(Aug. 30, 2013) Over the past 40 years, “Surfin” Betty Sapia has become an institution in Ocean City, where she is known for her hard work, tough love and insistence on giving hot meals to employees at the family business.
She celebrated her 80th birthday Monday at the Captain’s Table restaurant on 15th Street, where family members recounted fond memories over a meal and live music by Bryan Clark.
“She’s a good mom,” her son, Ralph Sapia, said. “She made a lot of good sacrifices.”
Betty came to Ocean City about 40 years ago to join the family business. At the time, her relatives owned a slew of area businesses, like The Severn and the Electric Circus, her son, Jimmy, said.
“I worked from breakfast to dinner,” Betty said. In fact, she only recently cut back from a seven-day workweek to five mornings a week at the Ocean View Hotel, at the behest of her son.
“I love the business. I love my customers,” she said. “Every year I get a new group of kids that feel like family by the end of the summer.”
But over the years, the rhythm of Ocean City businesses has overshadowed her birthday on Aug. 27, at the end of a busy summer when seasonal employees have returned home.
“Unfortunately over the years, her birthday’s just been whitewashed,” Jimmy said. That makes events like Monday’s family gathering and a 40th birthday bonfire with her employees especially fond memories for Betty.
Her three sons, Ralph, Jimmy and Vince make the trip home every year possible for their mother’s birthday — a fondness and respect that stretches back to their childhoods in Ocean City.
“It was a really small town,” Ralph said, and the boys could hear the bell ring at the fire station each time a fire truck responded to an emergency.
“Wherever we were, we picked up a pay phone and called my mother to let her know we were okay,” he said.
That same respect carries over to his mother’s professional life, where she treats employees “like family,” Ralph said. That includes providing them with meals —from spaghetti and meatballs to baked chicken and brownies — at the family’s DaVinci’s by the Sea restaurant on 15th Street.
Surfin’ Betty got her nickname through a family business, the Ocean View Grill & Surfin’ Betty’s Beach Bar. The irony is that she doesn’t surf, or even go in the water at the beach, Jimmy said.
“In her 40 years here, I don’t know that she’s ever sat her foot in the sand,” he joked. “I don’t think she’s ever been to the beach. She sees it every day, but I don’t think she’s ever been there.”
His mother admitted while she loves Ocean City’s coastal views, she’s “scared to death of the water.”
“When my feet get wet, that’s it,” she said.
Betty continues to work at the family’s Ocean View Hotel.
“It’s really a pleasure to go to work in the morning,” she said. “I have a lot of fun memories.”
The family planned to hold a second birthday celebration today, Friday, when son Vince could be in town after dropping his daughter off at college in Florida.