John and Lisa are Interviewing…Chef Joseph Dringus of Sweet Jenny’s

We’re a day late, but it’s all good…

Last year, I posted about how our favorite family restaurant in South Jersey was Sweet Jenny’s in Barnegat. Well, we’re thrilled to have the chef for Sweet Jenny’s, Chef Joseph Dringus, take some time and answer some questions. Not only does he talk about the success behind Sweet Jenny’s, but about his early start and career success as a chef.

J&L: How do you define Sweet Jenny’s?

Chef Joe: Sweet Jenny’s is a family style restaurant that caters to the palate of anyone. Our extensive breakfast, lunch, dinner, and desert menu leave an amazing impression with the toughest culinary connoisseur. Our motto is quite simple. Give people an incredible meal, with exceptional service, that is kid friendly of course, and customers will be back. Why should anyone with children have to sacrifice the quality of food because they are going out with the kids? The answer is one word: Sweet Jenny’s.

J&L: Do you find it hard to maintain the balance of being kid-friendly as well as providing a dining experience that adults will enjoy?

Chef Joe: Not at all. What I find amazing is that most people with children are always sacrificing themselves to keep their kids happy. Don’t get me wrong, I have two kids myself, but we make it a guilt free experience. We offer a kid friendly environment that the adults love too. When your kids have the final say in where you eat, Sweet Jenny’s isn’t the answer you groan about. We tie the two together so adults can have an incredible dining experience and the children are happy to be here too. Like I said, A guilt free experience!!!

J&L: During these tough economic times, what is the one thing you have focused on to keep your customers?

Chef Joe: Value. We have always had the motto: why go broke to eat good food? We have customers that come in 2-3 times per day. Talk about loyal. We keep the prices right and the specials continually flowing. From our $2.79 Breakfast Specials to our $5.99 Economic Stimulus Package, Where else can you have a 5 Star Zuppa Di Pesce for $16.99? Oh, and let’s not forget about our All U Can Eat Soup and Salad Bar that is included with all Lunch and Dinner Specials, or the All Inclusive Early Birds, or the All Inclusive Italian Nights, or the Create your Combo Night, or our Pasta Extravaganza, don’t forget kids night where kids decorate colossal sized cookies while Freckles The Clown faces paints the kids (of all ages by the way) while they are snacking on popcorn and cotton candy…. you get the point…have good food, good service, reasonable prices and are kid friendly and people will come!

J&L: With Chowderfest coming up, what do you think about the event? Is it fun for you?

Chef Joe: Chowderfest is great. The electricity is amazing. The chance to market your restaurant is dynamic. And the competition is a blast. I think all chefs/restaurateurs have some type of ego. We’re all competitive and want to win, but at the end of the day, you have the opportunity to showcase what you are all about to more than 15,000 people. We have a blast doing what we love to do, and that is exactly how we do it. The way we want. Whether it’s throwing Mardi Gras Beads out in the crowds, or passing out hush puppies instead of saltines, we do things Sweet Jenny’s Style…not your typical kid friendly restaurant style! Just check us out this year!!

J&L: What made you want to be a chef?

Chef Joe: I grew up as a child in the business, but got my first non-family break when I was 12 years old. Vic and Carol Di Gangi gave me my first break. Vic was the former mayor of Barnegat and he and his wife owned the Barnegat Deli. They gave me a shot as a kid, and I took full advantage. This story has so much more meaning now because Vic just passed away a few weeks ago. Because of that opportunity (I worked for him for years), I became very successful at a young age. It is amazing when you are able to grow up doing what you always wanted to do your entire life. Most people have to go to college before they can begin their profession. I had already run The Chicken or the Egg, been a chef at The Ram’s Head Inn, and worked in other restaurants before I became the youngest chef in Atlantic City history. When I graduated Culinary School, I had the fortunate opportunity to open Gold Rush for Bally’s in Atlantic City at the age of 20. The rest is history. Point being, I had the opportunity to work in an industry that I loved way before my time. Because of the opportunity given to me by Vic and Carol, I am what I am today. Thank you Vic and God Bless you always!

J&L: What do you love most about the restaurant business?

Chef Joe: I love seeing the response on people’s faces every time they eat. It is instant gratification!

J&L: Tell us about your best and worst night in the kitchen.

Chef Joe: I’ve had two best nights. Richard Younger said to me one time that he thought I was too young for my position at Bally’s. I lied about my age and told everyone I was 22 for obvious reasons. I told him all I wanted was an opportunity and a paycheck. “With all due respect sir, excuse me and feel free to hold on for the ride.” He witnessed myself and crew put out 1200 plus dinners on our first Saturday night open. He never questioned me again, unless it was to help him with his ACF presentation on BBQ, which he won for. That was cool and the start of a great relationship.

Another great moment was when we opened our second location [on LBI]. My dream was always to franchise my own company and now Sweet Jenny’s was on its way!!

This business is tough…it’s not about worst nights because you always learn from something bad. I did witness, however, a terrible burn incident. A friend of mine, Julio, truly gave me the scare of my life.

J&L: What do you think of food blogs and foodie message boards such as Chowhound and Yelp?

Chef Joe: Blogs are a great way to express your thoughts. Keep in mind, though, you never know who is the author. I hope all of us in the industry have a mutual respect for one another and have not stooped so low as to sabotage the other. We have had some incredible reviews over the years and I am sure there are some negative ones out there too. Just remember to question the source.

J&L: What’s the lasting impression you want diners at Sweet Jenny’s to leave with when they have finished their meals?

Chef Joe: That was the best dining experience ever. I can’t believe it’s a family restaurant!

We appreciate Chef Joe taking some time with us. Now, a few words from our readers: have you ever been to Sweet Jenny’s? Do you think more family restaurants could benefit from taking care of the adults more? Tell us about it.


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