October 26, 2020 —
Changes can be uncomfortable. In some cases, however, they welcome creative thought and the opportunity to test limits and accomplish new goals. Since March 2020, Charley’s Aunt owners Ken, Linda, and Jake Decker have discovered the upside of changes forced on them as a result of the pandemic.
When asked how they have managed since last March, Jake Decker said, “We haven’t closed even a single day. After Governor Murphy’s mandate to close businesses last March, we came to work with open minds and a focus on meeting the needs of our servers, kitchen staff, and clients. Despite the challenges, we have made it work!”
“Our philosophy is to take adversity and make the best of it,”
says Jake Decker.
Charley’s Aunt, a welcoming tavern
in the heart of downtown Chatham, NJ.
Becoming a Family Business
Jake’s grandfather, Kenneth Decker, bought Charley’s Aunt (formerly Caufield’s Pub) in 1973. A former coal salesman with no previous experience in the restaurant business, Kenneth was undaunted by the challenge of a new opportunity. Within only a few years, Kenneth expanded his business to include two delis and another Charley’s Aunt restaurant in Bernardsville. Kenneth remained fully involved in running the family businesses until his death in 2004.
In Kenneth Decker’s day, men were required
to wear a dinner jacket when visiting the bar, dining, or playing pool
at Charley’s Aunt.
Ken Decker (left) with his late father, Kenneth, (center)
celebrate little Jake’s birthday at Charley’s Aunt.
Jake’s dad, Ken, got involved in the restaurant business after finishing college in the early 1980s. Ken soon joined forces with his dad Kenneth to help ensure the success of the family delis and restaurants. Then the stars aligned and Ken met his wife, Linda, through friends in the restaurant business.
Linda, who owned two restaurants in Basking Ridge and Peapack-Gladstone, was eager to support Ken in his managerial role with Charley’s Aunt while sharing her expertise and creativity to enhance the business.
After bringing her chef, Alfredo Castaneda, to Charley’s Aunt,
Linda refreshed the menu to include delicious pastas, salads,
and sautéed dishes with shrimp and fish
as well as steak, sandwiches, burgers, and other tasty pub food.
Three Generations With All Hands on Deck
Working closely together, Kenneth, Ken, and Linda continued running their restaurants and delis, while also managing tenants in buildings they own in Chatham. Their son Jake, a resident of Summit with experience in the construction industry, joined the family Charley’s Aunt team in 2016.
“My parents recommended I work in a field other than the restaurant business,” says Jake. “But after helping out at Charley’s Aunt part time, the business and I eventually evolved to a point where I wanted to be here full time working with my parents.”
“The social aspect of being at Charley’s Aunt
means it never feels like work,” says Jake Decker.
Creative Strategies Keep Clients Warm
When asked about plans to sustain business through the cold months ahead, Jake says, “The changes we’ve made are already working well as the days grow shorter and cooler. Outside in front of the restaurant, for example, we have tables, two TVs, a wind barrier, and effective heaters.”
“In addition, we have seating behind the restaurant in a charming patio area now known as The Alley. Our clients rave about it and say they find it very comfortable! Under the guidance of Billy “Tut” Weichert, Chatham Main Contractors helped transform The Alley,” says Jake. “They swooped in, repaved the old space, installed a retaining wall and fencing, and gave us the canvas my mom needed to make it what it is now. We also added a TV to The Alley,” he says.
The Alley at Charley’s Aunt offers appealing outdoor dining.
“We’re adapting and doing the best we can,” says Jake.
“Like everyone else, we hope life returns
to normal sooner rather than later;
but my mom, dad, each of our employees,
and I have made the transition a success.”
Weathering the Winter Months Ahead
Jake adds, “My mom has had great ideas for building ambience with sparkly lights, cheerful décor, and good heaters that ensure our clients are comfortable and warm. We are hoping to accommodate 50 percent seating inside; but if that’s not possible, we have 20 heaters and the motivation to adapt as needed!”
“We will continue making improvements
to keep our clients comfortable and happy.
When we have ideas, we talk them through and my mom fine tunes them.
So far, we have hit home runs with the changes we’ve made,” says Jake.
Linda Decker and her son Jake
ensure Charley’s Aunt remains a favorite among locals.
Chatham Community Offers Steadfast Support
The Deckers emphasize how supportive the Chatham community has been throughout the spring, summer, and fall. “Without missing a beat last March,” says Jake, “our clients showed up regularly each week with moral support and lots of requests for takeout and deliveries. They have kept coming, too!”
“It makes us feel very good to know the community
has rallied for us and other businesses in town.
It’s one of the many reasons Chatham is such a wonderful place
to live,” says Jake.
Powering Through Ups and Downs
Although Charley’s Aunt has a good crowd on most days, like all businesses, it has had its ups and downs since the pandemic. “On a good night,” says Jake, “we seat 200+ people, but the weather dictates how many people show up. We have had our high and low points; but we aren’t afraid to do what’s needed to keep things running smoothly. In addition to being proud of and dedicated to what we’ve built, we’re good at reacting quickly.”
“For a very long time, we have been the local “Cheers” —
that friendly, comfortable place where everyone can meet
after back-to-school night, soccer games, and little league games
to greet each other and get a break from their troubles.
It’s a tradition we are devoted to preserving,”
Local Businesses Encourage Each Other
Jake adds that he and his parents have a close relationship with their tenants, including the Dance Studio, nail salon, tailor, Taste of Asia, and Rubin’s Barbershop. “Our tenants have been here for a long time,” says Jake. “We all understand it’s a difficult time. Everyone’s supporting each other and doing the best they can.”
Jake emphasizes that Charley’s Aunt strictly follows all health guidelines
to protect the health of staff, clients, and the Chatham community.
Turning Challenges Into Successes
Undaunted by the challenges, the Deckers are keeping an upbeat approach to what’s ahead. “None of us have been upset by the challenges,” says Jake. “Instead, we’ve seen it as a new business. What’s interesting is that outside dining has appealed to so many of our clients, we plan to keep it going for the long term.”
“Dress like you’re going to a tailgate,
enjoy a frosty glass of beer or wine, relax,
and we’ll keep you warm and happy,” says Jake.
Great Service, Tasty Food, and Good Cheer
If you’re looking for a casual, cozy, tavern for lunch or dinner with your friends and family, Charley’s Aunt has it all. In addition to its savory menu items and in-person dining, the pub offers tasty delivery and takeout. Although bar capacity is limited to 6 people, there are two bar tables that seat three people each and there are plenty of tables for dining.
Charley’s Aunt has long been a valued contributor
to Chatham’s welcoming, generous, and wholesome hometown spirit.
The entire Charley’s Aunt staff, including the Deckers and head chef Alfredo Castaneda, will go out of their way to surround you, your friends, and your family with the cheerful vibe and outstanding service you want and need at your local pub. If you haven’t already been there, I encourage you to join them soon for a delicious meal, drinks, and a good time!
“People have gathered at Charley’s Aunt for decades to make memories
while enjoying our atmosphere and our high-quality food and drinks.”
— Jake Decker
Want to know more about Chatham, its many assets,
and why it is an exceptional place to live and own a business?
As a life-long resident of Chatham, I am here with answers to your questions!