Fred Ray first met Carmine Perrotti, the man he affectionately refers to as a brother, 20 years ago while working as a window washer in Atlantic City. Ray offered Perrotti, then the operator of a pizza shop, his services in exchange for a pie, and they quickly became friends.
Now, that friendship has become a fruitful business partnership with the reopening of the Up the Creek restaurant at 139 E. Faunce Landing Road in Absecon, which the pair have run together since September.
"It was pretty much a lifelong goal and dream for me (to own a restaurant), and pretty much I got Carmine on board, I would have never done it without him, because we kind of enhance each other," said Ray, of Absecon.
Up the Creek is open from 7 to 3 p.m., seven days per week, and specializes in standard American breakfast and lunch fare such as omelettes, French toast, burgers and other sandwiches. Most meals are $10 or less.
Ray has lived across the street from the restaurant, which has traded hands several times in its history, for seven years. This summer, when he saw it again closed, he asked its landlord about renting.
Perrotti is a trained chef and culinary graduate with nearly 30 years in the restaurant business, most of that spent doing pizza and Italian cuisine. Ray has no formal training, but is a self-taught breakfast expert, having been fascinated with eggs and other morning meals since his stepfather taught him how to make an omelette as a child.
With their opposite areas of expertise, Ray said, taking over the restaurant seemed like a natural fit in spite of the location's history.
"We've seen all the different owners, and we've seen that nobody really ever made a go of it, but we figured, 'Why not give it a shot?'" Ray said. "We have the experience, between us. That's why we figured we'd try it out, and so far it's been working out really well."
The new Up the Creek is proving to be a success. Its modest dining room is often full from opening to closing on weekends, and business has started to pick up during the week, as well.
The pair believe their success comes from a combination of factors. The restaurant, located by Absecon Bay on the outskirts of town, offers diners an escape, and they say the prices and portions are just right. Almost everything on the menu - from roast beef sandwiches to gourmet burgers - is prepared fresh entirely on the premises.
While the choice to use fresh ingredients and prepare food to order requires more time, Perrotti said he believes his customers know what they're getting into.
"Everything is prepared fresh. People know that," said Perrotti, of Absecon. "Good food takes time, you know what I mean? If they want something fast, they go to McDonald's, they don't come here."
Bill Stubbe, who works for Atlantic City Electric, started going to the reopened restaurant after hearing positive word of mouth, and while he's not quite a regular yet, he said he enjoys the occasional trip to Up the Creek.
"It's good. Prices are good, the food's good," Stubbe said. "It's a nice little ... not hideaway, a little getaway. Good little place to get away from the monotony, the crazy days."
While the restaurant's menu is currently dominated by simpler fare, Perrotti will soon bring a taste of fine dining to Up the Creek. This spring, he plans to keep the restaurant open into the evening on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, offering more elaborate dinner fare, with a different menu each weekend.
While precedent suggests that it can be tough going at the location, Ray and Perrotti so far seem to be bucking that trend.
"It's growing every day; every day it's growing and growing," Ray said. "It started off a few people here and there. I got a lot of regulars, a lot of locals that come, and it's getting bigger and bigger every day."
For more information about Up the Creek or to get on its mailing list for the spring dinner menu, search for the restaurant on Facebook or call 609-380-7598.
Contact Braden Campbell: