OCEAN CITY – All-you-can-eat buffets can be seen frequently as one drives up and down Coastal Highway in Ocean City, but with the motto “frequently imitated, never duplicated,” a prime location and six consecutive years of bragging rights, The Embers restaurant surely has something unique to offer.
The Embers has been standing at its location on 24th Street and Coastal Highway for nearly 50 years, but over those five decades, the restaurant, as well as the town, has seen a great deal of changes.
According to owner and operator Jay Taustin, the restaurant began as a steak and seafood a la carte restaurant and has grown tremendously over the years into a buffet and a la carte restaurant that seats 900.
Taustin said The Embers began as an adult oriented seafood and steak lounge with live entertainment.
“In the old days, it was a sport jacket and tie type place,” Taustin said.
With novelties such as valet parking and lobster tanks, Taustin said that the restaurant included, “all the fine things that deal with fine dining.”
As the times and the town changed, Taustin decided to change as well, bringing the buffet style to the restaurant. Taustin explained that the buffet began as a nightly buffet, with a different buffet style presented each night. The buffet would vary each night from Italian to oriental to seafood and so on. After realizing the popularity of the seafood buffet, Taustin made the change, converting to a seven-night seafood buffet.
“We changed with the times, and from that point on we were basically in the buffet business,” Taustin said.
The buffet itself has seen many changes over the years, particularly over the past year or two. Taustin has examined and re-examined the buffet over the years to come up with ways to make the buffet better, hotter and faster. The goal was to find ways to combine efficiency and quality to present the best possible buffet to their customers.
Taustin said the restaurant is arranged so that there is never more than a 10- to 15-minute wait, for the most part.
Although the buffet has become a central feature of The Embers, the a la carte menu and the fine dining aspect have not been lost. The a la carte menu is still an option at The Embers for those who choose to have a sit down meal instead of the buffet.
The Chophouse was also created to maintain the fine dining atmosphere that was once the main flavor of Embers. “We’re catering to both markets,” Taustin explained.
The menu maintains items such as fresh fish, steaks, lobster tails, prime rib and various chicken and pasta dishes. Taustin added that the crab cakes are a popular item that brings back a lot of customers.
The seafood and prime rib buffet is not the only buffet offered at The Embers, there is also a breakfast buffet. Taustin explained that the breakfast buffet was featured at The Embers years ago, but that staffing issues had forced them to eliminate it. The breakfast buffet has been revived and revamped this year, with a new concept that has been popular with the customers. “It’s running very smoothly, we’re getting good response from the public,” Taustin said.
The breakfast buffet also provides the opportunity for a deal on mini-golf and parking. The Embers provides a day of free beach parking until 4:30 with the breakfast buffet. There is also the option of half-price golf with the breakfast buffet. “It’s a win-win situation,” Taustin said.
The Embers mini-golf was established five years ago, providing what Taustin considers “one-stop shopping” for customers. Taustin feels that the combination of a meal and entertainment is a great way for families to enjoy Ocean City without having to bounce around too much.
The Embers also offers the use of their large facilities for functions such as weddings, Christmas parties, and business parties.
Taustin attributed a majority of the restaurant’s success to the employees. With 175 to 200 employees in the busy summer months, it is imperative that Taustin maintain an efficient and reliable staff.
“We have a nice nucleus of kids that come back year after year,” Taustin said as he explained the strong group of employees that they maintain.
He added that they have a good year-round staff as well a strong kitchen staff, which he considers to be the backbone of the restaurant.
Even with a great staff, Taustin still faces the challenges of the restaurant business. Taustin feels his biggest challenge is keeping the menu prices as low as possible while battling the skyrocketing costs.
Another challenge is the inevitable struggle with a visitor-dependent business.
“We need everything to click,” Taustin said of the busy season, explaining that traffic flow, accommodations, entertainment and retail must come together to build a successful year for the town. Taustin added that July and August are still the prime months for business despite the expanded season. “If July and August didn’t exist, then Ocean City wouldn’t exist,” he said.