Maureen Woodman from Woodman’s of Essex talks about restaurants and the changes on the Essex Causeway over the last 45 years. From restaurants to shops, she discusses how the Essex Causeway has evolved and what the future may hold.
John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher, I’m here today with Maureen Woodman from Woodman’s of Essex, a restaurant and catering company in Essex, Massachusetts. Today we’re talking about changes on the Essex Causeway. Welcome, Maureen.
Maureen Woodman: Hi, John. Thanks for having me.
History of the Essex Causeway
John: Sure. So, as you know, Maureen, the Essex Causeway is this narrow strip of land in Essex, Massachusetts that connects the land on both sides of the Great Marsh and the Essex River comes in there. Tell me a little bit about the history of the Causeway and the businesses that are on and around that Causeway area.
Maureen: So, I’ve been in Essex now for 45 years and I’ve seen things that have not changed, and I’ve seen things that have changed. Four of the original restaurants are there, they have changed hands over time. A lot of them have changed hands recently, which is kind of interesting to me. It’s definitely a trend where the people that were there, either they sold out or their family didn’t take the business over and so they moved on.
They still predominantly serve seafood in all the restaurants. I think everyone in the boating community is very familiar with the three boat launches that are in Essex, the Essex Marina and Pike’s, so you can bring your boat there. I think the antique stores have had an incredible change in my 45 years. They used to be … Really, there were more antique stores than restaurants back then. And with the restaurants, the antique stores would bring people, and I think once the eBay came along, the antique stores truly went down in business, and now more than half of those antique stores are gone.
John: And I think a lot of the younger people, too, they’re not as interested in old style furniture and things like that, they want modern, modern, modern.
Maureen: Exactly. They’re not even here anymore. So that’s been a giant change. A lot of those antique stores had a great run when the movie business came to Massachusetts because they would supply a lot of the props. So they too changed, but I feel now that they are truly not as popular as they once were. The other thing that’s very popular there is artists and artwork and painters, you see a lot of people painting. I think that’s something that I see more of in the last 45 years, truly, people that are painting along the Causeway and taking in that beautiful view.
You also have the paddle boards and the kayak business that has taken off tremendously on the river in the last 45 years. There were really no kayaks back then, maybe canoes, I don’t even know. And of course the paddle boards are everywhere at high tide now, it’s such a great place there.
John: Those are those stand up paddle boards where you’re sort of standing and you have the long paddle and you’re … It looks like a surfboard, but you’re standing up on it.
Maureen: Yep, and I think that’s a really … I think that’s a popular business. We still don’t really have a lot of retail. We have two little coffee shops, we have a post office, a couple banks, and that’s really it. Gas station, one gas station, we used to have two, 45 years ago, now we only have one. Oh, we do have the little hot dog stand, that hot dog guy showed up three years ago, which is kind of fun. But really, there hasn’t been that much change in industry that I can see there.
John: Now, Essex, itself, doesn’t really have a beach, per se, that that people are going to and then coming off the beach and going right to the restaurants. But do people go to the beach in neighboring areas like Gloucester and Ipswich? And then, when they come off of the beach, then they go to Essex and go get a bite to eat?
Maureen: Sure. I still think where the crossroad between Cranes beach and Ipswich and then Good Harbor Beach and Gloucester. So I feel like that connecting road, that 133, brings you from one of those beaches and then you pass us by. I do think if people are going to the beach by boat, they will drop their boat off at the marina and then they will come to Woodman’s as well.
Recent Changes to the Essex Causeway
John: What about just over the last few years in terms of again, the Essex Causeway and the changes that you’ve seen? What are some of the events and things that have been happening in the last few years that have made some changes?
Maureen: Well, you have, again, a lot of the river, you have a lot of rowing competitions. You have all the kayak, the boat racing, and I think that mostly people maximizing the water is what’s added to our community and just the natural beauty there. I think a lot of people come to look at the salt marsh, I think there’s a lot of people that come in birdwatch there. I still think it draws a ton of nature lovers to Essex. I think it’s a safe community.
We don’t have a lot of parking, though. Other than Woodman’s you can park there and walk around and there is a small parking lot behind the police station. A lot of people, historical people will come just to check out the town hall and the library in Essex because that building is so old and everyone just loves looking at it. But really, there’s not a huge draw other than the food, I still think the food is the whole thing.
John: Right. And you do have the Essex Shipbuilding Museum on the Causeway as well, so you do get some people coming to the museum, I think, too, right?
Maureen: Sure. A lot of people come to look into the boat history and how the boats were made and tell the story of how they would create the skulls there and then the boats would go on to become famous clipper ships and what happened, and I do think people go there in the off season as well. I think a lot of schools visit that area and take a little history lesson and walk through there.
Restaurants on the Essex Causeway Changing Ownership
John: You mentioned that a lot of the restaurants that are on the Causeway have changed ownership over the last few years. What was behind that, and did they change their names, or are they just the same name and menu, basically, but with different owners?
Maureen: Well, we have the Village Restaurant, who recently changed hands, but they kept the name and then we have the Rivers Bend, which was always the Marina and they’re actually doing a lot of private events there now. We had Periwinkles, which has had many names and they’re open now. We have CK Pearl, which was Callahan’s for years, and Shea’s Riverside, which was Tom Shea’s, but changed hands. And the, of course, the huge addition, what was Fortune Palace, the Chinese restaurant, is now the Great Marsh Brewery, which we’re all so excited about, what they did in there was tremendous.
It’s 15,000 square feet built-out, it was a small Chinese restaurant, kind of ranch style, if you think about it, all one level. And they’re brewing 16 beers there, they brought in a wonderful food group, the Weber Group, to do their food. They did a tremendous build-out, I recommend anyone to go see the second floor of how visual the sunset is and the way they maximize the river. It’s a whole different perspective of any restaurant or anywhere that I’ve ever seen on the Causeway because it’s so high up.
John: Yeah, it’s two or even three stories, is it?
Maureen: It’s three stories. It’s really two stories, in theory, but it’s three stories high. And when you go in there and you look up and down the Causeway from the front windows, you just cannot even describe the panoramic view. And in the back, where they put their dining room on the second floor, they completely capsule this marsh at high tide, and then, of course, the sunset’s in the back. It’s absolutely breathtaking. I recommend anyone just go have a beer and you won’t believe how big our little Causeway looks from up there.
John: Yeah, just like you said, getting it from that sort of … Almost a bird’s eye view from up there, you wouldn’t think it … oh, you’re three stories up, it would make that much difference ,but when you can see out the whole … The river and all the way out into the ocean, and then, like you said, behind and the sunset, it’s just beautiful.
Maureen: We have a great drone video of Woodman’s that shows the river and Cranes Beach and the Great Marsh and the back of our property, and when you’re upstairs, in the Great Marsh, it really reminds you of the drone video, looking down at Cranes beach, that’s probably one of the most breathtaking views up there, is looking across the river to Cranes, how close it looks when you’re up there. It’s really something to see.
Future of the Essex Causeway
John: What other kinds of things do you think are going to happen in the next few years and where do you see the Essex Causeway in the next, say, five to 10 years?
Maureen: Hopefully not underwater.
John: You have had some storms in the winter the last few years. Yeah.
Maureen: Even though they did all that work there to build up the Causeway, we still seem to go underwater whenever we have a 12 foot tide. So, a 12 foot tide with a storm or a full moon … That’s what they’re saying. They’re saying, eventually, the Causeway is going to be underwater. I hope that doesn’t happen, but there’s part of me that thinks it may. So I don’t know, I don’t see it really changing. I don’t see any … Maybe are they going to bring in the marijuana facilities?
Are they going to have Uber cabs driving all around? Is it really going to change in the next 45 years? Are people going to find this small little town that we live in that’s between Gloucester in Ipswich and Manchester and Beverly? Even as I tell people where we live today, 85% of them never heard of Essex.
So, for some reason, that little town is stuck in the middle and other than antiques and fried clams, I don’t think anyone really knows what it is. That’s what we’re hoping the Great Marsh Brewery is definitely going to help all the businesses on the Causeway in the shoulder season because I think the brewery is more winter-driven as well as seasonally driven, I think they’ll have a great run with the tourists, but for some reason, there’s something about drinking beer … I think it’s a November, December, January, February thing, where all the rest of us, we seem to struggle in the off-season, people really forget about us then. So we’re hoping that The Great Marsh brings you to town and then while you’re there, you’ll eat at one of the other places or you’ll go shopping or do something.
John: All right, well that’s great information, Maureen. Great to talk to you about the Essex Causeway.
Maureen: Thanks, John. Thanks for having me.
John: And for more information about Woodman’s Restaurant, visit the Woodman’s website at Woodmans.com or call (978) 768-6057.