The darkest hours washed over an Ocean City waterfront craft-beer and unique dining concept, as pandemic closures overtook the nation.
“Those first couple of weeks were the hardest,” says Zev Sibony, owner, 45th Street Taphouse Bar & Grille. The Taphouse is a high-end craft beer and scratch-made dining concept, the absolute jewel of a five-restaurant chain built near the beaches of Ocean City, Md.
“But once we figured out the best deals to entice people to come and eat with us, and got into the rhythm of takeout, then it was a matter of putting one foot in front of the other.”
The forward march was rough going for a while. The concept, built upon the vision of “love of beach and craft beer,” faced an invisible enemy as Sibony mustered dwindling staff to help fight for the life of the restaurants and livelihood of employees.
Two restaurants were closed. Staff were let go. And a new concept, on the cusp of opening, was delayed.
A year later however, Zev Sibony reports that even with some financial losses in the rear-view mirror and escalating food and labor costs ahead, the five-restaurant concept will survive. The 45th Street Taphouse Bar & Grille is positioned to improvise and get back to what their loyal following has come to love along the beaches and bays of Ocean City. And the two restaurants forced to closed, have re-opened.
In this week’s Q&A with Boxerbrand blog Recipe for Success, Zev Sibony discusses his experience with the government lockdown.
BB: What was your darkest moment, and how did you get past it?
ZS: Really, it was the first couple weeks. We had to figure out a whole new concept for takeout, and also figure out deals and ways to entice our customers to come back. Once we did that, it was a matter of putting one foot in front of the other and marching forward. A lot of this was rolling with the punches. When the governor said we had to wear masks, we wore masks. I had our masks printed with our logo. When we were told to create social distancing, we redid our floor plan and seating.
BB: How did you get your customers back?
ZS: We were able to utilize our outside dining space at some concepts, and frankly, just to be open and have the seating spaced appropriately was a big attraction when we did start to reopen. So many other restaurants didn’t make it. Many restauranteurs saw their life’s work entirely wiped out. Our niche, which is craft beer, has made us a popular destination since we opened in 2012. We have a total of 114 taps. With the pandemic measures, we were able to focus on our local product, which our customers love. For example we featured Burley Oak, which is a beer from Berlin, Md. It was always one of our most popular so we made sure to have plenty on hand.
BB: Please describe your niche and background.
ZS: Growing up, my father had retail stores and I was planning to get my MBA. But instead, I discovered I loved cooking and I went to the French Culinary Institute instead. The concept behind the 45th Street Taphouse and the other restaurants in the chain is craft cocktails, and everything is handmade. We have evenly spaced our concepts in a variety of locations in Ocean City. We have a rooftop lounge/restaurant concept, and another is on the boardwalk, another is inside a hotel, and 45th Street is our mother ship. There’s an avenue for all of them to succeed. I own three of the restaurants and am a partner in another. Our fifth restaurant, The Lookout Lounge at 38-75, is our rooftop lounge/restaurant. This is much more on the fine-dining side overlooking the Assawoman Bay. Our menu offers an extensive choice of seafood, oysters, diver scallops, and sea bass to a bone-in “cowboy” ribeye and a 40 lunch porterhouse. We serve unique and creative cocktails and California, New Zealand and Italian wines.
BB: What is your thinking on the future of hospitality?
ZS: Between the spike in food costs and the spike in labor costs, I think that this will, unfortunately, be translated to the customer. It’s basic economics. I expect people to look at their menus and think, “It was never this expensive!” But, in order to maintain the quality of product and services, the restaurant has to pay a lot more. And unfortunately, this is also going to be felt by the customer. Most restaurants who built a brand around scratch-made food are not going to start serving instant product to save on cost. This is a reality that most restaurants will have to figure out.
BB: What words of wisdom do you have?
ZS: It’s difficult to try to put it to words. When it’s all said in done, last year wound up being pretty decent for us. But it was tough, and we had to face shortages of employees and work harder. Because our sales were down, we weren’t able to employ the numbers of people we would ordinarily employ. And this made it harder on those who were working. At the end of the day, I keep getting back to this: You just have to put one foot in front of the other, and you’ll be a better, stronger person for it. — 45th Street Taphouse Bar & Grille uses Boxerbrand’s Capri menu cover line ( midnight blue and also white) in its table presentation. Thank you!