It happens every night: Motorists ease off the gas, pump the brakes and stare, taking in the spectacle. The less discreet stop altogether, pulling to the side of the road to step out of their cars and snap a picture before moving on.
If you’ve driven down Bridgeboro Road during the month of December in the last six or seven years, you’ve noticed the house—home of crab cake king Bobby Chez and his wife Linda, who have lived on the four-acre property since having it built in 2005.
That’s OK; rubberneckers are welcome. The home acts as a bright Christmas beacon, the eye inexorably drawn to its almost otherworldly glow, the byproduct of more than a million festive lights.
And that’s just the outside. The sleigh loaded with gifts in the front yard. The roaring fire in the hearth. The carols echoing through the vast, marble-floored halls. The 13(!) trees adorning nearly every room in the house—everything about “Chez Noel” is meant to evoke the ideal of Christmas.
Bobby’s love—some might say obsession—of Christmas stems, unsurprisingly, from his childhood. He thinks back to Christmas Eves spent at his Italian grandmother’s little row home in Camden, surrounded by family and friends.
“It was just something you looked forward to all year—to see your family and your cousins all at one time. Santa Claus would come. It was just a big night for us,” he says. “It’s just a nice evening, and I’ve continued that tradition since my grandmother died 36 years ago.”
Bobby didn’t just carry on the tradition though. While his grandmother’s parties were more intimate gatherings, Bobby and Linda’s Christmas Eve bashes, held at their home, regularly draw between 100 and 200 people—typically family and friends (though they’re pretty sure they had a pair of crashers last year). One year, Santa arrived in a helicopter. The party, the lights, the carols—you get the sense this is Bobby’s way of pulling people into his Christmas dream.
And it works.
“I was working on the mailbox (the other day), and people stopped, and they had come from Pennsauken because they’d heard about the house. People seek the house out,” says Linda. “Bobby likes to look out the windows and say, ‘There’s another one; there’s another one.’”
Bobby claims the lights and decorations are as much for the public to enjoy as they are for him. But his wife doesn’t seem to buy it.
“This is his thing,” she says as he looks on sheepishly, “and on Dec. 22 he starts saying, ‘It’s all over’ … He starts to lament before it even starts.”
“It just comes and goes so fast,” Bobby remarks, a tinge of sadness already seeping into his voice a full two weeks before the holiday hits.
‘He’s the biggest kid of all of them’
The origins of “Chez Noel” can be traced back to Chez Robert, Bobby’s original restaurant in Westmont. They had a whole Christmas village there with animated characters and lights on the trees, and Bobby transposed that look to his home in Voorhees.
They only had a few trees on that property, though all of them were impressively bedecked with lights, and the home became an attraction within their development, Linda says. When they moved to Moorestown, it took on a whole new life.
Linda, who also works for the family business, says they’ve had to upgrade their electrical service twice—solely to accommodate the holiday display—and at the rate Bobby’s adding on, they’ll probably have to upgrade again.
“Every year, he sneaks a few thousand more lights,” she says. “Every year I say, ‘No more lights,’ and then every year I hear somebody in my office on the phone, secretly calling around for more lights … and then suddenly something else appears.”
Naturally, Bobby and Linda bring in extra hands—“elves,” Bobby says—to help put up the decorations. It’s an operation that begins in October and doesn’t end until mid to late November. This year they added big twinkling snowflakes to the trees and balls of light Bobby made with chicken wire.
The properties abutting the Sliwowskis are for the most part shielded from the lights by trees. But sometimes the glow inside the home gets to be too much for Linda. She got in trouble the other day, she says, when she went to bed early and pulled the timers out.
“So of course it got dark and Bobby said, ‘Did you pull those timers out?’” she says. “But sometimes I need a little darkness. He never needs darkness; he never needs quiet. It’s Christmas carols from the minute he arrives home until the minute he walks out of the house … He does it for the kids—he’s the biggest kid of all of them.”
“I just look forward to it,” Bobby says. “As much as I did as a child, I still do as an old man.”