WEST OCEAN CITY — In a resort where many restaurants rely on a stream of seasonal workers, Captain’s Galley in West Ocean City prides itself on retaining employees for years, sometimes decades.
“Usually when they come here, they come to stay,” said Captain’s Galley owner Dew Hanson. “… They’re the ones who generally care about the place.”
And that’s one reason Hanson believes he owns a unique business — the level of commitment from family members and employees alike. In fact, he remarked that the line between the two is sometimes blurred.
“They [employees] usually fit right into the family,” he said.
Michelle Hanson, Dew’s wife, added, “It’s hard not to fit in here.”
Dew Hanson estimated that approximately 15 of his current employees have about a decade of experience at Captain’s Galley, with some having double that. He mentioned three in particular — Barbara Anderson, who runs the kitchen, and brothers Eric and Jimmy Doerzbach, who both serve as managers. According to Dew Hanson, the three have several dozen years’ worth of experience between them.
“We treat them like we want to be treated,” said Michelle Hanson.
In order to keep bringing those employees back, Dew Hanson pointed out that he has had apartments constructed across the street that are rented to employees, providing a place to stay within walking distance.
Besides their employees, Dew and Michelle Hanson have the help of their granddaughter, Melissa Bunting, who has recently started taking on a lot of the responsibility that comes with running a restaurant.
“She’s really just stepped up this year,” said Michelle Hanson.
This year also marks something of a return for Michelle Hanson, since illness has kept her from working long hours for the last few years. However, positive changes in health have brought her back to the restaurant, and with Bunting putting in a lot of time as well, Dew Hanson claimed that one of the three will almost always be around.
“We’re here, hands on, seven days a week,” he asserted.
“We’re definitely married to this,” joked Michelle Hanson, adding that Bunting was a “newlywed” to the business.
Dew Hanson bought the site that would eventually become Captain’s Galley with the help of partners in 1984. The one-story restaurant, previously known as “The Mast,” was located in the middle of nowhere, in what is now a bustling harbor.
“It was a barren area,” said Dew Hanson.
Along with his partners, Dew Hanson operated the original Captain’s Galley out of the small building for five years. In 1989, renovations were ordered to expand the site to the much larger two-story structure in place today. The new building opened in 1990 and has been going strong ever since. In 1992, Dew Hanson bought out the last of his partners, becoming the sole owner of the establishment. However, he made it clear that he doesn’t work alone.
“She [Michelle Hanson] was a big part of the operation,” he said.
Since the renovation, things have continued to expand. There’s a plan to add a waterfront deck to the restaurant, partly to provide an outdoor experience and partly for the convenience of older customers, whom Bunting pointed out might have trouble with the stairs separating the top and bottom floors of the building.
Beyond the atmosphere and the employees, Dew Hanson highlighted the fact that his restaurant didn’t cut corners with food.
“We eat here ourselves,” he said. “We’re very particular about it.”
Dew Hanson explained that, besides Captain’s Galley, he has also owned the Ocean City Fish Company and Byrd’s Seafood in Crisfield.
“I am very well acquainted with different types of fish,” he said, stating that he personally checks food deliveries.
Additionally, he has an 18 year-long running contract with a small farm in New Jersey, from which Captain’s Galley gets all of its steak.
“We’re very conscious…of the quality of food that comes in here,” he said.
When asked if there were plans for further expansion, neither Dew nor Michelle Hanson forecasted anything in the immediate future. Michelle Hanson worried that expanding into a franchise would cause Captain’s Galley to lose a lot of its appeal.
“People will always compare one [location] with the other,” she said.
She also feared that expansion could mean a loss of the personal attention and focus on regular customers that the family-run business currently makes paramount. Michelle Hanson noted that, just as the restaurant had servers and managers going back 20 years, they had repeat customers with histories nearly as long or longer.
Instead of expanding, Dew and Michelle Hanson said that they would like to keep up with the same level of quality and service customers enjoy now in the years to come.
When asked where he thinks Captain’s Galley will be in 10 years, Dew Hanson joked that he just hoped he’d be around to see what becomes of the restaurant a decade down the road.