CJ's Beach House receives Niemann's magic touch

Published on Wed, Feb 13, 2013 by Ian Ferguson

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CJ’s Beach House restaurant on Birch Bay Drive opened under new management February 7 with little fanfare, yet owner Jack Niemann said business has been good from the outset.

“We didn’t even have an ‘opening soon’ sign,” Niemann said, “but Christina (Niemann’s wife and business partner) put up a little open sign in the window, and people started coming in. It was amazing.”

A hallmark of Niemann’s restaurants has always been a laser focus on quality both in cuisine and service. The Niemanns 
renovated and upgraded the kitchen, installing new equipment such as an infrared cooker for steaks and burgers. They also made changes to the décor.

Christina Niemann was in charge of changing the interior design of the dining areas, which blends maritime beachside elements like weathered signs, rope and netting with modern textures and materials such as sanded aluminum, corrugated steel and glass. 

“I reflected a lot of lighting onto the ceiling,” she said, “It creates a softer effect and highlights some of the architecture.” Tiered seating allows for an expansive view of the bay from pretty much any seat in the house.

The menu’s main focus is seafood, but includes on-land offerings such as pork ribs, steak, spaghetti and top-quality burgers.

For appetizers, CJ’s offers crab cakes with house-made aioli, peel-and-eat shrimp by the pound or half-pound, scallops, clams and calamari.

Seafood entrees include broiled salmon, lobster, almond crusted halibut and tiger prawns and range in price from $15.95 to $26.95. 

Niemann’s signature steak burgers receive prime billing on the menu. Using prime sirloin aged and ground in-house, the burgers range from $8.95 to $12.95 and are available with toppings such as blue cheese, avocado, mushrooms and/or fried onions.

“The burger is an American tradition yet most places use the lowest quality beef,” Niemann said. “I wanted to go in the opposite direction. I use only beef that is in the top 3 percent of production quality.”

There is a private room for functions and parties that can seat 50, with a fireplace and a back patio. Niemann said the front deck, which has an unobstructed view of Birch Bay, will be open once warmer weather arrives and will have heaters to keep it comfortable into the early fall.

Just inside the entrance is a bar with a fireplace. The bar offers a wide range of cocktails and wines, and has eight beers on tap including Alaskan Brewing Company’s Alaskan Amber and an IPA from Skagit River Brewery. The draught beer is pushed with a state-of-the-art system that regulates a blend of nitrogen sequestered from the ambient air and carbon dioxide from tanks to carbonate the beer. Niemann said the result is beer that stays carbonated longer with the correct amount of head.

“No one likes a flat beer,” Niemann said.

Niemann, who owns the Black Forest restaurant in Blaine, started in the restaurant business as a chef. As a 16-year-old German immigrant to Canada, Niemann worked on the line in the world famous Banff Springs Hotel. Three years later, he was appointed head chef at a 19-story hotel in Calgary.

At the age of 21, Niemann bought an existing restaurant and applied his magic to it. Niemann said he had to turn people away at times due to the restaurant’s popularity, before selling it 18 months later at three times the purchase price.

He opened his first Black Forest Steak House in White Rock in the 60s, and has opened 50 restaurants over his career. He said he had a Black Forest Steak House in the current CJ’s Beach House location 40 years ago, so the opening of his newest restaurant is a bit of a homecoming.

“We’ve come full-circle,” he said. “It’s been unplanned, spontaneous, and at times dramatic, but we couldn’t be happier to be in Birch Bay.”

CJ’s Beach House hired on many of the employees who worked previously at CJ’s restaurant, including head chef Lauren Beyer. 

There are about 30 staff, and the restaurant can seat 378 people, Niemann said. CJ’s Beach House, 7848 Birch Bay Drive, is open Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.