We’ve been married 43 years,” said Cheryl. “We met and within a week he asked me to marry him, and we were married in four months. He lets me be the boss.”

“Yes, dear,” said Brad.

The couple now live in a house right behind the drive-in, on a peninsula that juts out into Tuckerton Creek next to the Tuckerton Seaport. “We used to live on a houseboat behind the store,” said Brad. Their marina has 15 boat slips.

“The Tuckerton Seaport is a good neighbor,” he said. “People taking the ferry often stop in before or after for something to eat or drink.”

And lastly, a piece of Stewart’s Drive-In trivia: the mannequin dressed in the Stewart’s uniform outside with the rotating sign is named “Gidget.” The Bennetts held a contest to name her a few years ago.

Stewart’s Drive-In is located at 103 West Main St. across from Lake Pohatcong and on Tuckerton Creek. It’s open from April to the end of October from 10:30 a.m. till 10 at night. They recently received a certificate of excellence from Trip Advisor, receiving four stars (out of five) in food, service and value, and a star and a half for atmosphere.

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