Anyone who has visited Ocean City has likely, in some way, had some experience with Bill Gibbs.
Whether it was in person while picking up a Dough Roller pizza at one of the famous shop’s locations across the resort, or just feeling his presence inside one of his renovated properties that display the perfect mix of new and old Ocean City, he was virtually everywhere.
And his death this week will leave a huge gap in the city’s hospitality and philanthropy industries, as well as in the hearts of countless friends, family members, colleagues and more.
“We lost a very prominent Ocean City citizen over the weekend and that’s Bill Gibbs,” Mayor Rick Meehan said during a council meeting Monday evening.
News of the 72-year-old Ocean City fixture’s passing had just begun filtering across the community, leaving a wave of sadness, and drumming up memories from those who knew him best.
“Bill Gibbs — for those of you know him know right away who I’m talking about — … was the owner of the Dough Roller restaurants,” Meehan continued. “Bill’s lived here all of his life, he grew up in Ocean City. I’ve known Bill since the … early 1970s, before he owned the Dough Roller. He was a great entrepreneur, opened his first Dough Roller in 1980, had a small pizza shop before that on Wicomico Street.”
According to a biography the Ocean City Hotel-Motel Restaurant Association compiled several years ago when Gibbs won the Brice & Shirley Phillips Lifetime Industry Achievement Award from the Restaurant Association of Maryland, the shop on Wicomico Street was his first step into pizza business ownership, which is probably his most popular venture. However it is far from the only one.
After opening the first Dough Roller restaurant on the bottom floor of the Breakers Hotel on the Boardwalk in 1980, Gibbs and his wife, Julie, opened two more locations during that decade on 41st and 70th streets. From there, Gibbs partnered with his lifelong friend, Ray Shockley, to buy and remodel the Shoreham Hotel and Shenanigan’s Irish Pub on the Boardwalk.
The biography said that both Gibbs and Shockley had “the same desire to preserve the essence of old Ocean City while planning for the future,” which was evident in their renovation projects.
They also bought and tore down the Purnell Apartments on Second Street on the Boardwalk to build the Somerset Condominiums. And they bought the Edwards building on the corner of North Division Street and the Boardwalk and teamed up with Quiet Storm to create what was deemed “the largest surf shop on the East Coast.”
Parallel to Gibbs’ entrepreneurial successes, his personal and philanthropic contributions were second to none. From volunteering on multiple boards and committees, to donating money to wooden beach toys and other amusements through the Dough Roller, he always found ways to give back to the community, and he has an array of awards and accolades to show it.
“He gave an awful lot back to the town of Ocean City,” Meehan said. “He was citizen of the year in Ocean City. I’m going to miss Bill. I don’t want anybody to forget him and forget all of his accomplishments.”
Gibbs leaves behind his wife, three sons — Gary, Jeff and Kevin — many other family members, and countless friends, colleagues and employees. His sons all helped out at the Dough Roller restaurants, which further solidified the family-friendly atmosphere. Meehan also said everyone he knew who worked for Gibbs said he was “a terrific boss and a terrific person to work for.”
Susan Jones, the executive director of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel Restaurant Association, said in an email that her husband and daughters also worked at the Dough Roller, and loved their time as employees of Bill Gibbs.
“Mr. Gibbs served as president of OCHMRA from 1988-89, so it was prior to my arrival,” she said. “However, I always enjoyed when I was able to speak with him as there was never any fluff, we always had honest and spirited conversation.”
Jones recalled a dinner meeting years ago at Castaways restaurant (since sold to another company) where Gibbs was working “tirelessly” to ensure everyone was served before he got his meal.
“The epitome of hospitality,” she said. “He’ll be missed for sure.”