By Michelle Tsaltsas
Seacoast Scene, Wednesday, September 22, 2010
[The following article is courtesy of Seacoast Scene.]
HAMPTON BEACH -- Messina Ograde and Jessie Lapa are the two owners of Coconutz, the only Mexican/American restaurant on Hampton Beach. The restaurant, which opened on July 10th of last year, has become a joy to the many locals and tourists that come in for the great food, drinks and entertainment. "We offer something for everyone. We have American food, Mexican, seafood and Italian," says Jessie. These two lovely ladies are both mothers, hard workers and strong individuals.
Because the restaurant is seasonal, both women live in Massachusetts during the fall and winter season. Jessie is from Chicopee and Messina is from Western Mass. "We're open from May to the end of September and next weekend will be the last day Coconutz will be open. Sunday will be their customer appreciation day. "We'll have a buffet and a small acoustic band playing."
Coconutz originally was bought by Jessie. "I owned a restaurant before this one in Chicopee, MA where my family lives now. The economy was too hard to support a year round restaurant in that location, so I thought why not try a seasonal restaurant at the beach?" Jessie asked her friend Messina to help open it with her, and from there they decided to own the business together. "We've been friends for five years," says Messina.
Both women spend their summers owning and working at Coconutz, while also raising their kids on Hampton Beach. "What really makes this worthwhile for me is the memories my kids will have from this. They really take so much away from this experience," says Messina, "I mean how many kids can say 'I spent my whole summer having fun on Hampton Beach?'" What seems like something ordinary to most seacoasters is something fun and exotic to these to Massachusetts families. "Between Jessie and I, we have five boys to take care of. You can imagine what that's like," Messina says.
Though summers at the beach are anything less than boring for these boys. "They've learned so much in just the two years we've been here. They've learned to surf and they've made friends from the area," says Messina. "They've become really good at skateboarding from living at the beach," adds Jessie. "I think they get the best of both worlds. When the season ends, and we close up and move back to Mass after the season, they have fun again," says Messina, "you know, they ski, they snow-board. They have fun back home too."
Coconutz is a vacation for the two owner's and their family, and so they want customers to feel that way as well. "I wanted this place to feel like you would on vacation. We're the only place on the beach that serves our drinks in coconuts, pineapples and beach pails. It's just something different that you would get if you were actually in Hawaii or something," says Jessie.
The main obstacle that the two owners have is showing customers that it isn't just a bar but is also a family restaurant. "Our families are in and out of here. My kids are in here all the time. I really want to push the fact that we're very family oriented, we have a huge kids menu with discount priced foods," says Messina. There is something for everyone of different age and preference. They offer different styles of food, and is the only place on the beach offering Mexican food. They also offer live acoustic entertainment.
"We have a few funny stories with the live entertainment," says Messina. "Aaron Lewis came to play at the casino and afterwards came into Coconutz because he is friends with our acoustic guitar player that we have here. He was basically attacked at the door by a mob of people in the restaurant. It was hilarious."
Another celebrity that visited Coconutz after a show at the Hampton Ballroom Casino was Carlos Mencia. Messina recalls hearing a baby crying loudly and went over to help free the mother's son who had been twisting his finger around his mothers shirt so tight that he got his finger stuck. "I cut part of her shirt off and then watched as she walked over to her embarrassed husband who had his hat pulled over his eyes. Turns out it was Carlos Mencia and his wife and son! Apparently at the Casino that night he mentioned Coconutz and how great he thought we were. I thought that was hilarious," says Messina.
"It's like a big extended family here," says Messina. "Hampton Beach is small. You get to know everyone. We become friends with everyone that comes in. I think that's what's the most exciting for us, is when people come back the next year and remember us and we remember them." These two women want this place to be a vacation for them but for you as well. "I'd describe this place as just a comfortable, relaxing bar and restaurant. It's not an upscale place. We welcome everyone, from locals to people in sandals coming right off of the beach," says Jessie.
"We're the only bar with a mascot," says one regular, Wayne, or as everyone at Coconutz calls him "Wayno." Wayne is a local from Hampton Beach, who is known at Coconutz for wearing a taco costume that was originally bought for one of the workers to wear, but was given to Wayne because he had "more Personality for it." Like many locals on the beach, Wayne comes into the bar/restaurant daily. "It's a good neighborhood bar," he says. "You can let your hair down here, that's why I like coming in." "He is the taco man," says Messina, "He wears that suit around the restaurant, in the restaurant, down by the beach, and at the Seafood fest." This year and the year before Coconutz participated in the annual Seafood Fest. "This year we won an award for the best non-seafood item," says Jessie, "it was our honey chipotle chicken wings."
These two women deserve a lot of credit. They're both wives, mothers, successful business owners. Both women own Coconutz, a restaurant that is succeeding thankfully. These two aren't just in it for the money or business profit. "We like it because we have fun owning this place and we love the people," says Messina. If you're looking to meet two lovely ladies, or just looking for a cozy, comfortable and fun place to eat or drink, Coconutz is the place to visit. Located on F street next to the Hampton Beach Casino, Coconutz is the place to go. These two owners who work at the restaurant every day will brighten up your mood and will have you leaving with a smile on your face.