By Diane Stulga
Photography courtesy of Sparks family
A sense of warmth, comfort, and memories overwhelmed me as I entered the kitchen door of Howard’s Restaurant in Beach Haven Terrace. Howard’s has been a family business for over 60 years.
Howard Sparks and his wife Ginny moved to Holgate from Collingswood, New Jersey in the 1940s with their son Kingston. Howard, an avid fisherman and carpenter, had been in the dry cleaning and trucking business. His love for both fishing and cooking made it an easy decision when the Bert’s luncheonette was for sale. Howard made an offer and opened his own restaurant. A countertop, few tables, jukebox and pinball machine defined the restaurant in 1950. He put his carpentry experience to use and performed repairs and renovations over the years. When Howard passed away suddenly at the age of 48 in 1966, Kingston took over the restaurant.
Kingston managed the business for many years until his son Kevin Sparks, the current owner took over. Kevin began working in the restaurant in 1983 and is the third generation to run the restaurant. Kevin’s eyes light up when he recalls the family in their younger days, playing in the restaurant and serving each other crackers and soda filled with sugar packets. He vividly remembers peeling mounds of shrimp every day. His great grandfather, George, positioned a TV in the restaurant’s kitchen so the staff could watch Flyers games. George also hosted spelling bees for the staff, challenging them with his favorite two words: mayonnaise and Worcestershire Sauce.
Kevin said the wait staff back then required the girls to work the dining room and the boys to work the kitchen. Kevin became the first waiter in the 1990s. His parents worked seven days a week. One of his mother’s favorite traditions was to make a London broil dinner at the end of each summer season. After going away to Drew University in New Jersey, Kevin moved to Colorado for a year. Kevin began to miss the LBI lifestyle.
Kevin met his wife Lara when he returned to New Jersey in 1995 and they married in 1998. Being newly married and a new father was an inspiration for him to take the family business more seriously and to fall in love with cooking. He purchased the restaurant in 2010. The restaurant received a letter from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for its signature dish, French Fried Lobster.
It is well on its way to becoming a household name on LBI. He smiled warmly as he spoke of the wonderful staff throughout the years that have come and gone. Some still return, entering through the kitchen door, smiling and ask his father, “Hey, King, remember me?” Other staff are still considered family whenever they return. There are 45 staff members here today.
Kevin has made another addition to Howard’s Restaurant called El Swell and it serves Swell Fish Tacos. His passion for fish and Mexican food inspired him to open a place where he could marry Mexican recipes with creativity and fun. El Swell is a not-so-traditional Mexican restaurant that blends a Mexican beach taqueria and American surf culture. It is located on the site of the old take-out building.
Old black and white photographs adorn the walls of Howard’s, which overlooks the marina. A collage in the dining room of the restaurant shows the many changes that took place over the past sixty years. In the 1980s, a second story was added to the restaurant that seats 186 patrons.
Howard’s Restaurant has never taken reservations, yet without reservations, “Sparks” still fly at this mainstay of the island. Thank you, Kevin.