(March 19, 2021) Demolition of Embers all-you-can-eat seafood buffet building that stood at the corner of 24th Street and Coastal Highway for nearly 75 years began this week, clearing way for a new concept that combines retail, restaurants, and entertainment for people to enjoy at any time of the day.
Kyler Taustin, the marketing director for the Taustin Group, which owns the property, said watching the demolition was “bittersweet.” The Embers building was where his parents met and got married, as well as a place where many birthday parties and various pivotal occasions occurred, all of which were major events in the family’s lives.
“It is very sad to see something that stood there so long, to literally see it torn down is hard to watch,” he said.
Embers has gone through many iterations over the years. At one time it was a fine dining restaurant, and in 1985, Embers became an all-you-can-eat seafood and prime rib buffet, making it the first of its kind in the resort.
When the covid-19 pandemic reared its ugly head, it put a damper on all-you-can-eat establishments like Embers. Buffets are traditionally self-serving experiences and the pandemic made it unsafe for people to stand near one another in a buffet line and serve themselves with spoons that already had been touched by hundreds of people.
“Covid showed the weakness of that business model in the time of a pandemic,” Taustin said. “The reality was, we were not interested in putting our staff or patrons at risk in that kind of environment.”
Instead, the Taustins decided to close shop and reimagine what can be done with the property.
Despite tearing down Embers, BLU Crabhouse & Raw Bar on 24th Street will stay opened and be fully operational for the entire 2021 season while the front half of the property will be redeveloped to create a destination that has a variety of offerings, Taustin said.
“There are a variety of different opportunities we are currently exploring to bring that front half to really make it so that the 24th Street block on the bay side has something for everyone, at any time of day,” he said, adding that people will be able to dine at Blu for lunch and dinner, while enhancing their experience with a round of miniature golf.
While the option of bringing another buffet back to the property has not been completely taken off the table, it does not appear to be a priority at this time.
“I think we are looking to explore new and creative opportunities both within the restaurant and hospitality businesses, as well as other entertainment ...for us to diversify what this property can be,” Taustin said.
The Taustins also own another property in West Ocean City where Madfish once operated.
The restaurant was closed on Aug. 2, 2019, because of damages sustained from an early-morning fire.
The company is planning to bring a new concept called Pier 23 to the property, which will consist of decked-out shipping containers.
Taustin said the concept of the original plans was to offer an environment that was primarily outdoors with a variety of food options.
But plans were derailed when The Worcester County Board of License Commissioners denied a request for a liquor license for the establishment on Feb. 17.
“We indeed had a liquor board meeting that has asked us to go back to the drawing board as it pertains to our liquor license,” he said. “I believe fundamentally, what occurred is we were requesting a different type of liquor license than we had when Madfish was on the property, and due to the new design and idea behind the operations at Pier 23, it was rejected.”
Although the liquor license was denied, the group is continuing to push forward with its plans to redevelop the property by obtaining the necessary permits.
Still, Taustin wanted to be clear by saying that although Pier 23 is a Taustin property, it is completely separate from everything happening at 24th Street with Embers.
On Wednesday, representatives from Embers met with the Worcester County Board of Licensed Commissioners to discuss plans to remove an upstairs and downstair bar that appeared in the original plans. The plans now call for a single bar on the first floor with seating primarily on the inside of the new building, and some seating outside. Additionally, the company is going to create a courtyard area that is blocked off on three of the four sides of the building, with the only open side facing south toward the parking lot.
After reviewing the plans, the board approved the request from the Taustin Group to alter the licensed premises that the liquor license was for.
“We do believe this is a rebirth of the property and what we can do to meet the needs of the time and meet the needs of everyone who loves The Embers so much,” Taustin said a day prior to the meeting. “We look forward to sharing with them something new and exciting and we look forward to welcoming them back in 2022.”