SHREWSBURY – For forty years, the Zweben family has hosted weddings, christenings, birthday parties and holiday dinners at Shadowbrook, an elegant country mansion situated on 20 acres at the end of a tree-lined, half-mile long driveway off Broad St.
Once the summer home of the Feinstock family, the property was purchased by Fred Thorngreen in 1942 for use as a restaurant.
In 1957, Rod Keller purchased the restaurant. The Keller family owned two steakhouses in North Jersey, the Ranch House and the Road House, but the concept was not a fit for Shadowbrook, and the Kellers sold the business to Sidney Zweben in 1971.
The Zweben family had a long history in the hospitality industry, notes Shadowbrook’s present owner, Robert Zweben. In “the good old days,” of the 1940s and 1950s, the family owned resort hotels in Lakewood and Bradley Beach.
Robert was a recent graduate of Cornell University hotel school when his father purchased Shadowbrook, and he and his brother, Sandy, who also graduated from Cornell, joined their dad in the business.
Shadowbrook’s past as a historic home gave it features that no other restaurant in the region enjoyed. Its chandeliers and banister came from the Paramount Hotel in Manhattan. Another of its chandeliers graced a public room of the famed Biltmore Hotel in Manhattan as well.
The mansion is also retains its original fireplaces, as well as wall panels that were once part of the Villard House on Madison Avenue, built in 1884 for Henry Villard, then Henry Villard, then president of the Northern Pacific Railway.
“These are not things you would see in any other place,” Robert said.
Custom-designed Axminster carpeting imported from Ireland enhances the rich interior.
With the country mansion transformed into an elegant destination for fine dining,
Patrons of Shadowbrook could choose an intimate gathering in one of the restaurant’s private rooms, engage a banquet room for a wedding or other large affair, or use the estate’s garden setting for a wedding and outdoor reception.
“We have lots of small rooms,” Robert said. “There are beautiful small rooms that fit 20 to 30 people beautifully. At the other end of the spectrum are the Oak and Regency rooms perfect for wedding receptions and other large gatherings.
The restaurant also became known for its bountiful board buffet, a fresh concept in the area in the area at the time the Zwebens took over the business.
“Shadowbrook was the first restaurant in the area to have a salad bar, to offer tableside dining and elaborate buffets,” Zweben said.
Its specialties included Caesar salad prepared at tableside, Dover sole, flaming duck, Cherries Jubilee and Bananas Foster.
His father eventually moved to Florida and Robert Zweben and his brother managed the restaurant until Robert bought out his brother and became sole owner in 1985.
At Shadowbrook, the seasons passed in the form of Thanksgiving dinners, Christmas parties, Sweet Sixteens, Quinceaneras, Communions, Christenings, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, engagements and weddings.
Frequently, Robert said, brides who were married at Shadowbrook return as mothers of the bride when their own daughters wed. Sometimes, brides have a second wedding at Shadowbrook, with one such bride telling Robert, “If I do it again, I’m having it here, too!”
About five years ago, Robert said, Shadowbrook stopped offering a la carte dining in order to concentrate on their special occasion business.
In addition to hosting private events ranging from small family gatherings to large receptions, Shadowbrook also welcomes corporate functions, fundraisers and chambers of commerce.
During the holiday season, the restaurant opens its doors for public dining. “On Thanksgiving, Christmas, Mother’s Day and Easter, we have a fabulous buffet that is open to the public,” notes Robert. “And on New Year’s Eve, we have a New Year’s Eve party.”
Like Robert, a majority of the staff at Shadowbrook has worked there for three and four decades. “Our chef has been with me 39 years,” he said.
And, he adds, he has no plans to retire. “Look at what we have here,” he says. “We have 90 families that work here. We’ve had three generations of families working here at the same time.”
That continuity is something his clients appreciate and return to enjoy. With more than a month before Thanksgiving, the restaurant already has taken 200 reservations.
“It’s largely word of mouth,” Robert said. Well over a month we had ala Carte until about five years ago.
Many of those diners will be welcomed like the old friends they have become. “There will be people that will come in and the maitre’d will know that she will sit at table 32,” Robert said.
“I love this business. Life has been good.”