At 5pm on Wednesday, the Southern-inspired Asbury Park restaurant Modine posted on Instagram, announcing that, effective immediately, “the restaurant is permanently closed.” According to Jill Meerpohl, who opened the restaurant with her husband, Chris Davin, in early 2018, this was not their decision.
Meerpohl said Davin went to the restaurant on Tuesday night after receiving a text message “from our partners that [Modine’s] email passwords had been compromised.” She said that when Davin walked upstairs to the restaurant’s office, “the locks were being changed.”
Modine, named for Meerpohl’s paternal grandmother, earned a place in NJM’s Top 30 Restaurant list in August, 2018, and again in August, 2019. It was known for its superb fried chicken, biscuits and other Southern specialties, as well as its cocktail program.
Meerpohl and Davin operated the restaurant in a former bank with high ceilings and tall windows. Their managing partners were Shanti and Steve Mignona, who run Talula’s, a small restaurant across the street acclaimed for its pizza but serving other items as well.
“We worked with them from the very beginning,” said Shanti Mignogna. “We found our team of investors, Steve and I built the space out and worked out the branding, and Jill and Chris were our operators, handling staffing and ordering and menu development and all that.”
“Before the pandemic,” Meerpohl acknowledges, “we met with them on how to pivot to being more successful. Every restaurant has those kind of meetings. We were a high-end restaurant in downtown Asbury Park, and we should be more profitable. It’s unfortunate, but I have no ill will toward them.”
Mignogna said, “We’ve been having the conversation for several months and working to adapt and change for a very long time. Things were not looking good for awhile, and we were very upfront with them about that. Modine wasn’t in the best of financial situations before Covid, and then the pandemic happened, and now things are even harder.
“We had a good two and a half years, and we’re proud of everything we were able to accomplish, but our PPP loan [for Modine and Talula’s] is coming to an end soon, and we couldn’t justify continuing operations with the expenses we have.
“Modine was doing about 15 percent of what it was doing in sales last year at this time. There was a very long timeline of us working with Chris, trying to turn around Modine, and ultimately it was Covid that sank us.”
Modine had been producing hundreds of meals on a daily basis to donate to those in need through Asbury Park Dinner Table, an outreach program that started up in March.
Was that part of the restaurant’s undoing, financially?
“No, they were smart about that,” said Mignogna. “They got a lot of the food donated [to them]. They made sure they weren’t losing money on those donations. Steve worked closely with Chris on food costs and reviewed those all the time. Maybe it wasn’t the smartest thing to do when you’re going through a financial crisis, but it was an important thing to do and gave them a lot of hope.”
She added, “For every meal they donated, we matched one. It made a significant contribution to the community, and we feel good about it.
“We had to make that unfortunate call, but we’re not going to disappear. We will come back with something great, and we have a little time and space now to work on that.”Click here to leave a comment