HOWELL – Members of the Planning Board have granted preliminary and final site plan approval to the owner of the Cabin restaurant, 984 Route 33, Howell, to expand the operation and add permanent outdoor dining.
Board members unanimously approved the application on June 3.
No changes are proposed to the existing Cabin bar and restaurant.
There is a second building on the property and Cabin Realty, LLC, sought approval to convert that one-and-a-half-story structure into a use for a kitchen and restrooms. That building will be expanded to the east to provide a covered food service area and seating.
Three new structures were proposed: two covered bars and one covered bandstand. There will be table and bar seating throughout the improved area and new landscaping.
In introducing the application to the board and members of the public, attorney John Jackson said the Cabin “has been somewhat of an iconic landmark for many years. Chefs International bought it several years ago and it has been a very successful restaurant for them. The site has had an outdoor area that has been in use in various ways over the years.”
The attorney said the owners want to “capture the summer more.”
“(As seen during) the experience with COVID, patrons very much enjoy the outside dining experience. Chefs International has 10 or 11 restaurants throughout the state … they find that people like to be outside.
“We see (indoor and outdoor dining) as having different peak times. We think that during full summer days people want to eat outside and in the winter they won’t,” Jackson said.
The board heard from Robert Cooper, the president and CEO of Chefs International.
Cooper said Chefs International purchased the Cabin from the original owner in May 2019. He said he started with the company as a bartender in 1982 and worked his way up to the position of president and CEO in 2005.
He said the Cabin does most of its business in the winter.
“The original owners were constantly trying to attract people in the summer; in the winter it does real well. Adding a serious outdoor amenity, as opposed to just throwing some picnic tables out there, I think is going to do a lot to keep the residents of Howell close to home,” Cooper said.
“By doing this (project) as a smokehouse type theme with real wood and an action station where people can see the cooking going on, I think it is going to be a real attraction to the area,” he told the board members.
During the coronavirus pandemic, the Cabin has served food and presented music in a tent that was set up in the parking lot.
“We were relatively surprised about how excited people were to be outside in that area and that (reaction) really prompted us to get moving on this (expansion) project that we had kicked around since we purchased the Cabin,” Cooper said.
He said the existing bar-restaurant and the new outdoor dining area will be under the same supervision and management team.
“It is all the Cabin. We are looking at this as an enhanced amenity for what we are doing,” Cooper said.
Following the conclusion of testimony, the board members voted unanimously to approve the Cabin Realty, LLC, application.
After the approval was granted, Howell Police Chief Andrew Kudrick, who sits on the Planning Board, said he is looking forward to the restaurant’s new barbecue area.