(March 15, 2019) Finalists have been named and voters may now select their favorites for the Restaurant Association of Maryland’s 65th annual Stars of the Industry Awards, recognizing the best establishments in the state.
Four resort restaurant groups were nominated in three different categories: Lisa and Brian Bolter of the Red Red Wine Bar on 45th Street, and Jay Taustin from Embers Restaurant/BLU Crabhouse & Raw Bar on 24th Street and Mad Fish Bar & Grill in West Ocean City (Restaurateur of the Year Award), Tom Ogilvie from the Hooked Restaurant Group (Heart of the Industry), and Marlin Moon located inside the Hilton on 33rd Street (Maryland’s Favorite New Restaurant).
Lisa and Brian Bolter opened their first restaurant in Annapolis, the original Red Red Wine Bar, eight years ago. Today, they own four restaurants, including Dry 85 and Red Red Wine Bar locations in both Annapolis and Ocean City.
“We’re really excited about [the nomination],” Lisa Bolter said. “We have been up for a couple of awards in the Restaurant Association in years past. The wine and beverage program are something we’re really proud of but, when we got this call, we were really humbled and surprised, and just very excited.”
Originally from Baltimore, the Bolters consider both Annapolis and Ocean City their home and have become part of those communities.
“We’re still very much a mom and pop operation. That’s what makes what we do so special,” Bolter said. “These are two towns that are very important to us. Ocean City has been home to us for many years, just as much as Annapolis is. We feel comfortable with it, we feel like part of the community and we just want to bring what we do as a business, bring something different to the town.
“Everything is from scratch in our kitchen and that’s very important to us. Nothing [is] frozen and the customers really like it,” she added.
Red Red Wine Bar and Dry 85 both offer a relaxing atmosphere to enjoy wine or bourbon, Bolter said.
“[Brian’s] passion was wine and that’s where we started with this. We were both just really involved with wine and the whole experience behind it,” Bolter said. “We were living in Baltimore at the time and wine bars were just popping up, just small little bars and shops, and places that looked a little stuffy and not very comfortable.
“We just thought, ‘wouldn’t it be nice to have a place that you can go, drink good wine [and] listen to good music?’ We felt like combining basically all of our favorite things and that’s what we’ve done here,” she added.
Above all, Bolter is proud of her staff and how enthusiastic they are to work in the industry, and she looks forward to a new season in Ocean City.
“Having a nice core group of people on your staff and being able to keep them employed and working during the offseason was important to us,” Bolter said. “It’s one of the greatest compliments we can get when someone says we have a great staff.
“I hope that people come and check us out,” she continued. “We’re still very new, particularly in Ocean City, and we’re really excited to be [here] … we’re coming into our second season and everybody’s so excited.”
For Taustin, the chance to be a nominee for Restauranteur of the Year is a humbling one, having worked in the restaurant business since the 1950s, when Embers first opened on Ninth Street.
“I think that it’s fantastic that people acknowledge that someone has been in the industry for as long as I have been, and it’s kind of cool,” Taustin said.
Embers has become one of the largest restaurants in the Eastern Shore, he said, once it combined with BLU Crabhouse and Raw Bar.
“Originally at Ninth Street, it was a couple hundred seats. Then, [when] we went to 24th Street, it moved to 350 seats,” Taustin said. “Today, with the attachment of the Embers and Blu, combined we’re over 1,500 seats.”
Embers became a buffet-style eatery, whereas the crab house offers a more casual beach dining experience. Last year, Taustin also purchased Mad Fish in West Ocean City, which gives diners a harborside view.
“We’re able to grow and diversify and be different,” Taustin said. “It’s cool to be able to interact with people at the bar [and] inside the restaurants, and it’s nice to work with our chefs to come up with creative food choices.”
Most of all, the longtime entrepreneur is proud.
“I’m proud of my accomplishments,” Taustin said. “I’m proud of my son, [who’s] taking over the range of the business right now. I’m proud of our director of operations, which has been taking a lot of leadership roles in the restaurant as well.
“What makes me the proudest of the organization is the team that we have today, [which] can look at themselves and feel good about being a part of Embers, and part of the development and the new concepts and making it all better, season after season,” he added.
Ogilvie has been working in the restaurant industry for nearly 19 years and described it as his passion.
“Coming out of college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. And so I started working for a company and I just realized that, [this] was my passion,” he said. “Here I am, 19 years later, and it’s all coming together and it’s a privilege and an honor to be a finalist.”
Primarily working at Tailchasers since opening last year, Ogilvie is the director of operations for the Off the Hook Restaurant Group, which consists of five restaurants spanning from Ocean City to Bethany Beach, and also includes a catering company.
For Ogilvie, his job is not just about telling people what to do, it’s about performing the work side by side.
“In my position ... you can take it one of two ways: you can go in and tell people what to do, or you can go in there and do it with them,” he said. “I’m the kind of guy who goes in and jumps on the line and cooks during the rush, or helps out on the floor and goes around and talks to our guests. I’d rather work with my employees than just tell them what to do.”
Tailchasers is considered a casual American dining experience, with a children’s playground, rooftop bar and boat port to allow people to drive their boats up to the restaurant. Ogilvie encouraged newcomers to experience any one of the Off the Hook Restaurant Group establishments.
“I hope when people come to the beach, they understand that there are a lot of wonderful restaurants to go to and people that bust their butt year-round to give those out of towners that great experience,” Ogilvie said. “Everybody down here really goes out of their way to make everybody happy. I encourage people to come out and give Off the Hook Restaurant Group a shot if they haven’t been with us before.”
Marlin Moon is not a new name for the Town of Ocean City. The operation first began in 2002, as a part of the Francis Scott Key Hotel in West Ocean City. The business moved after the lease ended in 2009, making a new name for itself as Micky Fin’s.
Co-owner and head chef Gary Beach credits the nomination to his team.
“I have a good crew. We get better every day,” Beach said. “I’m very humbled and very, very proud of our team.”
Food served at Marlin Moon is inspired by original recipes Beach received from his grandmother, a Louisiana cook, and owning a restaurant was a dream of a young Beach when he was only 14 years old.
His cuisine is also inspired by experiences in Florida and other travels, he said.
For a brief time, Beach moved to Florida after spending a few years at Micky Fin’s to establish a restaurant in the south, but he decided to return to Ocean City not long after. Beach worked with the Harrison Group for two years before it was suggested he moved his operations to the Hilton. The new Marlin Moon opened for business last June.
“I’m grateful for the Harrison Group,” Beach said. “It took a lot of people to get [Marlin Moon] off the floor. It literally was stripped down to the walls and it took a lot of people.”
Winners will be announced on Sunday, May 5 at the Restaurant Association of Maryland’s Stars of the Industry Awards Gala at the Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel in Baltimore. Each winner will get statewide bragging rights and the opportunity to display their 2019 award-winning logo on their website, menus and other promotional materials.
Last year, the awards were held in Ocean City for the first time, with area restaurants winning 10 awards, include three resort-only categories specifically created in celebration of the event being held in the town.
To the see the full list of nominees or vote, visit www.marylandrestaurants. com/gala, or vote on Facebook at facebook.com/marylandrestaurants.