Ocean City Scores Statewide Honors

OCEAN CITY – It was virtually a clean sweep for Ocean City at Monday’s 55th Annual Restaurant Association of Maryland Stars of the Industry Gala Awards in Baltimore, as the some of the resort’s biggest names took home the night’s most prestigious honors.

Ocean City restaurants captured an award in every category they were nominated, including Favorite Restaurant, Favorite Bar, Wine and Beverage Program of the Year, and the night’s top honor, Restaurateur of the Year.

Seacrets owner Leighton Moore took home the coveted “Restaurateur of the Year”, which is only one of two of the evening’s awards that were voted on by the Association (the rest were determined by online votes from the public), and he said this award is much sweeter than others won in past years.

“This is the highest honor that I’ve ever received”, said Moore. “I was hopeful and optimistic going into it, but to win an award like this as voted on by my peers in the industry is a huge honor, especially because this will be my last one since I’m retiring after this year.”

Moore said that he will be leaving the day-to-day operations of his local empire after the 2009 summer to concentrate on a ship building business venture that will design “attack type vessels” for the United States Armed Forces and other entities.  Moore said the boats will be unique and will start as 28-foot long aluminum boats that can travel up to 54 mph and function in as little as 3 ½ inches of water.

“I don’t see it as an end, it’s just a new chapter in what it is that I’m going to be doing,” said Moore. “You always have to be building on what you already have.”

Regardless of what the future holds for Moore, he said the Restaurateur of the Year award is the essential icing on the cake in his time in the restaurant industry, and the night was a huge achievement for the town as a whole.

“To have this many local establishments win awards on the same night shows you how much quality there is in this town, and how high the quality of businessmen who not only choose to operate here, but succeed in an area where you have to struggle to get through the winters,” he said.

Seacrets was also named in the top 10 of nightclubs in the entire country by Nightclub and Bar Magazine in recent months, joining six clubs from Las Vegas, one from New York City, and one from Miami as tops in the country.

“That was quite an honor, because if you look at it, all of those clubs with the exception of mine and one other are basically giant corporations, but this award was different because it was about Seacrets the restaurant, and not so much about the niteclub,” said Moore.

The second time was the charm for Marlin Moon Grille, who was nominated last year for Favorite Restaurant, before finally winning it this year.

“It is a win for us, but it’s really a win for the whole town,” said Marlin Moon owner Gary Beach. “I really think that the whole town got behind the nominated restaurants this year, and cast their votes for us, and I think that is what made all the difference.”

The 2009 Gala awards will become the new benchmark for the town, as it was the best showing ever for the town as four major awards came back to the resort. Fager’s Island was named to the Restaurant Association’s Hall of Honor and won Favorite Bar, Liquid Assets on Wine and Beverage Program of the Year and Lankford Sysco Food Services (Pocomoke) also took home Allied Member of the Year.

Fager’s Island General Manager Kevin Myers said that a majority of the credit for the Favorite Bar award goes to the loyal staff at the midtown mainstay.

“We have a core long-term bar staff that works very had to create this kind of a reputation,” said Myers. “Certainly, their approach to their work is why we would be able to win an award like this in the first place.”

Myers went on to say that Fager’s would use this award to build on for the future as well.

“This summer, I know we will win new and lifelong customers to Fager’s with our same approach to fine service,” he said.

Beach thought that the amount of awards not only showed the vast amount of talent in the local culinary world, but also showed that customers are leaving Ocean City with a memorable experience.

“We are all in the entertainment business,” said Beach, “and we’ve got to be because we get one shot to ‘wow’ them and make them want to come back to see us next year, so we have to make it fun and memorable.”

Beach said that he thinks that all of the area businesses have a “great deal of respect for one another” and stressed that the competition should never be between businesses, but rather, against yourself.

“There’s pressure everyday to continue to get better, because you are only as good as your last meal”, said Beach, “but for us to win, and I say us because this is for all of the staff both past and present, is a great honor.”

John Trader, owner of Liquid Assets, noted that usually it is rare for any Ocean City establishment to win at the Gala Awards due to the public voting system.

“There’s obviously less people in our area than other areas of Maryland this time of year, so I think that makes this that much more outstanding and surprising,” said Trader. “I think that means that people are having that much fun when they are coming to Ocean City and to me, to be recognized by your customers is more rewarding than winning for having a cutting edge menu or a top name chef.”

Trader said that having the prefix “award winning” attached to his establishment’s name from now on does tend to raise the bar a bit, but in a good way.

“Well, the expectations are going to be higher now, as people will come in and know that we won an award and it will be a challenge to our great staff to show them why we did,” said Trader. “It is very rewarding and nice to win this year, but I’ll be satisfied if and when we can win it again next year.”

Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association Executive Director Susan Jones said that the clean sweep of the awards was nothing short of amazing.

“I was so excited when I received the news and I think that it’s the first time we’ve won every category that we were nominated in,” said Jones. “This is something to be proud of as the winners are very deserving and have all helped shape the Ocean City dining scene.”