OCEAN CITY – Thirty years ago, Tommy Dickerson and Steve Pappas become employees of the Greene Turtle in North Ocean City. Today, the Greene Turtle is in 18 locations and growing each year with owners Pappas and Dickerson at the helm of the franchise.
Dickerson and Pappas started working at Greene Turtle north in 1977 as doormen. The next year, they moved up to bartenders, earning some extra cash to get them through school at Salisbury University. In 1980, fresh out of college, the pair decided to purchase the bar and take a gamble on a dream that would prove to be a success.
“We didn’t know what we were doing,” Dickerson joked, adding that although both of their families had bars in Baltimore they were far from experts in the field. “We knew the clientele and the business, but we had to learn very quickly about the office part,” he said.
For the first six or seven years, Dickerson and Pappas worked as bartenders to not only be hands on in their business, but also to have money to pay the bills. Dickerson explained that in the beginning they offered no food, offering only beer, whiskey, peanuts and live entertainment.
Dickerson explained that the original owners had backgammon, a dartboard and a few TVs featured in the bar. As avid sports fans themselves, Dickerson and Pappas decided to create a sports-themed bar and add more TVs. The theme worked well and has carried on with each new Greene Turtle.
In 1986, Greene Turtle expanded to Fells Point, and in 1989, the north Ocean City location expanded, becoming a restaurant as well. A West Ocean City location was opened in 1999. “And the rest is history,” Dickerson said.
Today, there are 18 different locations with seven on the horizon for next year. The Greene Turtle became a franchise this year when JPB Capital Partners bought a majority interest to help the Turtle grow regionally and hopefully nationally. The ownership has also expanded over the years as new locations began to open across the state.
As the Greene Turtle name grew, so did the popular Greene Turtle apparel, which features a variety of T-shirts, sweatshirts, and so forth that feature the smiling green turtle. Dickerson explained that they started out selling T-shirts in a cabinet at the end of the bar. “The shirts progressed along with the business and become very popular,” he said.
“I would credit the success of all of the Turtles to the employees,” Dickerson said, adding that many employees have been with each location since opening day. “We’re fortunate that so many key employees have stayed and been consistent. It’s good for us, it’s good for them and it’s good for business.”
As for the rest of the success, Dickerson attributed it to luck and hard work. He explained that details, employees, concern for the customer and a commitment to the community have always been major goals for their business. “We try to keep that personal touch,” he said.
Dickerson explained that although they maintain the Greene Turtle theme with each new location, they also try to avoid the chain mentality by having each new Greene Turtle reflect the feel of the neighborhood.
Dickerson described some of the changes they have seen over the past 30 years in Ocean City, noting that business has become less seasonal and more year round. Dickerson explained that although the peak month of July isn’t as busy as it once was, it’s balanced out by the extended busy season that now begins in March and ends around November. Dickerson added that the growth of golfing in the area has contributed to more business at the West Ocean City location.
Giving back to the community is another way that Greene Turtle has stayed connected with the people.
“We try to give back to the community as much as we can,” Dickerson said.
For years, Greene Turtle has sponsored numerous youth sports teams in an effort to support local recreational sports. They also hold annual fundraisers and contribute to numerous local organizations and fundraisers. A fun run is held annually to raise money for paramedics and the annual oyster shucking is held to raise money for the Humane Society.
“The community supports us so in turn we like to support them,” Dickerson said.