By Michele J. Kuhn
Barnacle Bill’s ends tradition of serving peanuts
RUMSON – It’s true. Barnacle Bill really did toss Mr. Peanut from his bar – and dining room.
The First Street restaurant, which has been serving peanuts in their shells to customers for more than 40 years – no one is sure exactly how long – stopped the tradition Sunday, Oct. 7.
That action was met with a stunned reaction from customers. Some were, well, shell-shocked. Others wanted to know if the management had gone nuts. While still patrons understood the reasoning behind the decision to go legume-less.
The very idea seemed to rock a number of patrons to their long-rooted traditions. Within the first 24 hours after Barnacle Bill’s posted the no peanut policy on its Facebook page, there were more than 450 comments, most of them unfavorable or bemoaning the loss of a tradition that seemed to fly in the face of what your mother told you was polite behavior. It was one of the few places where dumping things (peanut shells) on the floor was not only accepted but encouraged.
“To all our loyal customers,” the Facebook page message read: “Due to increased reports of peanut allergies as well as a number of slip-and-fall claims we have decided to remove the peanuts from the bar and dining room. We are committed to maintaining the casual, family-friendly atmosphere that you all enjoy! We appreciate your understanding and look forward to seeing you all soon for some great food and music on the Navesink!! Cheers!”
Todd Sherman, owner of Barnacle Bill’s since 1982, said after a long time of discussing whether to bounce peanuts from the premises, he decided it was time.
While he called most of the reaction to the decision on Facebook “pretty devastating,” Sherman said, “there are reasons, good reasons, why we did what we did. We thought about this long and hard. It’s not something we did lightly. Peanut allergies are a real thing in this world and there are quite a number of them around.
“It’s that and lawsuits. We’ve been sued and every time we get sued, it’s because people have fallen on the peanuts,” said Sherman, mentioning that the restaurant had been named in three suits because of falls.
“After a while we decided to change, be brave and try it,” he said.
Monday evening, the second night without peanuts, customers at the bar were pouring pretzel nuggets into the palms of hands from glass carafes to munch while having a drink or waiting for a table. The floor was swept clean of shells. The only evidence of peanuts were some shells discarded on a manicured bush at the front entrance, a few wayward shells in the parking lot and some shell shards nestled between the boards of the front walkway.
Sherman was a little bit surprised by the reaction. “Everybody’s calling about the peanuts,” he said. “We knew we’d have some interest but, boy oh boy!”
Customers coming and going from the restaurant were mixed about the goobers being gone.
Robert Markson went to Barnacle Bill’s on the hope of snagging one more night of peanuts. “I hate this,” he said with a smile after his first peanut-free meal. “I thought I’d get here before they did away with them.
“It was a nice thing,” he said.
While Markson was sad about the decision, Stefanie Markson, his wife of 46 years, couldn’t be happier. “I hated the mess on the floor. It was just messy looking and I never dumped the peanut shells on the floor. I just wouldn’t. I’m very glad they did it but our daughter will be upset,” she said.
Both Marksons, who have been patrons for about 40 years, promised to return – he for the fabled burgers and chef salad, she for the shrimp and sautéed vegetables – even through the place would be sans peanuts. “I love this place,” Robert Markson said. “I always have.”
Maddie Brand, 12, and her 9-year-old sister, Tabatha, of Middletown were somewhat horrified that peanuts were kaput. They arrived at the restaurant with their parents and grandparents and, when told about the new policy, their mouths dropped open. “No!” they chorused.
“Peanuts are a tradition. It’s part of America,” Maddie said. “This is one of the best places … It’s a real surprise.”
“The peanuts made this place a 5-star restaurant. Now it’s a 4-star,” Tabatha said. “They should have made an area that’s peanut free.”
“Wow!” the girls’ dad, Vinnie Brand, said. “The appeal was that it was ‘old school,’ unique and created a tremendous atmosphere … It’s fun here, that what it said. Wow!”
Brand, who owns the Stress Factory comedy club in New Brunswick, said he has been thinking about opening a restaurant in that Middlesex County city and using the peanut concept. He said the policy change at Barnacle Bill’s has only strengthened that idea for him.
Brand’s mother-in-law, Donna Hughes, was given the choice of going to any area restaurant Monday night, and she chose Barnacle Bill’s. She called the decision to nix the nuts “ridiculous” because of the lawsuits filed over slipping on peanuts and shells. “We love Barnacle Bill’s,” said the Lake Hopatcong resident. “We come from two hours away.”
While Jim Breslin of Red Bank said, “I’d rather have (the peanuts) than not,” his wife Lisa understood why the change was made. “I get it,” she said. “We don’t have anyone in our family with allergies but I understand.”
“We’ll still keep coming,” Jim Breslin said.
“I will miss (the peanuts) but I can understand,” said Lorraine Lynch of Oceanport. “That’s the first thing we do here, order a drink, eat peanuts and throw the shells on the floor.”
Sherman, Barnacle Bill’s owner, expects to put some different selections on the menu for snacks and have munchies, other than pretzels, for patrons to nosh on at the bar. “We’re not going to go without anything. We’ll have things for people to snack on,” said Sherman, who had purchased 500 pounds of peanuts a week.
“We have great food, great appetizers, great soups. We have great live music here. We do a lot of things here that other places don’t do,” he said. “It’s not all about the peanuts. It’s about a lot of things that makes Barnacle’s Barnacle’s.
“There’s a lot of maintenance in having peanuts, cleaning the peanut dust. We spent a lot of time cleaning this joint up,” Sherman said.
“Sometimes change is hard to accept but sometimes it’s necessary,” he said. “We’ll still keep people happy, I hope.”