By Josh Davis, Associate Editor
(May 17, 2018) Just minutes prior to opening the doors for a restaurant stress test on Tuesday, Matt Ortt and Ralph DeAngelus gathered several dozen employees of the Ocean Pines Yacht Club – from chefs, busboys and line cooks, to front-of-house wait staff, hostesses and managers – for a last-second pep talk.
The message? Tonight is all about pushing the staff until it cracks and breaks, and that’s exactly what’s going to happen. Keep calm and carry on.
“It’s set to find out how far will we get before we implode,” DeAngelus said during a brief interview Tuesday afternoon. “We open at 5:30, we’ll seat three tables every five minutes – will we get five minutes? Will we get 35 minutes? Will we make it a whole hour? The over-under is about 50 minutes.”
He said 27 different groups would come in over the course of an hour and push the staff to its limits two days before the grand reopening, today, Thursday.
“That’s unrealistic – that doesn’t happen in real life. You don’t seat 27 parties in an hour,” DeAngelus said. “But real life isn’t a stress test – a stress test gets you ready for real life.”
On the following day, he said, management and staff would address any issues and read over about 100 customer comment cards.
“By Thursday, we won’t be 100 percent adjusted,” DeAngelus said. “It’s going to take anybody a couple of weeks to adjust to a new location, and we’re no exception to that.”
It’s no secret expectations are high after a disastrous year when the Ocean Pines Yacht Club and Beach Club missed revenue projections by a combined total of more than $850,000.
The Matt Ortt Companies, who have overseen everything from Hooters to the upscale Rare and Rye, were officially announced as new managers for both facilities at the tail end of March. Ortt and DeAngelus are managing partners and cofounders of the firm.
Just, don’t tell them how much pressure is on.
“Let’s not dwell about what we inherited – let’s talk about what we’re going to do,” DeAngelus said. “We’re going to have people who live in Ocean Pines bring their friends and their families and their neighbors to have dinner with them. They’re going to be able to look across at the next table and see someone they know, and they’re going to get great food and great service at a really good price.
“And you know where they’re going to be? They’re going to be home. We’re going to bring home back to the yacht club, because I know it used to be that way,” he added.
Closed after a disastrous New Year’s Eve, the yacht club has dealt with reports of mold and, more recently, stories of thousands of dollars of spoiled inventory that had to be discarded. Even when it was operating, the food and service was poorly received and the facility, since opening in 2014, has never made money.
Last month, the Ortt Companies brought in an interior designer to revamp the space and make it look less like a military cafeteria, and more like an engaging dining room. Also, entirely new staff was hired, and the lunch and dinner menus were overhauled.
The dinner menu now includes three soups starting at $4, appetizers like creole clams casino, conch fritters, baked crab dip, oysters on the half shell, and several varieties of bone-in wings with prices ranging from $6 (quesadillas) to $17 for a pound of steamed shrimp.
Flatbreads are $8 to $12, six salads before add-ons are $7 to $12, and sandwiches range from $8 for a black bean burger, to $19 for a lobster roll.
Dinner entrees start at $14 for the Not-Your-Mama’s Meatloaf, and top out at $29 for a filet mignon with Yukon gold mashed potatoes, asparagus and a chef’s sauce.
Other dinner entrees include beer-battered fish and chips ($17), jumbo crab cake with herb-roasted potatoes , broccoli and red pepper coulis ($19), Key West pork chops with corn and black bean rice, fried plantains and a “mojo” glaze ($22), and “Cathell Chicken” breast topped with crab dip, shredded cheese and crispy bacon, and served with steamed broccoli and herb-whipped potatoes ($25).
Ortt said the focus on the menu was to “incorporate enough items that there’s something for everybody.”
“We realize here we feed the masses, so you can’t have all fine dining, you can’t have all casual dining – you have to have a good mix and I think we came up with that,” he said.
He also asked customers to temper their expectations, at least in the beginning.
“Somebody’s burger is going to get cooked wrong. Somebody’s server is going to put in the wrong temperature for a steak. These things happen,” Ortt said. “It’s how you handle them and how you train your staff to fix those mistakes so they don’t happen again.
“People are going to see that – when we do make a mistake, we fix it,” he added.
DeAngelus reiterated the breakneck turnaround time and asked for patience from the community.
“We just took over May 1. Today is the 15th,” he said. “This has been the hardest thing we’ve ever done. It’s also been, in a way, the most rewarding.
“Although, when you ask me that same question tomorrow, I don’t know if I’ll say it’s been the most rewarding,” DeAngelus added with a laugh.
Ortt and DeAngelus on Tuesday had a simple request for an anxious membership: bear with us, but know that change is coming.
“We’re excited and we want the Ocean Piners to know that our goal is to make them happy,” Ortt said.
“And, to make this home. We want this to be home base,” DeAngelus added. “‘Where do you want to have dinner tonight?’ We don’t want that question to be asked. We want the question to be, ‘do you want to go to the yacht club tonight?’”