By Larissa Mulkern
Hampton Union, May 26, 2002
HAMPTON BEACH - The sun shines over Little Jack's Seafood Restaurant on Ocean Boulevard in more ways than one.
Inside, the 400-plus seat landmark is immaculate and fresh. The tables and benches are gleaming, kitchen sparkling. Nautical-theme decorations from decades of collecting hang in every nook and cranny, providing a seafood feast for the eye, so to speak. The eye-catch of the day is mounted stuffed cod, the largest ever caught, in fact, according to local lore.
It's so spotless, it doesn't even smell like, well, fish.
Closed for the past 18 months, the restaurant, located at 539 Ocean Blvd., reopens this weekend under new ownership with Massachusetts-based entrepreneur Mike Welcome at the helm.
Welcome, a Lowell, Mass., native, bought the restaurant earlier this year after longtime owner Reggie Jacques passed away.
Little Jack's had been in business for 27 seasons. Welcome said Jacques left the restaurant in immaculate condition, and he kept impeccable records. With the exception of a couple of minor menu changes, the Little Jack's dining experience will remain as close to the original.
"Our goal is to re-create what Reggie had here," said Welcome during a recent interview.
The counter-service style restaurant serves a wide variety of fresh seafood, from lobsters to clams and salmon. Customers can order up their seafood baked, broiled, fried - or a little bit of each on combination platters. On top of the wide variety of seafood, Welcome said the restaurant also serves the best slow-cooked prime rib around. Daily specials, pasta dishes, sandwiches, salads and side orders are also served.
Welcome is an experienced businessman who seems to know the old adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
"We're going to stay as close to the original Little Jack's as people are used to," he said, adding that includes retaining some key staffers, including manager Jaime Giner, who worked for Jacques for 15 years. A new face includes bookkeeper Ali Hunter, Welcome's niece and a recent graduate of Oklahoma University.
At full capacity, the restaurant will employ from 60 to 70 people, some of the younger workers with shorter shifts.
Welcome says he believes in grooming younger employees for long-term employment. A hard, honest worker can move up the ranks quickly, and perhaps return season after season.
Mary Cheney, who worked for the Jacques for many years, is Welcome's aunt. Actually, it's Cheney who first nudged Welcome when the restaurant went on the market.
Welcome, a self-made entrepreneur with interests ranging from real estate to high-tech, owned a restaurant, Loafers in Salem, N.H., nine years ago, then sold out when he found the year-round restaurant distracting to other ventures.
"I kind of went into semi-retirement," he smiles.
What attracted him back to the business?
"A lack of sanity. ... Actually, it's a good investment and has good potential."
He'd actually shaved his golf handicap down to a seven before he decided to take a chance on another restaurant.
With the restaurant in terrific condition, all he really had to do was check out the refrigeration and a few odds and ends. Relationships with suppliers and contractors were well-established.
"It's a good, all-around restaurant," he said. "There are hotels that don't have kitchens as equipped as this."