AN ASBURY PARK ENTREPRENEUR, TASTEMAKER, AND OWNER OF A NEWLY RENOVATED LUXURY HOTEL AND SOCIAL CLUB STAYS ON TOP OF HER GAME – IN STYLE
BY ERIK SCHONING • PHOTOS BY ALEX BARRET
Conventional wisdom surrounding entrepreneurs is that they work twice as many hours as anyone else. For Jamie Gordon Brust – owner of Jamie Ford (and several other companies), a tastemaker, designer, builder, business developer, and owner of the newly reopened St. Laurent Social Club in Asbury Park – it might as well be three times the hours. But for the hungry creative, it’s a balancing act she thrives on. There’s no thrill quite like a high wire.
Ford grew up in the design world. She’s the daughter of an interior designer and a finance father who renovated homes across New Jersey all throughout Brust’s childhood. From a young age, Brust developed an eye for discovering the beauty in old buildings, especially in historic markets like Asbury Park and Philadelphia. This ability to rehabilitate a space while paying tribute to the past has been a key narrative in Brust’s design language. “In all of my designs, I love the unexpected,” she said. “Good design is a good muse and a unique space. And that goes from building a business all the way to building a space like the St. Laurent. It’s about honoring what you have and then upgrading what you could be.”
In 2009, Brust and her wife Brigit bought a weekend home in Asbury Park as an escape from their hectic lives in Philadelphia. Over time, they became more and more drawn to the historic shore town, and in 2021, Brust came across a hotel with a restaurant and bar called Hotel Tides a few blocks off the beach that was up for sale. The building was in poor shape, but for a designer with an eye for potential, all the signs were there: a prime location in a great town, a site with character and, most importantly, a rich, compelling history.
“My wife gave me a good push,” Brust said. “She said, ‘This project includes business development, it includes design, it includes your thirst for history. And it’s probably going to kill you, so you’ll love it.’ So she definitely gave me a lot of ‘gentle’ shoves.”
As a business developer, Brust sees herself as a curator, connecting people and drawing on each person’s unique skillset. When she bought The St. Laurent Social Club in October 2021, it was clear the project was going to require the best of the best team to succeed. She approached her friends David Viana and Neilly Robinson from Heirloom Kitchen in Old Bridge to run the restaurant space, and teamed up with her sister and brother-in-law to round this power team. She also tapped Mike Blette of Blette Brothers Construction, her right- hand man and contractor in most of her renovation projects.
On closing day, Brust found an
old photograph from 1890 of the early days of the business, when it was called the “St. Laurent,” opened by a proprietor named Mrs. Flynn in the 1880s, a rare female entrepreneur of the time. That spirit of tenacity would motivate the entire renova- tion process. After delays, Brust was left with only seven and a half months to complete the renovation process, a short window for a project of this size, and that meant everything had to move like a symphony. From the onset the priority was to save whatever historic details they could.
“The only thing that was left from an historic standpoint in the building was the ceiling and the walls in the dining room, which are custom historic tin that went up in 1904,” Brust said. “And so I said come hell or high water, we’re saving it all. Back in the day, tin was put up with tiny little tack nails after every inch. All of the dining room walls were these 18-inch wide strips, so we had to painstakingly take the full dining room walls down. We stored them for seven months, and then we very carefully put them back up in the front bar piece by piece.”
The result is a bar with incredible depth and texture that pays tribute to what came before it while still lending a modern, brighter look to the space. In the end, Brust decided to prioritize the historic elements of the St. Laurent Social Club right up front, where guests walk in, paying homage to her “feisty” female predecessor. Upon entering through the double doors past the front bar, the whole space opens up. You can see right through from Seventh to Sixth Avenue, an intentional opening that signifies new beginnings and growth.
The St. Laurent Social Club reopened on August 14, 2022. Today the boutique hotel features 20 rooms and 25 beds upstairs. Heirloom at St. Laurent offers full-service daytime dining and a three-course prix-fixe menu in the evenings with a la carte options, plus famous guest chef events. (Come the warmer months, Heirloom will be offering selections poolside, plus beverages from their vintage Piaggo cart.) Ultimately, the St. Laurent is an investment in Asbury Park’s growing tastemaker scene, an opportunity to foster a community of collaboration, inspiration, and connection.
These days, Brust is continuing to invest in the seaside city. Asbury Park will soon become her family’s full-time home as her wife Brigit and two kids, Grey and Ford, relocate from Philadelphia. Through her work in business development, she’s overseen the construction of Interwoven, a boutique clothing and gift shop. She also has several notable residential and commercial restorations in town that are in the pipeline. And despite all these projects, she still makes time for her family. It’s important to her to set a strong example of female entrepreneurship for her children.
“I talk to my clients a lot about the swan mentality,” Brust said. “Whenever you see a swan and they’re on the water, they just look like this effortless, beautiful creature that’s just coasting over the water. But underneath their feet are moving a million miles a minute.”