OCEAN CITY – Who would have thought playing with fire in a firehouse could turn out to be a great way to attract business? Using the flames produced in the kitchen of the firehouse turned restaurant to make a plethora of American fare mixed with a bit of southern flair, Pittsville’s Station 7 plays host to one of the shore’s most unique dining experiences.
Owned and operated by Todd and Carroll Wampler, Station 7 has been dousing the hunger emergencies of locals and visitors alike since December of 2006. However, it took a lot of creativity and hard work to get to that point, according to the Wamplers.
Initially Todd was looking for a place in Ocean City to call home for his future business but eventually stumbled upon a unique property in Pittsville.
“He came home one day and was like, ‘I’ve got it all figured out,’” Carroll said.
It was in April 2005 that she got her first look at the building her husband was already making plans for. It turned out to be the old Pittsville Volunteer Fire Station located in the heart of Pittsville itself. Built in 1929, the station was sold in the ’70s only to be found by Todd, a man with a culinary vision, decades later.
Construction started soon after in May and finished up in December.
“We had to go through a lot of planning and zoning issues to get all that kind of stuff straight so that took us a while,” Todd said, referring to the effort it took to convert a fire station into a restaurant. “But once we got that done we were up and running.”
Today all that hard work shows. From top to bottom the essence of the old Pittsville fire station lives on, from the original tin roof overhead to the restored hardwood floor under your feet (or your drink if you happen to be sitting at the bar upstairs).
Even a pinch of firemen’s equipment sprinkled along the walls adds effect and helmets donated from local stations serve as the lampshades in the dining areas, giving you the urge to suit up should the fire siren next door sound.
You can even grab a spot at the bar downstairs and quench your thirst with a beer from the authentic fire hydrant tap. And don’t worry, there is no ticket for parking yourself too close to the hydrant at this diamond plated bar.
When it comes to the food, Station 7 lets its theme ride and focuses mainly on barbequed items from its wood-fired Southern Pride rotisserie smoker, nothing out of the box here, and many other choices such as steaks, seafood and sandwiches.
“I’d put our crab cakes up against anybody’s,” Todd, who has a culinary degree, said about his number two seller behind their ribs.
Todd, who graduated from Johnson and Wales University with a degree in culinary arts, said the creations in the kitchen are his top priority.
“My main focus here is the quality of the food,” he said. “I kind of focus on the back-end of the house and Carroll works on the front-end of the house so we try to strike that balance.”
However, Carroll adds that it takes more than just the two of them to be successful.
“We have had such a great staff from day one,” she said. “We are doing as well as we are so far because of our staff. We’ve been really lucky.”
As for their biggest fans, it’s obviously the firefighters who feel right at home in the multi-colored brick station.
“The fire-fighting community is such a great audience,” Carroll said. “They are traveling to get here already, some coming from at least an hour away just for dinner.”
Soon, Todd said he plans on expanding by moving the experience outside to a dining patio and even bottling his own Station 7 sauces and spices for the public. From there, more locations may be added.
“We are making sure we’ve got the kinks ironed out of this one and it runs the way we want it to run and then we’re branching out. I think we’d stick with this theme but it may not necessarily always be in a firehouse since they are hard to come by,” he said with a laugh.
Running a restaurant takes a lot of work and the couple said they said don’t get much time to relax, but they are accustomed to it being as it isn’t the first they have owned and operated together.
The couple, going on nine years of marriage now, relocated to Pittsville after previously owning an American fare tavern in South Carolina called Moe’s and a short stint in Washington, D.C.