Chef David Burke says he got a phone call last fall from a man named Mark Onulak, who told him, “You don’t know me, but I know your restaurants. I own the Dixie Lee Bakery in in Keansburg. I’m 67 and I’m working 80 hours a week. It’s not healthy for me to work this much. I see you’re opening restaurants and are on the move. Let’s talk.”
They did. Burke wound up buying the business, keeping Onulak and his life and business partner Allison Loori on as managing partners of what will now be called David Burke’s Dixie Lee Bakery. The staff of 13 will continue. “In fact, we’ll need more.”
“It wasn’t something I was looking to do,” says Burke, whose restaurant portfolio includes Ventanas in Fort Lee, 1776 in Morristown, Red Horse in Rumson and Drifthouse in Sea Bright, “but I’ve always wanted a pastry shop. I used to work in one. And I grew up in that area.”
In fact, he was familiar with Dixie Lee, and says his parents and grandparents were patrons, enjoying its pastries, cakes, pies and breads. “The owner said, ‘I want to work five or six more years, but I don’t want to keep working 80 hours a week, I want to work 40. So we made a deal, and I’m super excited. It’s a different business for us.
“It’s a big space,” Burke says. “There’s enough room to make a little café. We might want to call it Starburkes, but we’ll see how that goes. Keansburg has a little water park with rides and games, it’s like Asbury Park was 20 years ago.”
The production area is big enough, Burke says, to allow him to produce his signature clothesline bacon—three thick meaty strips pinned on a little tabletop rack—in greater quantity. “We’re thinking we might want to sell it nationally. We can also use the production area to produce sandwiches and other goods to ship to our other restaurants. So there’s a vision coming to fruition here.”
The vision includes making bagels from scratch the old-fashioned way, boiling before baking. “You can order that with cream cheese and smoked salmon. I think they buy and bake bagels there, but we’ll begin making bagels, and you can order that with creamed cheese and smoked salmon.”
Burke’s son, Connor, 34, is getting married Memorial Day Weekend. Burke is not only making the cake, he is officiating at the wedding. “During the pandemic, I got ordained as a minister in the Universal Life Church,” the chef explains. “Three weeks later I’m performing the ceremony for one of my bartenders at 1776. I’ve got two other employees who asked me to marry them. So I’ll get pretty good at it.”Click here to leave a comment