OCEAN CITY – Although Ocean City landmark J/R’s Ribs has two new faces at the helm, nothing has changed at the resort’s original rib joint since Debi and Jerry Sinott took over in January.
The Sinotts’ dream of running a restaurant in Ocean City came true when Jack Hubberman, owner of J/R’s Ribs, retired and licensed the business to the couple.
“Jack wanted to step out and retire,” said Jerry. “Jack entrusted the business to us.”
The Sinotts couldn’t be happier with their decision.
“After looking at it, it was a situation we had to do,” said Jerry. “It presented itself and it was really what we wanted.”
Jerry started in the restaurant business at 14, working at the Golden Plough in Owings Mills, Md. He also worked at Pierce’s and the Corner Stable. For the last 18 years, he has worked in management at J/R’s.
“It was a great place to work. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to go to work,” Jerry said.
Debi also has extensive experience in restaurants, spending 15 years in training and management with Food Lion. She left that job to take on J/R’s with her husband.
Debi and Jerry actually met while working at the Golden Plough and both later worked at the 45th St. Village location of that restaurant early in their careers.
After returning to Baltimore for a time, the couple made the move to Ocean City permanent.
“When we moved down here the intent was to open a restaurant. Things didn’t work out,” Debi said.
The couple has split the management chores for J/R’s, with Debi at the northern store and Jerry at the iconic mid-town store. Their son, Justin, will also pitch in as assistant manager at the 131st St. location.
“It’s a family joint effort,” Debi said.
While Debi and Jerry work longer hours as restaurant proprietors than before, they both said there are compensations because they often work together. Their days off are spent working in the yard and spending time together, Debi said.
The Sinotts rely on a loyal, long serving staff to support their work, from bar manager Bruce Leasure, with 26 years at J/R’s under his belt, to secretary Sherry Necessary, a 25-year veteran of the restaurant, and secretary Gail King, with 16 years.
The couple still talks to Hubberman often.
“He’s entrusted the store to us and we’re going to take care of it,” Jerry said.
The couple said they have not altered a thing, from the food to the drinks to the décor.
“It’s as good as it ever was,” said Jerry. “We really don’t want to change anything. It’s a great operation.”
Ribs are still prepared in the same way at J/R’s’ commissary, he said, though he declined to reveal any details of the process.
“We were the original place for ribs in Ocean City. We were the first. We’re doing them the same way now as in 1980,” said Jerry.
The restaurant uses a strict recipe book for all dishes at both locations, and nearly everything is made from scratch, Jerry said.
Although J/R’s has made its reputation on barbecued pork ribs, the menu encompasses a variety of dishes.
“Probably our second biggest seller is crabcakes. We have great crabcakes,” Jerry said. “The last year or so we’ve sold more and more steaks.”
The restaurant also serves seafood and ribs combined with any other dish on the menu.
“You can get ribs with any dinner you want,” said Jerry. “You can get ribs with anything.”
Desserts include “excellent key lime pie from Georgia,” said Debi, “and a variety of cheesecakes.”
For the Sinotts, their goal is to live up to Hubberman’s example.
“I think the pressure’s there a little bit,” Debi said.
“Jack set standards very high. It’s for us to keep up,” Jerry said. “We answer to ourselves now. Everything we do, everything we see affects us completely.”
Although both feel pressure, being at the helm of J/R’s Ribs is a good feeling, he said.
“It’s not real to me yet,” said Debi.
“There’s a lot of pride in it now,” Jerry said.