OCEAN CITY – In the summer of 1962, Bill Gibbs spent his days working as a beach boy for the Breaker’s Hotel on 3rd Street and the Boardwalk, dreaming of a day when he would call the hotel his own and a make his vision of a restaurant become a reality. Today, Gibbs’ dream has come a reality, as his three sons settle in to take the reigns.
The Gibbs family took over Breaker’s Hotel in 1980, renovating the porch and transforming it into the first of many Dough Roller Restaurants. Today, Dough Roller operations can be seen along the boards and Coastal Highway, with locations at South Division Street, 3rd Street, 41st Street, 70th Street, 125th Street and further north on Route 3 in Crofton. The Gibbs domain doesn’t end there however, Castaway’s, Melvin’s Steakhouse, Crab Alley and Edward’s Department Store are also Gibbs’ properties.
After 36 years in business and a lifetime spent in Ocean City, Gibbs maintains the love for the resort that he fostered in 1962, when he began working in the industry. Today, Gibbs wants nothing more than to maintain the history of the town and pass on his work to his three sons.
“I’ve spent all my life in Ocean City, I still think it’s a great place to be,” he said in an interview with The Dispatch this week.
With all three sons out of college, each are primed to take on the family business. Gary partnered with his father in one of the Gibbs’ families most recent endeavors, Castaway’s. Jeff spends most of his time at the 3rd Street location, while youngest son Kevin multi-manages, making sure things run smoothly at each of the Dough Roller Coastal Highway locations. Wife and mother Julie also plays a major role in operations, perfecting every aspect of the Breaker’s Hotel. As for Bill Gibbs, “my role is more administrative and supportive,” he said.
With numerous businesses throughout town, Gibbs considers the Dough Roller as the mainstay, attributing its success to loyal customers, hardworking employees and a long history within the resort. “We’ve been very fortunate that we have a history here,” he said.
Gibbs boasted of employees who have been with him from the beginning, with many more who have put in over 10 years.
“Thank god for the dedicated staff I have, many that have been with me for 25, 35 years,” he said.
The Breaker’s Hotel also remains a part of the Gibbs family after 35 years. The hotel was rebuilt and renovated several years ago, to include all the features Gibbs envisioned for the perfect hotel.
“I truly believe we built the best hotel in Ocean City,” he said.
From the view, to the service, to 100 percent non-smoking rooms, Gibbs prides himself in a family-oriented hotel.
“Families save up all year to come here, the last thing we need as a community is to put them in an unsafe environment,” he said.
Maintaining the history of the town through his businesses also remains a priority for Gibbs, particularly through Melvin’s Steakhouse, Edwards and Crab Alley.
“We’re in the process of trying to upgrade it,” Gibbs said of Melvin’s. “It’s an Ocean City tradition that we’d like to keep here.”
Castaway’s was a brand new venture for the Gibbs family, as they aimed to bring something different to the town.
“It’s difficult to open a new business today. We wanted to try something different and new with Castaway’s,” explained Gibbs.
Gibbs lamented the difficulties of opening new commercial ventures in modern-day Ocean City, where property taxes, utilities and prices seem to rise to no end.
“That scares me because how are we, as a community, going to be able to grow. It scares me for the town as a whole,” he said.
Property taxes are just one area that Gibbs feels needs attention from the town, noting how property taxes have tripled for many of his properties in recent years.
“It’s almost getting to be cost prohibitive. We’re borderline losing money and working harder to do it,” said Gibbs.
Slower business in the winter months makes the service industry difficult as of late said Gibbs. While the summer season has been extended with warmer fall temperatures and popular events, the winter months have seen a drop-off in the last few years, according to Gibbs.
“Winter reminds me now of when I first started business here 35 years ago,” he said.
While frustrations can run high in the present day economy, Gibbs maintains a love for the resort.
“If it wasn’t for my deep love of Ocean City, I’d probably move on,” he said. “I just think we have a lot of offer as a community and as a resort.”
Moving forward is what Gibbs is focusing on these days, as he primes his sons for the family business and moves on from the devastating fire that destroyed the South Division Street Dough Roller this spring.
“We broke ground on the new restaurant and we’re excited about it,” said Gibbs.
The new Dough Roller will house many improvements, while maintaining the charm of the original. The restaurant will hold 200 seats, as well as the inclusion of Dayton’s on the corner. Gibbs is eyeing a March 2009 opening, hopeful that customers and employees will be back in full swing by spring 2009.
The cause of the fire, which destroyed the Dough Roller and the neighboring T-shirt shop, remained a mystery for several months until two weeks ago, when a former employee was charged with setting the fire. Details remain under wraps as the case moves forward, but Gibbs is looking past the details of the case to the future.
“I feel sorry for the guy. We’re just going to try and turn a bad thing into a good thing now,” said Gibbs of the recent news, maintaining that his focus is on the new restaurant and the tragedy that was ultimately avoided. “Thank god no one was hurt, it was just brick and mortar – you move on. If someone was hurt it’d be a real tragedy. I’m just thrilled that guys I know and guys that came to help didn’t get hurt.”