OCEAN CITY — With a clearer vision and a firmer concept, the new ownership and management team at de Lazy Lizard is rapidly preparing for the upcoming summer season at the iconic spot on the bay at First Street.
Last week, the Worcester County Board of License Commissioners agreed to lift the liquor license suspension placed on de Lazy Lizard’s old ownership group, opening the door for the planned takeover by the Dead Freddies ownership team. For years, Dead Freddies has owned and operated a successful restaurant and bar on the bayside at 64th Street and previously maintained thriving operations in the Baltimore area.
With a seasoned, veteran management team in place, the Dead Freddies owners are now hanging on to some of the things de Lazy Lizard did best, jettisoning some of those that created issues in the past and putting their own creative spin on the new project. The plan is not so much a complete makeover, rather a rebranding to make the space more functional and practical while appealing to a wide audience from families with young children to adults with some clear separation of the space.
“We’re redesigning the concept to better define the areas,” said Stephen Carullo, one of the Dead Freddies owners. “The north side will remain the family destination it has been. On the south side, we’re redoing the tiki bar to make it more functional and better serve the guests needs.”
Carullo said one of the first orders of business has been to redesign the space to eliminate some of the many access points to the property. In the past, there have been multiple ways to enter and exit the property and de Lazy Lizard over the years has had several underage infractions. Carullo said the plan is to have a main single point of entry to eliminate some of the issues in the past.
Cognizant of some of de Lazy Lizard’s infractions in the past, the liquor board’s vote of approval last week signals a nod to Dead Freddies’ spotless record in Ocean City and beyond.
“We’re thankful to the liquor board for the faith they have put in us,” Carullo said. “We’re also thankful to the Town of Ocean City for being supportive as we go through these changes.”
Acquiring de Lazy Lizard is just one of Dead Freddies’ expansion projects this spring. The company has also acquired the strip that was notably home to the old Hooters property in north Ocean City on 123rd Street bayside, and while the vision for that location is largely conceptual at this point, the plan is to create high-end dining on the inside and a more family-oriented space on the outside. Carullo said the Dead Freddies’ crew is just now starting to explore the options for the property and the plan is for an opening sometime in June, but they won’t know for sure until they get in there and find out what needs to be done.
In terms of de Lazy Lizard, Dead Freddies is bringing in Corporate Executive Chef Mitch Cook to oversee the food operation and design the menu. Joining Carullo and Cook and de Lazy Lizard management team are General Managers Jen Robins and Ben Vatavuk. Carullo said the plan from the beginning has been to retain de Lazy Lizard name and basic concept while improving it and adding its own creative changes.
“We love the Lizard brand and with Mitch’s expertise and Jen’s and Ben’s management, we are certain we can improve on the vision and finish the project,” he said.
That vision includes creating an appeal to a broader audience. Families with young children will be able to enjoy the north side of the property with its play areas and kid-friendly amenities. The huge tiki bar on the south side of the site is not going away, contrary to some reports, and is getting a makeover of sorts to appeal to an adult clientele. Essentially, de Lazy Lizard plans on retaining the same clientele that has made it successful in the past while reaching out to a new audience.
“The bar side will be for those 21 and older and we want to have that distinct separation,” said Carullo. “We’re looking forward to a great season and we welcome back all patrons.”
Robins is a holdover from last year’s management crew and brings an understanding of what worked and what didn’t work. She said there will be plenty of familiar faces working at the Lizard that will provide a link to the recent past while embracing the changes made by the Dead Freddies’ management and ownership crew.
“I’m excited to be working with them,” she said. “The local clientele is going to be extremely happy with the improvements.”
Vatavuk said beyond the obvious physical changes to the space is Cook’s creative kitchen skills and menu planning.
“With Mitch’s concepts, we’re going to bring more great food to Ocean City,” he said. “It’s fun when you’re proud to serve everything that comes out of the kitchen.”
For his part, Cook said he is applying many of the same creative concepts that have made Dead Freddies so popular over the years. For example, some of the specials he has created for Dead Freddies will become fixtures on de Lazy Lizard’s regular menu.
“It’s exciting to be opening this place and we have a lot of collaboration,” he said. “We’re going to bring the same quality we have at Freddies. We’re up to the challenge and we have a really great crew behind us. We’re going to make it happen and I look forward to serving really great food in Ocean City.”