Once today’s storm passed, Fred Cantor headed to Compo Beach. Here’s the serene scene:
Plus, he reports, Joey’s was open.
Once today’s storm passed, Fred Cantor headed to Compo Beach. Here’s the serene scene:
Plus, he reports, Joey’s was open.
Once confined to Compo Beach’s South Beach grills, the plague of illegally saving picnic tables by planting tablecloths, plates and cutlery on top, then scurrying away for many hours, has spread to the brick pavilion next to Joey’s.
This was the scene at 9:30 this morning:
Two hours later, it was still a feast for ghosts.
On the upside, that is a really nice setup.
(Hat tip to Dick Lowenstein)
As the weather gets nicer — though it’s taking its own damn time — Joey’s gears up for another season.
For over 20 years, Westporters have flocked to the very popular Compo Beach restaurant. For almost as long, some cool old photos have hung on the walls.
But until very recently, no one looked too closely at them.
Very alert “06880” reader Christine Cullen did.
She loved the shot of the old wooden bathhouses, extending where the playground is now:
She was also intrigued by a 2nd shot of the beach back in the day, with all its rocks:
But when Christine looked closely, she saw that the top photo says “Campo Beach.” And the bottom one is labeled “Longshore Beach.”
During all these years, nobody noticed the errors.
We’re too busy enjoying Joey’s, and all the other pleasures of Campo (aka Longshore) Beach.
What’s new at Compo? A number of new tables, in the pavilions by Joey’s and the volleyball courts.
These look a lot more user-friendly than the heavy, mess hall-style ones that have seen (many) better years.
So why were they empty?
It was the 1st beautiful Sunday of spring. After the winter we’ve had, no one wanted to be indoors — even at an open-air pavilion.
The beach was packed. I know these tables will get plenty of work, very soon.
Once upon a time, the Compo concession stand was located where the volleyball courts are now.
Run by Chubby Lane, it was staffed by high school and college kids. Though it was cool to work at the beach, the grills and fryolators were hot as hell. Lines were long, customers pushy, and no one wanted to be seen wiping down the tables outside or (worse) picking up garbage.
I know, because I was one of Chubby’s workers. It was my 1st job, the summer after 10th grade.
And don’t get me started on the navy blue shorts and knee socks we had to wear.
I thought of all that the other day, as I stood in line at Joey’s, the current (and longtime) Compo concessionaire.
The menu is a lot more varied than back in my day. (It was a big deal when Chubby added fried chicken to the burgers and dogs.) Today’s cooks have much more work. And even though a computer screen has replaced our high-tech method of yelling orders over our shoulders, no one has yet devised a way to cool a grill or de-grease a deep fryer.
It was hot. The lines were long. But the teenagers and 20-somethings working at Joey’s were unfailingly polite. They did not snap (as I used to) at people who had 10 minutes to figure out what they wanted but just started deciding the moment they reached the register!!!!!!
They made sure little kids didn’t drop their ice cream cones or their change. They smiled at everyone, and (unlike my era) actually cared about getting the orders right.
Plus, there was always someone wiping down the tables, and picking up garbage.
We tend to take Joey’s for granted. It takes an out-of-towner to make us realize how good we’ve got it.
The other day, a friend-of-a-friend was visiting from DC. I sat on the beach; she went off in search of food.
She came back awed.
“You wouldn’t believe it — they have everything there!” she raved. “And sweatshirts. And pails and shovels!
“And it’s so clean! And the people are so nice! I couldn’t believe I was at a beach stand!”
Next year, Joey Romeo celebrates his 25th anniversary as Compo’s concessionaire extraordinaire.
It’s about time we celebrated him.
An alert (and relatively new) reader writes:
I really enjoy “06880.” I love seeing slices of Westport I otherwise would not.
I liked the sweet articles of late about the beach, especially because I had 2 really negative experiences the past couple of days.
First, I was walking near the beach, with 2 friend and 3 dogs. In general I find people very friendly down by the beach, happy to see people out and about. Drivers are usually patient about sharing the road with people and dogs.
Yesterday, a car behind us honked 4 times. We thought it was someone we knew saying hello.
Nope. It was an older woman (blue BMW), outraged, throwing her arms in the air and yelling how rude we were.
There was no traffic, and plenty of room to pass us. Nasty woman with road rage.
The 2nd incident was at Longshore — a truly appalling scene.
Parks & Rec wonderfully employs a special needs gentleman to take garbage from tables and pick up the grounds. A sweet man.
He is a little bit zealous, and may at times try to clean up tables while people are still eating. A simple “we’re not quite finished yet,” and he walks away to another area, then comes back later.
A woman went up to the girls working at Joey’s and complained for 5 minutes, while her kids (13 and 10-ish) stood next to her. She was up in arms that this man should ruin her meal, make her feel rushed and uncomfortable.
The young girl from Joey’s told her she would need to speak to someone at Parks & Rec to complain.
Afterwards, I went up to the window and asked if people often complain about the man. She said “never!”
What a teachable moment to have with your kids. Instead she showed them intolerance, unkindness, and just plain meanness.
I spoke to other moms in the area. They were all equally appalled that this woman would complain, instead of showing humanity.
Thankfully these moments are few and far between.
PS: I would love to publicly thank the kind couple on Soundview who leave clean water out for dogs, every day.
Like many Westporters, I “do” a lot of meetings.
Like many Westporters without an actual “office,” I “do” them at the usual places: Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, the library.
Two weeks ago though, someone asked to meet at the Compo Beach brick pavilion, next to Joey’s by the Shore.
Last Sunday morning, someone else scheduled a meeting for the beach. This time it was the other pavilion, by the volleyball courts.
Both meetings were wonderful. Breezes blew, birds chirped — and stuff got done.
I can definitely get into this new meeting spot.
And you can’t beat the dress code.
We’re spoiled by Joey’s.
The Compo Beach concession stand sells lobster rolls, fish and chips, Boar’s Head cold cuts, portobello mozzarella sandwiches, gelato, souvenir t-shirts, beach chairs — there’s even an ATM machine (though you can run a family tab).
Southport Beach — a couple of miles away, as the seagull flies — has long made do with pre-packaged ice cream and sugary sodas.
Not any more. The food-fueled rivalry between Westport and Fairfield has a new beachhead: the beachfront.
And it’s a trio of Westporters who are making Southport Beach into the culinary place to be.
Hunter King graduated from Staples in 2004. His brother Carter followed 2 years later; Parker, 2 years after that.
Last Thanksgiving, they sat talking. They had vague ideas of buying a food truck. An uncle said that Southport Beach was always closed. He figured it was ripe for a new concessionaire.
Hunter talked to the 1st selectman, who referred him to Parks and Recreation. They were in the midst of negotiations for a new 5-year contract. The former concessionaire had run all 4 Fairfield beaches; Southport seemed a bit of an afterthought.
But Hunter liked the scenic location. In addition to beachgoers, there was plenty of vehicular traffic — plus walkers, joggers and bicyclists.
The Kings were always interested in food. Hunter cooked since childhood, and loved growing herbs. He was a waiter, a cook, and took college classes in baking and the culinary arts.
Carter was a sous chef at the Dressing Room, and worked at Rizzuto’s. Parker worked at Tarry Lodge.
The 3 Kings bid on the Southport concession only — and won it.
Immediately, they went to work.
They put in a new kitchen, and insulation. They redid the floor.
Most importantly, they upgraded the menu.
“King’s Kitchen” believes in a farm-to-table concept, with an emphasis on locally organic and sustainable food.
The menu includes fresh lobster rolls, organic burgers and hot dogs, grilled corn with cilantro and jalapeno butter, watermelon and heirloom tomato salad, smoothies and milk shakes.
Since opening May 28, word of mouth has been great. Almost too good, in fact: Sometimes the brothers can’t keep enough goods in stock. (Being 200 square feet does not help.)
“We’ve felt a lot of positive energy,” Hunter says. “We try to be good, honest people. We think if we give something to people, it will come back to us.”
While still ironing out the kinks, the Kings are already looking ahead. They’d like to offer fried oysters on the half shell, with roasted red pepper. Also, a lemon thyme hot dog.
And maybe smoke a pig, for pulled pork sandwiches.
“We’re small,” Hunter says. “But we’ve got big ideas.”
One of those ideas is staying open later. Right now the hours are 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.(ish). “We won’t turn you away if you come while we’re cleaning up,” Hunter says.
They’re supposed to close for the season on September 3. That’s a short window of opportunity, for guys with long-term plans.
“We insulated the building,” Hunter notes.
“Just in case.”
It was the dream summer job: working at the Compo Beach concession stand. Back in the day, it was run by Chubby Lane — an outpost of his Post Road hamburger restaurant.
The ramshackle shed — located where the volleyball courts are now — was the place to see and be seen. (You didn’t even need a sticker; you parked right in front.)
I flipped burgers, fried fries and poured sodas for a couple of teenage summers. Like I said, it was a dream job — except when Chubby’s kids wandered in at 7:59 p.m., seconds before closing, and ordered food as soon as we’d cleaned the grill.
It’s now a
few several many years later. Chubby’s gave way to Arcudi’s, then another concessionaire no one remembers. Since 1989, Joey Romeo has run the place. He upgraded it from a stand to a restaurant. He added menu items, lengthened the hours, stretched out the calendar.
But some things never change. Something about eating at the beach still makes food taste special. It’s still an insanely weather-dependent business.
And it’s still a great job for high school and college students.
Joey comes by his burger chops naturally. His father ran the food concessions at Cummings Beach and Cole Island in Stamford; his uncle spent many years as the concessionaire at Greenwich’s Tod’s Point.
Growing up, Joey worked at the beaches — and loved it.
He became the 1st tenant after the town of Westport renovated the old bathhouses, and moved the concession stand to its present location. So far, he’s the only one.
What’s kept him here? “I love the water. I love being here in the summer. I love Compo Beach!” he says.
And beach-goers love Joey.
For one thing, he’s got great food.
For another, he listens to those customers. Lobster rolls (now one of his most popular items), fish and chips, Boar’s Head cold cuts, portobello mozzarella sandwiches — those and many more selections resulted directly from requests.
To serve those customers, Joey’s now opens earlier (9 a.m.) and closes later (9 p.m.) each summer. He fires up the grill in late March, and is there on weekends through November — sometimes beyond.
The concessionaire is a firm believer in “buy local.” When area resident Adrian Pace brought over Forte — a new healthy, high-protein gelato — Joey snapped it up.
There’s local art and photography on the walls, local T-shirts and postcards at the counter.
He even sells Melissa & Doug toys. Hey, they’re local too.
But — behind the lobster rolls and trendy toys — Joey’s is still a beach joint.
“Honestly, I haven’t seen much change — in my customers or employees — over the years,” Joey says.
“If you look around, it’s really no different than it was 20 years ago.”
This doesn’t change either: talking about the weather.
“The summer started slowly. We had a wet spring, but since then it’s been very good,” Joey says.
“People complain about the heat, but it’s better than rain. Any day it’s not raining, I’m happy.”
The same words could have come straight from the mouths of Joey’s father and uncle.
Or Chubby Lane, back when I was working the grill for countless Compo customers.
Plus Chubby’s @#$%^&* kids.
For a long time I thought the messiest parking lot in Westport was Compo Shopping Center — especially the section by CVS.
Then I stopped at the Merritt Parkway Exit 42 park-and-ride.
But that’s nothing compared to the scene earlier this week — on a quiet afternoon — at the Compo pavilion next to Joey’s.
Joey’s employees work hard to keep the pavilion, boardwalk and nearby areas clean.
But they’re no match for thoughtless, entitled — or just plain rude — beachgoers, of all ages.