(April 17, 2015) Sunset Grille owner Buddy Trala took home one of the most prestigious honors bestowed by the Restaurant Association of Maryland, the Restaurateur of the Year award, during the organization’s annual Stars of the Industry gala Sunday evening in Crisfield.
The Greene Turtle (statewide) received one of the McCormick Cornerstone of the Industry Awards. It is awarded to companies that best illustrate how restaurants are the cornerstone of the economy and their community. These businesses support local communities by creating jobs and financially supporting non-profit groups, schools, scouts and youth sports teams. The Greene Turtle has won this award twice previously.
“One thing we said when we started this whole franchising thing was we didn’t want to change our local brand. We wanted to keep a commitment to the local community. We still do it, so I think we’re successful,” Steve Pappas, co-owner, said.
Restaurateur of the Year and McCormick Cornerstone of the Industry awards are not voted on by the public, as most of the individual awards are. The voters are members of the association consisting of 2,000 restaurateurs.
“Having the members making the decision makes it a bigger honor,” Trala said. “It’s cool joining Leighton Moore [owner of Seacrets, 49th Street] and Billy Carder [owner of BJ’s on the Water, 75th Street] who both won it before me.”
Longevity, Trala believes, is the key to Sunset Grille’s success.
“We all worked at the Embers [on 24th Street] together 25 years ago,” Trala said of his team. “We went our separate ways for a while,” but Trala spent the past 11 years getting the gang back together.
“We’ve got the same chef, the same sous chef and the same general manager,” Trala said. “It’s not really about me, but the great team we have–John Curry, Patti Pace, Mike Rabideau, Darren Cummings, Dean Geracimos, Turk Howard and I have all been together for 11 years since we started the Sunset Grille. I love Ocean City and I love what I do.”
Winning the award, Trala said, was made all the better by having his father present. Trala said his father had been in the restaurant business for 28 years, and while he lost his mother a couple of years ago, he said his team stood by him as he accepted the award.
In preparing for the coming season, Trala said his off-season days and nights have been consumed by research.
“We travel a lot and we’re going to do some new things this year,” he said.
While playing coy with the details, Trala said Sunset Grille, on Sunset Avenue West Ocean City, would be offering some local organic items and sushi-based dishes on his 2015 menu.
Though he was the winner, Trala was not the only person in the resort nominated for the Restaurateur of the Year award. John Harrison of the Harrison Group, which owns almost a dozen restaurants in the Ocean City area, was also a finalist.
“It’s a testament to the staff and what we’ve been doing over the past years that our efforts have been recognized. We are very honored,” Harrison said last month of the nomination.
Several other restaurants and a brewery in the greater Ocean City area were finalists for awards, as well.
Brian Brushmiller’s Burley Oak brewing company in Berlin was a finalist for Craft Brew Program of the Year, a category sponsored by another notable Eastern Shore brewery, EVO.
“This underscores what we’ve always believed as an educational facility and really big deal as a non-restaurant brewery,” Brushmiller said after being named a finalist in the category.
Open for less than a year, the team of Larry and Dolores Pack and Ciro Verdi’s Touch of Italy at the Holiday Inn Oceanfront on 67th Street was a finalist for Favorite New Restaurant.
“We’re ecstatic and really appreciative,” Verdi said when the finalist list was announced.
Ocean City’s entry into the Favorite Restaurant field was Jules, which has been located in the Ocean City Square Shopping Center on 118th Street since 2003.
“For one, it’s an honor,” Adam Sanders, Jules’ owner and chef said when the finalists were announced. “It’s cool to be up for an award. We’re very deserving and everyone here works very hard.”