Friday, March 5–Restaurant Operator Eyes Outside Seating

OCEAN CITY — After a long and arduous winter in Ocean City, La Hacienda owner Bill Herbst knows that people are longing to be outdoors. Now he wants to offer them a new place to sit.

During Tuesday’s Planning and Zoning Commission meeting at City Hall, Herbst gained approval from the commission for his plans to transform the patio walkway in between his 81st Street restaurant and South Moon Under into an outside seating area for his restaurant.

“I’ve wanted to use that space for quite some time because it’s been under-utilized for almost 20 years,” said Herbst. “After being in Ocean City for as long as I have, you see all the changes that have happened and you know when it’s time to make some changes for your own business.”

Herbst said his plan, which includes the addition of about 35-40 seats in a less than 1,000-square-foot, screened-porch-type setting, is just another way of reinvesting in his business.

“I’ve been using it as a waiting area for our guests, and to be honest, there are sometimes more people waiting out there than we are going to be putting outside seats in the patio,” said Herbst, “but over the years, the summertime population has gone down and less people are coming into town. So, anything you can do to offer them a reason to come into town and provide them with a new option is a good thing.”

Despite getting the concurrence of the Planning and Zoning Commission, which virtually took no umbrage with anything in Herbst’s plans, the project must still go through a number of steps before it can commence.

Herbst is in the process of going through all the necessary permitting procedures and will meet with the Board of License Commissioners this month.

Once Herbst receives all of the necessary approvals and corresponding paperwork, he hopes to have the patio open for business by the start of the summer season.

Several years ago, Herbst had made attempts at opening a location in Berlin, but this same approval and permit process took years instead of months, and he eventually shelved the project in October of 2008.

Herbst said he’s hopeful the project will soon become a reality and he knows that he has an ally in 81st Street complex and South Moon Under owner Frank Gunion.

“This project wasn’t a hard sell to Frank, as he’s always been keen on architecture and good usage of space,” said Herbst, “I think he agrees that this project will improve the actual usage of the complex as a whole.”