In 2017, husband-and-wife entrepreneurs Mike and Chèrie Gillespie purchased a South Jersey building with the vision of opening an upscale restaurant and live music lounge. Shortly thereafter, a snowstorm caused the roof to completely cave in, delaying their plans.
A global pandemic, a massive renovation, and two years later, the pair have finally opened Essie’s Restaurant & Lounge at 1 Garfield Avenue in Clementon, NJ across from Clementon Park & Splash World in Camden County.
“We are so incredibly thankful and relieved that we are finally open,” said Mike. “Chèrie and I are excited to continue to welcome in the neighborhood and get to know our future customers.”
The restaurant’s name comes from Mike’s aunt, Essie, who raised him since he was a child. “She was everything to me,” he said. “This restaurant is an homage to her.” The Gillespies, who live in Gloucester County, also own a barbershop and salon, as well as real estate investments and other ventures.
The bi-level restaurant, which features creole and southern cuisine, has 97 seats downstairs, 58 upstairs, and another 20 outside when outdoor dining launches in the fall. Essie’s will be open Tuesday through Sunday from 3 p.m. to 1 a.m., with dinner served until 10 p.m., and small plates available in the lounge and at the bar until midnight. Weekend brunch will launch later this summer. There’s a sizable stage in the dining room, with live music planned for Tuesdays and Saturdays, and DJs playing nightly on both floors.
The renovations include a complete overhaul of the building, with Tribble designing the space. The eggshell exterior is adorned with the black and green Essie’s logo, and the interior features slate gray floor tiles, seafoam green glass wall tiles, a python leather padded wall, which also doubles as sound suppression, 3D wallpaper, and a brilliant white crystallite bar top on both the first floor and second-floor bars. The steps going upstairs are piano keys, and the upstairs décor features a wall of gold records, a DJ booth, and a private dining room that can accommodate 12-15 guests. The downstairs bar features 10 seats and 10 beers on draught, while the upstairs bar/lounge contains four barstools, casual seating, and bottle service, which will be available nightly.
“When we bought the building, we began learning about the restaurant business and NJ liquor laws. We started studying as much as we could before eventually starting the work on the building,” said Mike. “We now have nearly five years of knowledge under our belts, and we are finally open. With Dizzy Gillespie being a distant uncle of mine, jazz has always been in my DNA, and I knew years ago that I wanted to open a place where people could enjoy delicious food and drinks while listening to live music. That has always been a huge part of my life, and to be able to open this spot with the love of my life is super exciting.”
Executive Chef Arlene Reynolds’ menu will feature small plates, including Hush Puppies with Popcorn Butter; Fried Alligator Bites with Shrimp Remoulade; Sweet & Spicy Colossal Shrimp on Avocado Mousse; Fish Tacos with Cajun Slaw and Creole Marmalade; a Portabella Mushroom Sandwich; and Hot or Bourbon Chicken Wings. Large plates include a Half Smashed Chicken; Blackened Marinated Lamb Chops; a 16 oz. Ribeye Steak; and Seafood Gumbo featuring Shrimp, Lobster Tail, Crawfish, Andouille Sausage and Okra, served over Black Rice. Salads include a Fried Oyster Salad; Poached Pear Salad; and a House Salad. Sides include French Fries with Shrimp & Crawfish Poutine Gravy; Brussels Sprouts; Au Gratin Potatoes; and Maque Choux (smothered corn). Desserts include Bread Pudding; Peach Cobbler; Chocolate Cake; and Cheesecake. Small plates range from $10 to $18 apiece, large plates $22 to $38 (and market price), salads from $8 to $14, and sides from $8 to $14.
“We want this restaurant and lounge to have a cool vibe like the best jazz clubs in Philly and New York,” said Chèrie. “Some of our favorites have a house band, as well as special guests and bands throughout the week, and that’s exactly what we are going for. They also have a delicious menu and serve premium food and drinks, and that’s what we will do. We want Essie’s to become the hottest supper clubs in South Jersey, and we are confident that we have the right chef and the right team to make our dream a reality.”