A New Jersey rest stop you wouldn’t mind pulling over for
The service areas on the Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike are not exactly known as the most welcoming establishments in the world.
But there's a couple that have undergone a complete transformation, making them attractions in their own right for travelers looking for a bite to eat and a chance to relax.
Glass-plated on the outside, and bright and spacious on the inside, the Grover Cleveland Service Area near Exit 11 on the Turnpike may end up serving as the model of all future renovations going forward.
It had been destroyed by Sandy in 2012 and reopened last November, sporting an entirely different look and vibe, from the colors of the walls and tiles to the food on the menus.
"We're creating a brand that is flexible enough to work with any local area, using local ingredients as much as we can," said Frank Sickelsmith, vice president of adult beverage and restaurant development for HMSHost, which handles operations at many New Jersey rest areas and restaurants worldwide.
Most of the fast food chain restaurants have disappeared from the site, making room for Refresh & Co., a brand created by HMSHost.
It's considered a healthier and fresher option for road-weary travelers, and the meal offerings can change to fall in line with the seasons and local produce cycles.
According to Sickelsmith, there has been plenty of positive feedback regarding the new facility. Customers appreciate the modern, open look, he said.
"I think with any restaurant we develop, we're going to take lessons from this place," he said.
The Atlantic Service Area near milepost 41 on the Parkway also received a recent upgrade, treating travelers to a design they could easily get used to.
According to the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, the Atlantic renovations were paid in full by HMSHost in exchange for a two-year contract extension to operate the Turnpike service areas. The group's contracts on both major roadways expire in 2020.
A Turnpike Authority spokesman said there are currently no plans to upgrade the rest of the service areas in New Jersey.
Also on New Jersey 101.5: