Sherwood’s Restaurant and BBQ opened its doors to the Village of Larchmont twenty-one years ago in 1989. “Some of our customers have been coming here since they were 21 themselves, and many have kids turning 21 along with us,” said Jack Hekker, the restaurant’s owner. “I think with their help, we’ll be here for at least 21 more years.”
[Editor's Note: Sherwood's was the first restaurant reviewed by the Larchmont Gazette. In 2002, reviewers Austin Shea and Jonny Benton gave Sherwood's five "golden forks." See: Sherwoods For Ribs.]
Mr. Hekker got his start in the restaurant business over thirty years ago, after graduating from Fairfield University. He hadn’t thought about a restaurant career, but the first job he landed after college was as a hotel trainee at the famed NYC Waldorf-Astoria. After a year in the trainee program, he was named assistant manager of the Bull and Bear at the Waldorf. He later moved to Restaurant Associates, then to Marriott’s Executive Dining Division, responsible for Exxon Corporation’s dining services.
“As demanding as these jobs were, they taught me the ins and outs of the hospitality industry, and the tools needed to operate a successful business,” said Mr. Hekker His ultimate goal became to own his own place.
Soon, in 1985, he and his family opened The River Club in Nyack. which remains in the family today, run by his brothers, Michael and Peter.
But Jack Hekker was still looking for his own site. He decided on Larchmont after scouting available restaurants in several nearby towns. He fell in love with the neighborhood and the local shopkeepers – several that are still his neighbors on the Boston Post Road.
Helping him find the location was Todd Parrott, a former Larchmont resident. “Mr. Parrott was a real cheerleader for us during our renovations,” recalled Mr. Hekker. “He always showed up with a tray of coffee on those cold mornings.” The entire family helped with the set up. His mother, Terry, picked out the Ralph Lauren wallpaper. His dad, Jack, built the bar booths, and his sister and his three brothers set up the kitchen. Newborn Brian made appearances in his car seat.
“When my son Brian turned 21 this year, it dawned on me that the restaurant has been in business for 21 years,” said Mr. Hekker. “That’s a lifetime in this business.“ He says he owes his success to his family, his staff and his loyal customers.
Since it’s opening, the most popular item on the menu has been the BBQ ribs, with its secret recipe many have tried to copy at home. Other favorites include the Original Buffalo wings, burgers and French Dip. The most popular dessert is a toss up between the Tollhouse Cookie Pie and the River Bottom Pie, with its buttery chocolate crust.
Mr. Hekker has used his experiences to expand into his home state of Connecticut. He opened Vinny’s Backyard in Stamford, which is about to celebrate its 10th anniversary. This month he expects to open Vinny’s Grill & Grotto in Fairfield.
Vinny’s focus is on thin crust pizza, its most popular menu item, but also serves those famous ribs and wings. Other Hekker projects include John Scott’s Surf Shack and Saltwater Grill in West Hampton, NY. Both are seasonal restaurants that offer burgers and seafood in a casual beachfront atmosphere.
Julie Gates Hekker is married to the owner of Sherwood’s