Cape May restaurant puts stylish spin on outdoor dining

CAPE MAY, N.J. (WPVI) -- The lively town at New Jersey's southernmost tip is bustling year-round. One of its notable landmarks is the Exit Zero Filling Station, fittingly named for its home beyond the very last exit on the Garden State Parkway.

"Cape May has a special, special vibe," said Jack Wright, the owner of Exit Zero Filling Station, which originally started as a hometown magazine publisher that continues to this day.

A 20-year resident of the Jersey Shore, Wright is originally from Scotland.

"I'm from a place where people eat Indian food the way that Americans eat pizza," he said. That's why he started his food service business selling Thai and Indian food.

The Exit Zero brand became so popular, it evolved into an Americana-themed restaurant, gift shop, magazine publisher, and gas station hybrid.

The quirky amalgamation of businesses flourished for two years before they were met with a new challenge: the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We actually closed our restaurant before Governor Murphy issued his executive order," said Wright. "We very quickly changed to take out because that was the only way we could survive."

Their survival story started out like many restaurants across the country in the wake of the pandemic. But once outdoor dining became an option, it took a stylish turn.

Exit Zero paired their gas pumping stations with dining tables, creating a quirky aesthetic that became popular with customers. But once the winter months started rolling in, they needed to create a warmer alternative.

"We started ski tents, little ski lodges," said Wright.

Now, families can reserve their own wintry fort in the parking lot, paired with its own heater and skiing-related paraphernalia.

In addition to limited indoor dining options, Wright teamed up with a local artist to design even more private dining spaces.

"We converted this little Airstream trailer into a 60s paradise with a record player and our customers donated vinyl records," he said.

It's been a huge success. Wright says their business is turning greater sales than the year before with each passing month.

"This is a perfect solution and they just really went all out here," said Christie Stuart from Malvern, Pennsylvania. "And we just want to support that."

Exit Zero wants to support its community, too. They created the "Feed Our Friends" program, where staff donates and delivers food to families nominated by locals.

"It's such a cliche, we feel like a part of the community, but we do. We live here, we work here," said Jack Wright. "They're not really our guests or our customers. They're kind of a part of a big, huge family."

To learn more about Exit Zero Filling Station's hours of operation and reservation methods, visit their website. Be advised that their gas station is currently out of order to make space for outdoor dining operations.

RELATED: NJ man's free food pantry grows beyond his garage

EMBED More News Videos

"Love and kindness, that's what I charge people. That's it." Barney Corrigan's free food pantry has grown so large that it needs the community's help to continue.

Copyright © 2021 WPVI-TV. All Rights Reserved.