Anniversaries are special, especially in a family town like Ocean City. Being in business a long time is a big accomplishment, after all. Ocean City was founded in 1879 (that’s 142 years ago), and businesses started popping up soon after. Some things change over the years, yet others stay the same. If you’ve been coming to Ocean City your whole life, even if you’re approaching 100, some establishments have been here the entire time.
Though only a few have celebrated their centennial, there are so many other noteworthy anniversaries. This year, among others, the Port-O-Call Hotel is celebrating its 55th, Manco and Manco Pizza is celebrating its 65th, Pessano’s is turning 75, Fudge Kitchen is approaching 50, and Island Grill turned 25. This story is part of a longer series highlighting the history and achievements of these local businesses.
The Port-O-Call Hotel first opened in 1966, and was originally called the Port-O-Call Hotel and Motor Inn. It was white before being bought by new owners and painted its iconic pink color.
While the outside is still that fabulous original pink, the inside has been completely revamped.
“It’s all new and modern,” said Glenn Losch, general manager. “[But we still offer] great old fashioned service.”
The Port O Call has always had a pool on premises overlooking the Boardwalk. Adelene, their restaurant that also has views of the Atlantic, has always existed, but under a few different names. The Port-O-Call is looking ahead and is excited about the new season as well as their 66 newly renovated guest rooms.
“Our rooms are going to be amazing,” said Glenn.
The Island Grill Restaurant is open for their 26th season. Their grand opening was back on March 29, 1996.
“I opened up two years out of college. I was 24 when we opened up here,” said Andrew Yoa, who owns Island Grill along with his wife, Allison. It’s a family affair.
“My parents have been retired for a number of years and they help us out,” said Andrew. Their sons Alex and Austin pitch in too.
Andrew and Allison weren’t married when they first opened Island Grill.
“We worked together 24/7 for the first year and then figured ‘We’ll be fine if we get married,’” Andrew said.
Originally known as the Island Grill Seafood and Steakhouse, they kept a lot of the original menu that made them a success.
“We’ve stayed true to everything. We certainly added things over the years. There’s still probably two dozen items that haven’t changed,” Andrew said. “We used to do an ice cream bar that’s no longer around. It was in the middle of the dining room.”
Over the last few years (especially in 2020), the demand for takeout has gotten stronger.
“We’re always done takeout but over 26 years, it was in high demand and then got soft,” Andrew said. “We were doing online ordering the year before the pandemic hit. Takeout was becoming so big. When it did happen last year, we had everything in place already.”
Something else that is changing over time is reservation sizes.
“There are newer houses, bigger families. We do reservations for big parties of 20-30 people. We’ve seen that coming for the last five to six years,” Andrew said.
While in culinary school at Johnson and Wales, Andrew worked at what once was the place to go for takeout – Hickman’s. New this year at Island Grill is an expansion of their fish market offerings.
“Our fish market this year is changing. We are adding a whole produce section with more meats and chicken. You can get bags of charcoal, spatulas. We’re trying to do a farm to table type of theme,” said Andrew.
The restaurant itself looks the same. Built in the 1930s at 1st and Atlantic as a potential Acme, it was a sundry store and a restaurant before it became the Island Grill.
“The outside color is the same. Inside changed a number of times but it’s more nautical. It’s blues and yellows for pineapple,” Andrew said.
One notable inside change is a mural.
“Three or four years ago Bogy (local artist Aaron Bogushefsky who also painted the cover of this magazine) did a big mural for us. He did the artwork on canvas and we took it to a company who was able to blow it up on wallpaper material,” Andrew said.
Other changes make getting your food as fast as possible.
“The customers don’t see it but we’ve redone the kitchen at least eight times to keep things flowing as fast as humanly possible,” said Andrew.
The Island Grill has always offered catering as well as wild game.
We did the wild game for a number of years. We still have a decent following that we bring in with our ostrich and kangaroo. Every year we take a couple of things off and add a couple of new things,” Andrew said.
Read this story and others in our May magazine.