By Josh Davis, Associate Editor
(April 26, 2018) A full house at the Ocean Pines Community Center last Thursday ate up much of what new food and beverage consultant Matt Ortt Companies had to say.
The Berlin based company was recently hired to oversee operations at the yacht and beach club.
Matt Ortt spoke first, joking the number-one reason his company would succeed was because “my mother lives in Ocean Pines and I’ll never hear the end of it.”
Ortt said he moved the area when he was 13 and attended high school in Worcester County.
“I’m invested in this community, in this town, and where we live,” he said. “We want to succeed probably more than you [do].”
“Don’t bet on it!” a woman in the audience replied.
Ralph DeAngelus did most of the talking, repeatedly making reference to the “damaged brand” of Ocean Pines clubs.
“You all might laugh, but he’s not kidding – his mother is a handful,” DeAngelus said, kicking off nearly an hour-long speech and question-and-answer session.
DeAngelus several times promised “open and honest communications” with membership.
“I’m going to give you the good and the bad – you’re going to like hearing some things; you’re not going to like hearing other things, but you deserve to hear all of it,” he said. “We need to be transparent with everything that’s going on, so that there’s no ambiguity going down the road.”
First, DeAngelus said, the inventory at both facilities was “completely inflated.”
“You have a liquor inventory, for example, at the beach club that consists of hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of bottles of liquor that you’ll probably never use,” he said. “When ordering was done, I can only assume that the management at the time didn’t want to do the ordering, so they told the salesperson, ‘tell me what I need and just add it in.’ At the end of that season, the salesperson decided he was going to make his quota on Ocean Pines’ dime.”
As an example, DeAngelus said current inventory included 10 cases of Calypso Rum, worth about $13 per bottle. That could be used in rail drinks, but Bowman’s Rum could be had much more cheaply, for $4.95 per bottle, DeAngelus said.
“Don’t get me started with the bottles and bottles of E&J Brandy sitting at the yacht club, or the cases of Chivas Regal,” he said. “I like scotch as much as the next guy, but you’re going to be sitting on those bottles of Chivas Regal until 2035.”
All of that inventory will affect food and beverage percentages, DeAngelus said.
“If I was to sell my rum and Coke for $5 with Bowman’s Rum, I’m selling it at a 19 percent cost of sales, which means it costs me 19 cents for every dollar that I bring in. But if I have to sell a $13 bottle of rum … my cost of sales has gone to 31 cents a drink,” he said.
DeAngelus said some of the excess inventory would be exchanged with distributors.
“They normally don’t do that, but because we run so many operations, we’re more of a hammer than a nail,’” he said. “It’s kind of strong-arming, but they’ll comply and that’s going to help us out.”
As for the yacht club menu, DeAngelus said it would not resemble Rare & Rye, an upscale facility in Ocean City managed by the Ortt Companies.
“The quality of the food is going to be just as specular as Rare & Rye – that’s a promise,” DeAngelus said. “The service at the yacht club is going to be just like Rare & Rye – that’s a promise. The cost of the food will not be like Rare & Rye – that’s a promise.
“We know who we’re dealing with. We know what our demographic is,” he continued. “We know Ocean Pines has a large demographic, but we know that they consider this property … home. And at home you don’t want to get railed.”
“It’s going to be good food, great service at a good price,” he added.
DeAngelus said menus are subjective and about 20 percent of residents “are not going to like our menu.”
“I ask that when you read it, if you see it and you think ‘nothing really floats my boat’ … come in and give us one shot,” he said. “If it didn’t float your boat, I get it. But give us a shot to see if we can blow your skirt up.”
He said the beach club menu would largely be made up of grab-and-go items, with waiters staffed to take drink orders.
To lower food costs, DeAngelus said many of the same ingredients would be used at both facilities, and the company would also tie in food purchases with other Matt Ortt properties to further cut prices.
He said both locations would have happy hour specials, with bands on Friday and Saturday night from 6-10 at the yacht club and deejays at the beach club playing “the kind of happy, fun music … you’d sing to and dance to at a wedding reception.”
Other nights of the week would have additional entertainment and promotions scheduled.
“If I’ve been told once, I’ve been told 1,001 times – bring back trivia night. That has not fallen on deaf ears,” DeAngelus said, drawing applause from the audience. “I hear you loud and clear and I guarantee you – and Matt’s mother – we will have trivia night again at the yacht club.”
DeAngelus said renovations at the yacht club were done to improve the flow of the restaurant. For example, he said the banquet entrance would now be on the side of the building.
Tables and chairs were upgraded and moveable partitions would be used in the dining room. Also, DeAngelus said an interior decorator changed the wallpaper and installed new lighting to improve the ambiance.
“You’re going to feel as if you’re in a beautiful restaurant and not a cafeteria,” he said.
He said less was done at the beach club because of a lack of funding, but several improvements were made to bring the building up to code. Leaky sprinkler systems and corroded hot water heaters were replaced, and the deck was resurfaced.
DeAngelus said a soft opening at the yacht club is scheduled for May 14 and the facility would open to the public on May 17.
A soft opening at the beach club is set for May 17 and that building will officially open on May 25, Memorial Day Friday.
DeAngelus said the “the hardest thing for you guys to hear” was “we have inherited a damaged brand.”
“The yacht club is a damaged brand. At one point in time, it was spectacular and you all loved it and everything was great, and it has since decayed,” DeAngelus said. “The good news is we’re going to fix it.”
Many weddings and banquets at club were canceled because of poor management practices, he said.
“And now we’re behind the eight-ball trying to catch up,” DeAngelus said. “I am going to catch us up, but it’s not going to be in a day. So I’m asking for patience.”
DeAngelus said great food and service, not to mention a beautiful facility, would be apparent on day one, but banquet sales would need about eight months to recover.
“Our summer stinks. We have one banquet scheduled for the beach club – and it’s 400 firefighters who want draft beer and hamburgers, so we’re not making the mortgage payments on that,” he said. “The good news is that September is starting to turn a corner and October/November are starting to kick in, and next year … we think we’re going to knock it out of the park.
“You’ve got to understand, it’s going to take us a while to turn that damaged brand [around],” DeAngelus continued. “That word has to spread and that’s going to take a little while … but it will happen.”
Additionally, during a question-and-answer segment, DeAngelus said mold remediation had finished at the yacht club. He said the facility would be open seven days a week, from Memorial Day through Labor Day, and likely three days a week during the offseason, with home delivery available.
“We’re going to do curbside service in the wintertime at the yacht club to the 8,452 residences in Ocean Pines, which will help us stay open and help keep our labor pool employed year-round,” DeAngelus said.
He also spoke to the company’s motivation in taking on the challenge of turning the clubs around.
“I’m going to be really open and honest with you. We had the option to take this job or another one – the other one was a better job,” DeAngelus said. “We took this one because this brand is so damaged, that if we turn this around the way we’re going to the price of our service just doubled.
“Our future relies on making the promises we’re making tonight come to fruition,” he added.
The audience of perhaps several hundred loudly applauded at the presentation’s conclusion.
Moderator Elaine Brady said, “Everybody here feels your enthusiasm, and if the service and the food is as good as the enthusiasm … we’re all going to end up winners.”