By Ryan Slattery
Sometimes things just seem to fall into place. That’s the story of Benny’s on the Beach.
Owner Lee Lipton, then in the clothing business, saw the pier restaurant in Lake Worth Beach, from an office window and wondered about the possibilities. Back then, a full decade ago, it was just an early morning spot–simply serving breakfast.
Jeremy Hanlon graduated college with a finance degree and a knack for cooking. He realized the Wall Street thing wasn’t his “cup of tea” as he says so he decided to pursue culinary school in Manhattan. Entering a cooking competition judged by Charlie Trotter, he impressed the late chef enough to earn a job in one of his kitchens in Chicago. But Hanlon wanted to get back to Manhattan and Trotter set him up with Daniel Boulud, who Hanlon worked with for five years honing his skills.
Fast forward a couple years and Hanlon was working as a personal chef deep in Florida when Lipton hired him to cook for his extravagant 50th birthday party. The two kept in contact and became business partners when Lipton bought Benny’s on the Beach in 2013. It’s become a perfect match. Together, along with Lipton’s sons Max and Dylan, they’ve created a destination restaurant.
Benny’s opened on the pier in 1986. When Lipton took over he wanted to turn it into an all-day gathering spot. A place people would go out of their way for. But oddly, he didn’t change the name.
“I know I never met a Benny or heard of one,” he says. “We don’t know why it was named that. Someone said it was named after the hundred dollar bill, but I don’t know.”
Well, it’s making Benjamin’s now.
What Benny’s does is feed people. “Turning tables is what we do,” says Lipton of the 2,000-plus diners who pass through the restaurant on a daily basis. Since Lipton took over, staffing at Benny’s has jumped from 20 employees to nearly 200.
A few miles south of West Palm Beach, the restaurant draws on your typical hungry vacationing beachgoers but has established itself as a dining spot for celebrities. Singer Jon Bon Jovi, tennis champ Serena Williams and chefs Gordon Ramsay and Guy Fieri have all stopped by.
The menu is stacked with fresh fish and seafood dishes. There’s peel ‘n eat shrimp, overstuffed lobster rolls, a seared tuna tostada, seafood paella and chicken and waffles. For Hanlon the focus is on freshness and quality. “We only use the very best ingredients,” he says.
Likewise, the cocktail program reflects the laid-back, beach vacation vibe Benny’s strives to create, says Dylan Lipton.
“Our pride and joy is Max’s Pineapple Colada, which is a presented inside the shell of a pineapple. What makes it unique is not only its visual acumen, but the fresh ingredients we use. It evolved over time to include quality coconut rum, fresh-pressed pineapple juice and house-made cream of coconut, blended to order.”
Because they sell 100 or so a day, Benny’s has a whole team dedicated to the drink whose sole job is to core, juice and make the drink. They use the entire pineapple in the cocktail’s preparation so nothing goes to waste.
But the Pina Colada isn’t the only specialty cocktail on the menu. Benny’s prides itself on fresh juicing all its drinks. Another hit is the Sea Monster. A Bloody Mary overflowing with snow crab legs, cocktail shrimp, fresh fruits and vegetables. As the food and cocktail menu suggests, Benny’s is all about the fine details and vacation experience.
And expansion could be in the works. Lipton says he’s been contacted by two major hotel groups to bring the concept to seaside resorts. Something, he says he’s considering. “This would fit perfectly at a pool or beach club somewhere, so you never know,” he says.