OCEAN CITY – Over the past 15 years, Harborside Bar and Grill has become a mainstay in West Ocean City, providing a casual dining atmosphere, a view of the commercial harbor, and, of course, the “orange crush”.
Co-owners Chris Wall and Lloyd Whitehead met in middle school while attending Worcester Preparatory School. Later, they became closer friends working together at Phillips, where they gained some of the restaurant and bar experience that they would carry with them into their own business venture. In 1993, fresh out of college, the pair decided to branch out on their own and open a restaurant and bar in West Ocean City. “It just seemed like the right thing to do. The opportunity just looked too good to pass up,” Whitehead said.
Before being transformed into Harborside, the restaurant was an old Eastern Shore crab house with limited seating. Whitehead and Wall revamped the place, focusing on the great view of the harbor and expanding on seating.
“We wanted to create a laid-back atmosphere,” Wall said, explaining that they aimed to mix family-oriented casual dining with a fun bar experience.
Harborside was a year-round establishment from the beginning, staying open 365 days a year. They have since eased up and scaled back, allowing themselves time off for Christmas and the occasional repair.
With the rapid growth of West Ocean City over the past 15 years came an increase in business for Harborside.
“West Ocean City just has everything to offer,” Wall said.
Like most local businesses, July through September mark the busy months for Harborside.
“September has replaced June for the third busiest month,” Whitehead said.
Employees have had a major impact on Harborside over the years. A year-round staff of about 40 keeps the restaurant running smoothly all year. The staff reaches 70 in the summer months, with college students filling in during to help with the boom in business.
“We couldn’t do it without the good, core year-round staff,” Wall said. Whitehead added, “We try to keep taking care of those that take care of us.”
The menu at Harborside offers a little bit of everything, from appetizers to sandwiches to seafood entrees.
“We’ve got something for every taste,” Whitehead said.
A variety of specials accompany the menu.
“Whatever really takes off may replace something on the menu next year,” Wall said.
The “Design Your Dinner,” concept was added to the menu to give people the option to create a steak or fish dinner the way they like it. The option allows customers to choose the sauces, sides and toppings, adding a “have it your way” aspect to dining out.
“If you like tuna, you can have it five or six different ways,” Whitehead said.
Food isn’t the only item Harborside provides. Live entertainment can be enjoyed Wednesday through Sunday. Since it opened, Harborside has become known for not only its good food and fun atmosphere, but for the fresh-squeezed orange crushes.
“Get crushed at Harborside,” has become a mini-mantra for the bar, with locals and visitors coming in to enjoy the popular drink. The drink was created several years ago during a slow afternoon.
“It was a combination of friends and employees that put it together,” Wall said.
Bartender Kelly Flynn was providing samples of her juice concoctions one day when they stumbled upon what would become the original orange crush.
“We were just tasting what she was making and we found that to be what we liked the best,” Wall said.
“Everyone else seemed to like it too and it just grew from there,” Whitehead said.
Today the orange crush can be found in several area bars, but Whitehead and Wall don’t mind being emulated, after all, they are the home of the original, they say.
When asked about future growth, Whitehead and Wall deferred to the county. Wall and Whitehead have been hoping to expand their parking at Harborside but have hit a stalemate with the county.
“I like to say we live in Makin’ County, they make stuff up as they go,” Wall said, referring to a response from the county on a request for a variance on parking that they made some time ago. “A lot of it doesn’t have any rhyme of reason.”
As for the past 15 years, Wall and Whitehead couldn’t be happier.
“We just finished up our 15th year and we owe thanks to our customers and our loyal, caring staff. We couldn’t have made it 15 years without them,” Wall said.