In 1943, Aniello and Conchetta Conti purchased a parcel of commercial property on a little dirt road named 43rd Place in Sea Isle City, New Jersey, for $250. Aniello and Conchetta had come to the United States from the Italian island of Ponzi at the end of World War I to make a better life for themselves.
They had seven children in America - five daughters; Nancy, Lucy, Sylvia, Yolanda, and Ginny, and two sons; Carmen and Mario. Aniello had first come to the United States on a sailing schooner in 1899 as a ten-year-old cabin boy who had dreamed of living in America one day.
In 1944 the Conti's spent an additional $350 to build the original shack on the property, their own small fish house. It was the sixth building constructed on the street. Aniello worked many long hours, fishing to provide for his family. When Carmen, the older of their two sons, turned 14, he quit school to fish full time with his father. Aniello had told Carmen that he could fish for a living only when he knew how to fix the engine on the boat. So Carmen learned how, as quickly as he could, working for Joe Davies at his mechanic shop on 42nd Street. Carmen fished with his dad, father and son working hard together until, sadly, Aniello died in 1948 when Carmen was 19 years old.
It was then that Carmen took over his father's fishing business and also started using the shack as a mechanic shop. He fixed boat and car engines and anything else that people needed fixed. So many people were bringing broken things to him, that a friend nailed up a sign that read "Carmen's" so all the people would know where to go – and today, he still fixes everything, for everyone! He worked as a mechanic for many years and he enjoyed the work. However, he was frustrated by the many people who wouldn't pay their bills. One day, an exasperated Carmen picked up a wooden crab basket full of unpaid bills, and tossed them in the bay! He returned to full-time commercial fishing soon after that.
Carmen was busy fishing again, catching sea bass, cod, shad, and lobsters. People would come and stand on the old back dock waiting to pick up some freshly caught seafood, and while waiting, would comment to Carmen about the beautiful view. There was a large upright rope spool on the dock, and a couple of customers were fortunate enough to eat Carmen's fresh catch right on that spool on the dock. It was then that the idea was born to open a seafood market, and Carmen, with his wife Ruthy, opened up shop in 1970, first serving only lobsters to take home, until their business, as well as their family, grew. With daughter Carrie, and son Carmen Jr., Carmen's Restaurant opened in 1981.
As the first few years went by, Carmen and Ruthy worked very hard, buying property on both sides of the original parcel, and gradually the restaurant grew into its present size by 1993, seating over 300 people on the long outdoor dock, overlooking the beautiful bay. Carmen's is the original outdoor bay front restaurant in Sea Isle City, and has become a family tradition for thousands while enjoying their vacation at the Sea Isle shore. Carmen's is a family restaurant, where we treat your family like our very own. Even our famous sandbox, where our youngest customers can play while mom and dad relax, started as something to do for Carmen and Ruthy's first grandson Evan, in 1994, so he could stay busy while his mom, Carrie, worked! He soon had new friends join him, and it has become one of our most popular features even today.
When you come to Carmen's, you will find Carmen and Ruthy still hard at work, surrounded by their children and grandchildren. Carmen's sisters, brother, nieces, and nephews, have all worked at the restaurant, making it truly a family business. The Conti family is still in the fishing business, supplying lobster and fish for the restaurant. You will see Carmen's boat, the Rufus (named after Ruthy), docked at the restaurant. Carmen Jr.'s boat, the Rufus II, can be found just down the canal, docked next to his and partner, Lou Conte's, bait and tackle shop, Two Chums. There, people can rent boats, and buy whatever they need to do their own fishing. Carmen Jr. is also head expeditor in the kitchen at Carmen's. Son-in-law, Glen Foulke, has a private fishing charter boat named the Carrie Lynn, for those who enjoy fishing with the captain on board. Daughter, Carrie, and daughter-in-law, Nicole, are managers of Carmen's and help run their husbands’ businesses as well.
Grandchildren Evan, Jon, Brian, CJ (the third Carmen), and Adison, are busy learning the family business, and enjoying a life of swimming, fishing, and playing by the water every day.
So whether you are enjoying a sunset dinner on a warm summer night, arriving by boat for a lobster lunch, or eating our freshly cut home fries for breakfast; enjoying the warmth of our wood burning stove and enclosed dock on a chilly evening, or picking up a bushel of crabs for a family barbecue, when you are getting a free delivery of our delicious food at your home, we hope that you love Carmen's as much as we do!
How did our t-shirts come to say, "Carmen has crabs?"
One day, back in 1971, a customer named Bob was standing by the lobster tank, asking Ruthy if they had any crabs to sell. Ruthy happened to be on the phone with Carmen, and Carmen said, yes, he was picking them up. Ruthy, still on the phone said to Bob, "Carmen has crabs!" Carmen liked what he heard, and had it made into a t-shirt. We've been selling them ever since!