JEFFERSON - The winds of change are blowing upon Lake Hopatcong at Nolan’s Point. After more than 50 years of being owned and operated by the Spinelli family, The Windlass Restaurant and Marina has been sold.
“We were the first to serve dinner on Lake Hopatcong,” said Ralph Spinelli, Jr., whose parents, Ralph, Sr. and Amelia, bought the property in 1963 when it was Crater’s Tavern and attracted a large college crowd. The Spinellis set about converting it into a full-scale Italian restaurant.
“There was Lenny’s Pagoda in River Styx Cove that did a great breakfast and lunch, but we were the first to offer dinner,” Spinelli said. His parents now gone, Ralph and his wife, Rina, have been running the Windlass for years.
Diners who have come to know the Spinelli family and have enjoyed dishes such as lasagna, chicken parmigiana and ravioli probably agree the Windlass has become somewhat of an institution on Lake Hopatcong.
“The Windlass has a very loyal following on the lake,” explained Marty Kane, president of the Lake Hopatcong Historical Museum. “People may be concerned about how it’s going to change. It’s been operating the same way for 50 years, serving southern Italian food.”
New owners, husband and wife team Bela and Alice Szigethy, bring with them the experience of restaurant ownership. As the owners of Alice’s Restaurant, also located at Nolan’s Point, the Szigethys are more interested in a seamless transition than rocking the boat.
“It requires a lot of careful thought on many levels,” Alice said, referring to the transfer of ownership. “First, we do not wish to upset or scare the loyal customers. Second, we need to reassure the job safety of the workers who are such a part of the Windlass experience. It is really quite emotional. I am very aware of this and making this the least jolting transition is my goal.”
Everything about the sale of the Windlass is personal. It is the first time in five decades that someone without the Spinelli name will be in charge. As Ralph and Rina move forward with the next phase of their lives, the Szigethys are coming full circle with the ownership of the Windlass.
“When we were dating, (Bela) had a boat on the lake and we would almost always eat at the Windlass,” Alice explained. “As a couple during the off season, we often got one of the tables near the window. The view was great. You really got a feel for the lake and the sky. Inside, you could tell you were eating in a real institution.”
It was that dining experience, which was naturally created by the Spinellis over years of serving customers, that resonated most with Alice. It was a feeling that could only come from being in an environment that has grown on its own over time, developing an effortless way of creating and serving great food.
“Honestly, the feel of the place, knowing it is an institution, a family-run place with a real owner, a real story, and years and years of collective memories created at the Windlass,” explained Alice when asked what she liked the most about the restaurant in the past and present.
Although Alice said she has found working with Ralph in turning over ownership to be easy, and she plans to make every effort to keep changes to a minimum, she does have some plans of her own for the Windlass.
“Ralph has been very cooperative in letting one of my proposed managers come in ahead of the sale to get to know the staff, operations and connect with customers. I cannot thank Ralph enough for that. He has been wonderfully patient and has shared all that he knows with us,” she explained. “That being said, I do have a wish list of sorts of some planned changes. Ideally, most changes will be subtle, but there will be some changes that are not. Notably, upgrades to the physical (building) and some menu changes.”
Mauro Radice, who is the new manager, said the restaurant will remain open five days a week (closed Mondays and Tuesdays) until August 31. Beginning September 1, the restaurant will be open seven days a week, with brunch served on Saturdays and Sundays.
While the Szigethys contemplate menu changes and green lighting some renovations—after all, with new ownership comes new ideas—there is one thing that will not change.
“It will stay the Windlass,” Alice stated.
Editor’s Note: Camp Six is the parent company of Lake Hopatcong News and is owned by Bela Szigethy.