Celebrity Chef Brings New Restaurant to ACX1 Studios

Celebrity Chef Wenford Patrick Simpson, Known as Chef Patrick, will open a sports bar at AcX1 Studios on the Atlantic City Boardwalk. By Mark Tyler, Founder/Publisher of Atlantic City Focus

Celebrity Chef Brings New Restaurant to ACX1 Studios

ATLANTIC CITY — Chef Wenford Patrick Simpson has cooked for President Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and a host of other celebrities.

Soon you’ll be able to taste his food, here on the Boardwalk at ACX1 Studios. “Atlantic City has always been very attractive to me,” said Simpson. “I’ve been coming here for a while and when I used to come here, this was always a busy pier.”

Chef Patrick, as he is known in the industry, plans to open Simpson Restaurant & Bar on the first floor of the former The Pier at Caesars/The Playground Mall.

 A new ownership group reopened the property, which is also the former Shops on Ocean One Mall, in September of 2023. ACX1 Studios Chief Operating Officer Dom Franklin said the unique concept includes a mix of retail, restaurants, entertainment, and educational space and welcomes the music and film industries to the resort.

How would Simpson describe the new restaurant he plans to open? “Beautiful! Upscale! Classy!” Patrick said. He plans on making it similar to his flagship sports bar, The Simpson Restaurant and Bar on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn.

The Simpson Restaurant % Bar is located at 673 Atlantic Ave Brooklyn, NY 11217. Photo Source: The Simpson Restaurant & Bar

Soul food and Caribbean-American cuisine will dominate the menu. Staples will include oxtails, jerk chicken, and steak. But the restaurant will also offer chicken and waffles, assorted shrimp dishes, crab legs and a full bar with everything from cocktails to premium alcohol and even juices. Equally important as the food will be the atmosphere, Patrick said.

“When people come to the restaurant, I want them to feel like they are at family’s house,” he said. “I want them to have that welcome feeling.”

For those unfamiliar with the Jamaican immigrant’s story, Chef Patrick has had a challenging journey to success.

Raised in St. Ann’s Parish, Jamaica, he started cooking because he was responsible for making dinner for his younger sister while his mother went to work. A big mistake put him on his path.

One day, he was making his sister cabbage and rice, when curry seasoning fell into the pot. The family was poor so he couldn’t throw it away. But in Jamaica, curry cabbage is not a thing. The chef recalled that his sister not only laughed at him, but she also called her friends over to ridicule him. He began to cry. But he vowed through his tears that he would become a professional chef one day and show her that he could cook.

He would eventually get a job at a Sandals Resort, but he left home when he was 16 because his mother’s boyfriend wanted both he and his sister out of the house. Patrick left to see if that would quell the tension and allow his sister to stay.

With nowhere to lay his head, he worked double shifts at Sandals and hid on the property during off hours. He got caught but was let off with a warning. He then took a test to work on the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line and was hired a few months later.

His life improved when he worked for Royal Caribbean and eventually, he was able to stay in the resort where he hid as a homeless employee. (To see more of his story watch the YouTube video below.)

Chef Patrick migrated to America where he worked in numerous kitchens in New York City. He eventually rose to Executive Chef at Negril Village, a Caribbean hotspot in Greenwich Village. But before he reached success, the chef admits he contemplated suicide because he didn't know if he would ever make it. While standing on a subway platform, listening to Can't Give Up Now by the gospel group Mary Mary, he closed his eyes and thought about it. Three trains rumbled by and he took a step away from edge. "I don't know how I took one step back," he said. "That's the reason why I'm here now."

(To learn more about that ordeal in his life, click here.)

Now, Chef Patrick is establishing the Simpson Culinary Institute, in Ochos Rios, to give Jamaican youth an opportunity to enter the world of professional cooking. He also travels to schools and colleges in hopes of inspiring students to have determination and self confidence. "You've got to cheer for yourself louder than anyone else," Chef Patrick said.

Franklin said Chef Patrick has just the kind of energy needed in the resort.

“Even though we’re not from Atlantic City, we believe in Atlantic City,” Franklin said. “Our goal is to bring many things to Atlantic City … bring back the film industry, bring back some shopping, some retail, bring music and we want to integrate this building into the community.”

ACX1 Studios is already attracting interest from entertainment icons.

Another top tier tenant will be the Laff House Atlantic City, owned and operated by Roderick “Mr. Rod” Millwood who helped launch the careers of comedians such as Kevin Hart, Mike Epps and J.B. Smoove. 

Franklin and his team want to change the way people think about Atlantic City. The plan is to use the former mall for movie and television projects in addition to offering programming that benefits the community. To that end, ACX1 Studios is building an international partnership to help youth both here and in South Africa. Franklin, Robert Schwartz, chief marketing officer and Mark Tyler of Atlantic City Focus sat down with Queen Mother Vho Makhadzi Makhadzi, the most streamed artist in South Africa, to discuss upcoming projects that will create a cross-continent connection bringing a global perspective to Atlantic City. (To learn more about the ACX1 Studios connection with South Africa click our Atlantic City Focus coverage here.)

The ACX1 Studios property has a storied history. For decades it was known as the Million Dollar Pier but it fell to fire in 1981. Two years later, the property was redeveloped into the Shops on Ocean One, according to published reports. Most locals called it the Ocean One Mall and all throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, teens and tourists alike frequented the mall daily for everything from shopping to stress release in the arcade. It also provided a place where residents got their first taste of the retail working experience.

In 2003, the 900-foot pier with its stunning ocean views was transformed into The Pier at Caesars, featuring high-end shops. In 2015, it became The Playground. The ACX1 Studios team held the grand reopening on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023. Entertainers came from Philadelphia and beyond to celebrate.

Chef Patrick, who is also opening new locations in Miami and JFK Airport, said he is excited to be part of what’s happening in Atlantic City. “We’re going to give the people great food, great ambience and great customer service,” he said.

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