The "Atlantic Grill" Remains Faithful To Its Origins
By Colleen Lent
Hampton Union, Tuesday, December 23, 2003
[Staff photo by Jay Reiter]
HAMPTON -- For about five years, Scott Eagleson and Joan Thompson-Eagleson were much like Frasier and Lilith of the popular "Cheers." The Seacoast husband and wife were regulars at The Atlantic Grill in Hampton and everyone knew their name, including the former owner, Josh Bellman.
As local entrepreneurs, already owning real estate, marketing, and design companies in Hampton, the Eaglesons would periodically quip Bellman about selling them the restaurant if he decided to try on another professional cap on for size. Bellman eventually did decide to test his seafarer legs by starting a boat hauling business. Thus, in August 2003, the Eaglesons became the new owners of the Atlantic Grill.
There were other offers from potential buyers and rumors of replacing the beer and burger menu centerpiece with Thai or Italian food. Yet, Eagleson said Bellman was looking for someone to maintain the character of the local hangout. Subsequently, the new owners kept the name and standard menu items, such as burritos and mugs of cold ones, while adding more unique dinner items and obtaining a full liquor license.
"We never changed what was here before, " Eagleson said. "It really didn't change the pricing. It simply widened the window."The expanded menu includes a wide gamut of rotating entrees and appetizers, ranging from flat iron steak to spicy crab wontons, to grilled swordfish with artichoke hearts and Greek olive relish. Eagleson said the restaurant hired Jean Jozepaitis, a chef and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, to manage the kitchen and keep patron palates tantalized. "Jean has a pretty extensive background through Connecticut, Maine, and New York," Eagleson said. "They don't have to look at the same menu they looked at last night," he added, referring to the restaurant's customers.
Formerly, beer and wine were offered, but not mixed drinks, resulting in local residents labeling the Atlantic Grill as the "beer and burger joint," according to Eagleson. "I really wanted to get that off the street," he said, referring to the nickname. Operations and bar manager Adrienne Jimoulis was hired to infuse the bar with creative concoctions and assist Jozepaitis in holding the management reins when the Eaglesons are off-site. The libations lineup now includes a host of margaritas and martinis, along with 35 different beer selections.
The bar area pays homage to the character of the Seacoast through a combination of antiques and artwork, many donated or crafted by the Atlantic Grill's customers. A cheese grater and vegetable steamer are the foundation of overhead lamps. A former paper tablecloth is now a mural of caricatures of the restaurant's familiar faces. A handmade 1920s surfboard blends with the rustic motif. "People just come in and drop stuff off", Eagleson said.
As Eagleson talked about the restaurant's local musicians, including jazz, bluegrass, and folk artists, he said it would be great to see Hampton resemble Portsmouth, attracting visitors spending the day on foot, canvassing the shops and restaurants on High Street and Lafayette Road. He recalled someone asking if he was nervous when talk was circulating about the possibility of a microbrewery buying an empty auto parts building across the street from the Atlantic Grill. Competition was lurking around the corner, some believed. "I welcome stuff like that," Eagleson said. "I think that's fabulous." Increased pedestrian traffic in Hampton means a steady flow of feet across many business entrances, not just one, he said. "I think the more people the better."
While the Atlantic Grill's name capitalizes on its close proximity to the ocean, Eagleson said the restaurant isn't seasonal, catering merely to one-time tourists. "I think we have a certain niche and people come here and stay," he said. "Everybody seems to know everybody. We're old New Englanders."