OCEAN CITY – Twenty years ago, a little piece of Jamaica came to Ocean City in the form of a small bayside bar, promising a “seacret” spot for locals only and those that wished they were.
Owner Leighton Moore was inspired to open Seacrets, Jamaica U.S.A 20 years ago, when a trip to Jamaica changed his life forever. After dropping out of high school, Moore took the chance to travel, ultimately ending up in Jamaica. “I fell in love with it instantly,” said Moore.
After weighing his options and considering his family back home, Moore opted to have the best of both worlds, having a piece of Jamaica all the time, right here in Ocean City.
“We started out with two round bars, they opened the same day,” said Moore pointing to the two original bars that still stand in the establishment, now two of too many to count.
‘Ocean City can’t keep a secret, and since they can’t keep one I decided to provide one,” said Moore, explaining the namesake.
Moore was right, word of the small, “seacret”, locals-only bar spread quickly through town, as locals, and later tourists, began pouring in to enjoy the atmosphere.
“It caught on quickly. It was quaint, hidden away, you had to come in three times before you could get a card,” he said.
At the time, first-time patrons received a passport to Jamaica U.S.A, which would be stamped after three additional visits.
“You had to prove yourself,” explained Moore.
Food was limited at Seacrets in the beginning, but jerk chicken was a staple item from the start, a favorite that remains today.
Seven employees joined Moore when he started 20 years ago, and most of those employees are still with him today, with the addition of 550 employees that make the massive establishment run like clockwork daily. Employees like Rico Rossi, Mary Handy, Scott Studds and Bobby Knox have stuck with Moore over the years, going on a ride few of them could have imagined when they jumped on board 20 years ago.
Adding a bar every year, Seacrets has grown immensely over the years, keeping up with the ever-growing crowd of customers eager to try some jerk chicken, have a sip of the famous Pain in de (expletive delete), or just return home with a Seacrets T-shirt, proof that the trip to Ocean City was complete.
Years later, Seacrets grew from bar and restaurant to a nightclub, with the addition of Morley Hall. A radio station soon followed, sending Seacrets vibes through the airwaves via 98.1 FM.
Irie Radio is one of the last independently-run radio stations in the region, with the majority of radio stations under the umbrella of corporate control. Adding to the ever-growing household name that is Seacrets and providing an endless stream of Seacrets information, good music, and uninhibited DJ chatter, Irie Radio was formed.
As the bar grew over the last 20 years, so did the town, but Moore said that’s not been a good thing in some cases.
“It’s grown, in some instances in incorrect ways,” said Moore of the town. “There’s certainly less people now, as the city has allowed mistakes, its decreased.”
But for Moore, it’s never been and never will be about the numbers.
Glancing over at a nearby group, each enjoying a cool drink on a hot day, decked out in their bathing suits, sunglasses and little else but a smile, Moore motions to them.
“That’s what it’s all about right there,” he said. “They’re here for fun. Nothing else matters but whether or not they’re smiling while they’re here. If they’re smiling, you’ll be alright.”
Keeping the customer happy has been the thrust of Seacrets from the beginning. Palm trees and sand, sunshine and smiles, roosters, ducks, live entertainment at every turn, rafts, frozen drinks and the water. Every element has been set up to transform the customer to another place, Jamaica.
“It’s the guarantee of fun,” said Moore when asked what draws people to Seacrets. “We put money back into it all these years to guarantee a safe, fun time. … We hire the best bands we can find and at night we provide enough security that everyone feels safe. You get a good value here. We charge as little as we can to get the job done. It’s all about value.”
Throughout the year, Seacrets holds a variety of banner events, from concerts and non-profit events to the popular Miss Seacrets Contest to banquets and weddings, but while the events are key components to the business, Moore likes to focus on the day-to-day activity.
“To me, the big event is everyday. We try to make every day here special. To them, today is their day,” Moore said.
The rumor mill of Ocean City is often churning with Seacrets chatter, with news that Moore has sold the business to be bulldozed and replaced with condos, but, according to Moore, that couldn’t be any further from the truth.
“It simply can’t be done,” he said, stating firmly that Seacrets would not be sold. “It’s in a trust, an irrevocable trust.”
Moore said Seacrets will endure. It could even be said it’s unfinished masterpiece.
“You can’t take this away from the employees or the town. It can’t be done, the town needs this,” he said, adding lightly, “Unless the government puts in prohibition again.”
Moore spends less time at Seacrets these days since retiring, but that doesn’t mean you won’t see him pulling up in his infamous boat. Though he carries the status ‘retired’, Moore is far from it, working currently on developing Moore Boats, a boat building company as well as dabbling in consulting work and a bevy of other projects from boats to nightclubs to radio.
Staying active in the community has remained a full time job as well, particularly his role as chairman of the Board of Directors at Peninsula Regional Medical Center. As a result, one of his major ambitions right now is centered on fundraising.
“We find it hard to say no to any charitable cause. Whatever the community needs, what’s not spent maintaining this and the employees, goes to the community, that’s the way I like it,” said Moore, who once served on the Ocean City Council.
Before leaving Seacrets, the day before retirement became official for Moore, he wrote a message on the board, “Seacrets should be maintained as a safe, high-value, entertainment complex to the benefit of the estate, the employees and the community.”
When asked if that mission was being upheld since his retirement, Moore needed no time to respond, a simple and believable, “oh yeah” was all that needed to be said.