WHETHER MAKING NEW FRIENDS OR PLANNING HER NEXT EXOTIC ADVENTURE, THIS WANDERLUSTING MIXOLOGIST FINDS BARTENDING THE IDEAL AVOCATION FOR HER LIFESTYLE
BY GILDA ROGERS PHOTOS BY TOM ZAPCIC
While visiting MJ’s Matawan location, situated beside a scenic lake in the former Buttonwood Manor, diners often say they feel as though they are on vacation apropos for lead mixologist Lori Wojcik, whose own travels influence her cocktail creations.
MJ’s Matawan is one of the restaurant group’s eight locations, several of which boast water views, including the former Grist Mill on the Tinton Falls, and in Bayville on the Barnegat Bay. But it’s in Matawan that Wojcik has found her happy place, and the sweet spot between earning a living and the exibility to travel and spend time with family.
The Little Egg Harbor resident has been honing her skills in Matawan since it opened in 2013. Unlike large chains like TGI Fridays and Outback Steakhouse, where she’s also worked, Wojcik said MJ’s has not lost its personal touch.
“I can have a conversation with the regional director,” she said. “It’s a big family here. The owners are fantastic. I never knew the owners at Fridays. That personal connection makes all the difference.”
That connection extends to her regular customers, some of whom have become friends she hangs out with, even attending family gatherings and parties. “I’ve made lifetime friends as a bartender,” she noted.
Working in this industry has allowed Wojcik to do what she loves most travel and vacation. She especially enjoys ocean cruising. At last count she was up to 15 excursions. “I love cruises because you get a lot for your money, and I enjoy exploring different cultures,” she said. Her number one destination, Oahu, Hawaii, is the farthest she’s traveled to date.
“Although I was far from home, it (Hawaii) felt like home,” said Wojcik, who has her sights set on Italy and Greece next. Such locales have provided inspiration for libations she creates including Vacation in a Glass, because it “takes you somewhere else.” The fruity sensation is made with peach, melon, and apple liqueurs and is as refreshing as a Hawaiian breeze.
Customers can take their own international journeys through a wide selection of sake cocktails, from Sake N’ Sangria to Peach Tea & Sake, or a bottle of Ty-Ku Cucumber Sake all excellent accompaniments to the chain’s elevated sushi offerings. The menu appeals to all palates, from an Angus burger with smoked gouda to acclaimed pizzas, steaks, and fish dishes like pistachio and pecan crusted salmon. With the friendly and accommodating Wojcik as a tour guide, it’s always a satisfying gastronomical journey.
Family is Wojcik’s other passion. One of three siblings, Wojcik’s brother Michael, who has physical challenges due to an accident, is her inspiration.
“Prior to the accident, he was studying to become a health and physical education teacher,” she said. “He goes to the gym every day. He’s kind and always stays positive. He’s still here and able to participate with us.” That includes an annual tradition that began ten years ago when the family gathered for a big soirée on the Fourth of July. is event carries even more meaning since Wojcik also lost her mother during this time.
“Life is too short,” she said, adding the family’s challenges were hard to overcome. Camping is another way the Wojciks emphasize togetherness. Their next planned getaway for family fun is at Massey’s Landing Campground in Millsboro, Delaware. Until then, Surfing in a Hurricane, another bespoke Wojcik original, serves as a vacation. The libation is her take on the Long Island Iced Tea with a taste of raspberry.
“In the next five years, I hope to have five countries under my belt,” Wojcik vowed. “Bartending its my lifestyle, and that’s being happy, healthy, and still traveling.”
MJ’S RESTAURANT BAR AND GRILL
845 Route 34, Matawan / 732.566.6220 / mjsrestaurant.com