The Man Behind The Island
OCEAN CITY - Fager's Island has been a part of the Ocean City community for over 30 years, fostering years of booming crowds and satisfied customers. Although many can't imagine 60th Street without Fager's Island, a restaurant was not always in the cards for owner John Fager.
'I kind of got into it by accident,' Fager said of Fager's Island.
According to Fager, he bought the 60th Street property in 1972, with the intention of building condos. At that time however there was a collapse in the real estate market, leaving Fager with a large chunk of land and no viable real estate industry. He decided to wait out the real estate slump, but after three years of seeing no change in the market decided to go a different route.
In 1975, he made the decision to open a small bar on the bay. Fager was no stranger to the restaurant and bar business, having built and created the Purple Moose Saloon on the Boardwalk before selling it. This time the plan was to build a small bar on stilts that could be moved when the time to build condos came.
'That plan evaporated the day we opened,' Fager said.
With the instant success of the bar, it became apparent that the land would be best suited for restaurant and bar life instead of residences.
'We had things that you couldn't find anywhere else at that time,' Fager said, explaining that the open bar on the bay was unique to Ocean City and that people fell in love with it. 'It sort of took on a life of it's own and became an entity that integrated into the community.'
Although the bar was originally set to serve drinks only, a lite fare menu was soon added. After experiencing success with the lite fare, Fager added fine dining in 1976.
Since that time Fager's Island has grown incrementally with new additions to the restaurant and bar each year or as Fager calls it, 'evolving.'
'We're kind of like Ocean City, we're always changing but we're still the same,' Fager said.
Despite all the renovations and improvements, Fager said the goal is still the same - quality and consistency.
Fager expanded his scope in 1989 when he built the Lighthouse Club Hotel. A few years ago he expanded further, building The Edge Hotel. Together the two hotels have 35 rooms, with each room furnished and decorated uniquely. Fager described the hotels as having a romantic setting, which visitors and locals have come to love and enjoy.
As for the restaurant, it currently holds 175 seats in the fine dining section and over 500 in the lite fare areas. There are numerous bars, dance floors, eating areas and spectacular views throughout Fager's Island, including a gazebo that has hosted many weddings. The restaurant is available for weddings and small parties but does not house large banquets. Fager's added that bachelorette parties are popular at Fager's and that on a busy Friday night, 12-15 bachelorette parties can be seen dining or enjoying the bar.
Fager's Island is open year-round, and as expected, the summer months mark some of the busiest times for the operation. Live entertainment is provided every night in the summer, along with a live DJ.
'We really get good bands that are a lot of fun,' Fager said of the live entertainment.
The Monday Night Deck Party has been a popular attraction for Fager's Island for years.
'That's been a very successful and fun thing for over 30 years,' Fager said. The deck party begins at 5 p.m., lasting until 10 p.m. with DJ Batman and continuing until 2 a.m.. The deck parties will continue this year into November.
The off-season in Ocean City may slow crowds at Fager's but certainly does not stop them. Fager explained that weekends are busy all year round thanks to the entertainment on Friday and Saturday nights and the Sunday Jazz Brunch. Monday and Tuesday nights also stay busy with the famous half-price prime rib special that is offered in the off-season.
The food also keeps the customers pouring in year round. Besides the signature prime rib dish, Fager noted that most people enjoy the Maryland crab or the fresh fish. 'That's what everybody comes to the beach for,' he said.
With the bustling summer crowds and a consistent year-round business, having a strong employee base is key.
'We have a really good anchor staff,' Fager said.
In the peak season, there are nearly 300 people employed at Fager's Island with 120 employed in the off-season. Fager explained that he has some employees that have been with him for 20 to 25 years, making the seasonal staff transition more manageable. 'I have an excellent management team,' Fager boasted.
For Fager, his favorite part of the business is creating, building and expanding.
'It's really fun to dream these new projects up,' Fager said, referring to the expansions within the restaurant as well as The Lighthouse Club and The Edge.
Fager also noted his love for running a business in a place as unique as Ocean City.
'Being here is wonderful,' he said. 'The way the town is run and the whole feel of the community, it's a wonderful environment.'