A Modest Start Behind Turtle Legacy

T.K. Dickerson

Staff Writer

wasn’t for the laid back atmosphere, personalized mugs hanging from the bar and
the copious amounts of peanuts, I don’t think that I would be able to make the
connection from the Greene Turtle today to the place where I sat in the middle
of T-shirt racks, being passed crackers by the bartender over 15 years ago.

I am no longer four
years old, and the Greene Turtle isn’t the same small sports bar it was when it
was starting out. However, certain aspects of the restaurant (fondly known as
“the Turtle”) are traditions that Tommy Dickerson and Steve Pappas are not
willing to give up, even though their one small bar has grown in to 27
restaurants and counting.

The restaurants now,
whether they are in Maryland, DC, Delaware, or Virginia, are known for great
food and sports games blaring from TVs that cover nearly every surface of the
sports bar. This was not always the case. In fact, the original Turtle on 118th
Street in Ocean City didn’t even serve food.

“Peanuts, beer, and
whiskey,” were all that the bar served, said Dickerson. He and his long-time
best friend, Steve Pappas, had been tending bar at the Turtle since its opening
in 1976, before the original owner sold it to them in 1980.

“It was a good
opportunity,” said Dickerson of their decision. “We had a good following and we
wanted to live in Ocean City”.

For two college athletes
barely over 20 years old, the Turtle was not just a good opportunity but a fun
one as well. All of their friends congregated at the tiny sports bar to drink,
watch sports and listen to good music. Dickerson describes the Turtle’s first
couple years as “one big party, [we] didn’t even have a cash register for the
first six years”. Getting audited was a wake up call as were the typical Ocean
City winters.

When their summer
friends would leave Ocean City for Baltimore, the partners decided to take
their bar across the Bay Bridge. The Fells Point Greene Turtle opened in 1986
and was as big of a success as the original. The Fells Point Turtle kept the
same atmosphere at the original, but started serving food. In 1990, the
original followed suit.

After the opening of
Greene Turtles in Laurel, Edgewater, and West Ocean City, the owners decided it
was time to franchise and the chain hasn’t stopped growing. Dickerson says that
they have tried to maintain the same atmosphere that people have come to expect
at the Turtle at all locations.

The Greene Turtle
atmosphere is unique and because it was the first sports bar in Ocean City it
is nothing short of an original. “The atmosphere was a reflection of us,” said
Dickerson. “It’s where I’d want to hang out.”

When they first took
over the Turtle, Dickerson said one of their first moves was to add some TVs so
that customers could watch sports games. Live music was always a priority and
that is still the case today. Back then, college athletes might have felt most
at home at the Turtle. Now, Dickerson and Pappas make sure that the sports bar
is a place for everyone.

In addition to making
the Turtle a great place for the community, the owners also feel that giving
back to the community is important.

“The key to our success
is giving back to the community,” said Dickerson.

The Greene Turtle
sponsors sports teams for local children as well as many events such as an
oyster-shucking contest, a 5K run, and a chili cook-off, all of which benefit
worthwhile charities.

The Turtle doesn’t just
satisfy the community, but also a lot of happiness to the owners. “I’m glad I
own it,” says Dickerson.

Dickerson feels very
fortunate to have been able to work with his long time friend, Pappas, who he
has known since he was in the eighth grade. The pair has added more people to
their growing business since those early days.

“Our college friends
became part of the business with us,” says Dickerson.

Though the restaurant is
franchising rapidly, Dickerson likes to spend most of his time at the West
Ocean City Greene Turtle. He has made it a point to make the restaurant family
oriented with friendly service without losing its sports bar origins.

“I attribute our success
to our employees,” says Tommy, adding that without managers Kelly and Chad
Rogers the West Ocean City Turtle would not be the success it is today.

It is nearly impossible
to walk down the Boardwalk without spotting dozens of Greene Turtle T-shirts-
evidence to the restaurant’s success. Despite the growth and expansion,
Dickerson and Pappas are intent on honoring the sports bar that they began 30
years ago.