Marilyn Schlossbach's career quite literally began in the heat of the moment.
While working as a waitress at Oshin in Avon, one of New Jersey’s first Asian-fusion restaurants to open in the 1980s, Schlossbach suddenly found herself cooking one night during a holiday weekend.
“My brother, the head chef, was in the city working with a friend to open another restaurant, and the (on-call) chef just never showed up,” Schlossbach said. “So, my brother asked me if I could do it.
“I had never cooked before but I knew what the food needed to look like on the plate.”
Schlossbach said that by keeping a “clunky” phone on her shoulder all night in order to speak with her brother, she and the restaurant were able to stay afloat.
“I’d ask, when do I turn the tuna? And, what does a steak look like when it’s rare?” she said. “I somehow got through the night that way, and there was just something about the chaos and the intensity – I knew then that this was something I wanted to keep doing.”
More than 30 years later, the self-taught chef has become one of the Jersey Shore’s beloved restaurateurs and entrepreneurs.
But Schlossbach – executive chef and owner of The Marilyn Schlossbach Group, which currently manages four restaurants, a beachfront bar, a surf shop and a catering business – originally had planned to leave New Jersey in order to study marine biology.
She only decided to stay when her mother was diagnosed with cancer.
“My mother ended up following a macrobiotic diet and went from a diagnosis of 30 to 60 days to live to total remission,” she said. “And that happened through what I saw as two things: a burning will to live, and food.”
Schlossbach continued to learn as the chef du cuisine at Oshin until she could open up her own restaurant the following year.
“I was driving down to a surf shop in Seaside and passed by this small cottage in Bay Head for rent,” Schlossbach said. “In the back, there was this little French chateau-looking restaurant and on-site garden that had been left vacant.
“So I got a couple friends together, called everyone I knew, and said, I’m opening a restaurant.”
After some success with the small but quaint Rosalie’s Kitchen, Schlossbach decided to grow and open two additional restaurants in the following years – none of which remained successful because of personal reasons.
“I should have taken the time I needed for personal growth,” Schlossbach said.
Instead, she became a snowboard and surf apparel manager and brand representative – which, ironically led to her biggest opportunity yet when a customer asked if she would cook food for Used to Be’s, a popular bar in Mantoloking.
“I opened a restaurant there called Café La Playa, cooking really nice food out of a down and dirty bar,” Schlossbach said. “But (the staff) and I all surfed and had a blast, while I got great reviews.”
When the family sold the bar, Schlossbach left – but not before she met her husband, Scott Szegeski, then a dishwasher.
“We bought this place down the street in Normandy Beach and called it the Labrador Lounge,” Schlossbach said. “We developed a bond with the site’s previous owner and his wife, and they helped my now-husband and I start our life together.
“The restaurant will be 15 years old this year.”
Labrador Lounge continues to serve vacation-inspired cuisine, such as its ‘Summer in Ireland’ short ribs and its Normandy curry, with dinner entrees ranging between $20 and $30.
“Then, a few years later, one of our customers from Café la Playa approached me about opening a restaurant in Asbury Park,” Schlossbach said.
While that venture did not survive, Schlossbach’s connection to Asbury Park did.
“The food scene in Asbury Park, especially on the beachfront, was overpriced and generic,” Schlossbach said.
Schlossbach decided to open Langosta Lounge on the boardwalk in 2008.
“It was the first restaurant in Asbury Park doing sort of a funky and progressive thing with food in a really cool environment,” Schlossbach said.
To this day, Langosta Lounge specializes in unique, locally sourced cuisine, such as coconut curry khao and Caribbean shrimp, with dinner entrees also ranging between $20 and $30.
“Then, right before Sandy hit, the landlord of that space asked us if we would like to expand,” Schlossbach said. “And when the storm hit, it gave us an opportunity to rethink and redo.”
Her space on the boardwalk now has expanded to include the surf-inspired Pop’s Garage, serving casual and sustainable Mexican cuisine, such as tacos and burrito entrees between $12 and $18; the Asbury Park Yacht Club, a beach bar and art gallery; and Lightly Salted, Asbury Park’s first sustainability- and environmentally-focused surf shop.
Schlossbach even took her expansion a step further by creating Marilyn Schlossbach Catering and Events for beach weddings, corporate luncheons, and city soirees, and purchasing an iconic steakhouse in Rumson last year.
Russell & Bette’s, her new French American bar and bistro concept, serves dinner entrees between $17 and $32 such as pork chop Milanese and Summer Day boat scallops.
“Overall, at any of our restaurants, our goal is to take foodies on a journey around the globe,” Schlossbach said. “The menus and ambience for each restaurant, for example, are mainly dictated by our travels while surfing.”
This year, Schlossbach said she plans to travel to France and Spain.
“We try to engulf ourselves in the food culture not from a five-star standard perspective, but more like, what is the neighborhood place that’s been there for generations that everybody goes to?” she said.
The same goes for the eclectic live music scene at her boardwalk restaurants, particularly at Langosta Lounge and the Asbury Park Yacht Club.
“Since all of the restaurants are connected in that pavilion, you can easily see a 15-piece jazz band at Langosta and walk next door to see some hipster, local band playing,” Schlossbach said.
While the chance to run into Bruce Springsteen or see bands such as The Lumineers “before they get big” is high at her boardwalk locations, Schlossbach said she still finds it challenging to find the help that she needs.
“We employ less than 100 in the off-season, but up to 200 in the summer,” she said.
Schlossbach said partnering with culinary schools is key – as is getting creative.
“We collaborated with Interfaith Neighbors to create Kula Café, offering restaurant training and potential job opportunities to local youth,” she said. “We also are very open with our neighbors in the fact that we want to share employees whenever we can. For example, if they’ve got a day cook who wants extra hours at night, we tell them, send him or her over, and vice versa.
“Our industry may always have looked very inclusive, but in fact, our margins are so slim that people become very fearful and threatened over a customer base.”
Schlossbach joined the executive committee of the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association in order to counteract this.
“I get to be around other restaurateurs and chefs who are open to helping each other and the communities in which we all live and work,” she said.
In addition to working as an executive chef and restaurateur and serving her community, Schlossbach also is the mother of twin five-year old daughters.
“It took me a little bit of time to overcome the guilt of not being what the stereotypical mom should be,” she said. “But for all moms in any industry, it is about the quality of time with your kids and the love and support that you give them.
“My kids are in my restaurants all the time; they have a huge, extended, ‘ohana (family); and, they will become very powerful women themselves because of it.”