OCEAN CITY – Armed with a love of music and good food, and backed by a family in the restaurant business, Gary Gibbs is looking forward to his third summer at the helm of the Caribbean-themed restaurant Castaways.
Gibbs, 32, grew up behind the scenes at his family’s Dough Roller restaurants. After graduating from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a degree in engineering, Gibbs joined the nine-to-five work world, but soon found himself dissatisfied.
“I didn’t enjoy my work when I finished school,” Gibbs said, describing the process control engineering job he landed out of college. “I didn’t like the Monday to Friday thing.”
He added, “I wasn’t near the beach. I wasn’t near the water. I wasn’t a happy camper.”
While still pursuing engineering work, Gibbs moved to Crofton to manage a Dough Roller there and six years ago he made his way back to Ocean City to look after the 125th Street Dough Roller.
Gibbs always thought he would return to the resort, and it’s no surprise that the restaurant industry pulled him back in.
“I started washing dishes [at the Dough Roller] when I was eight years old. I’d make $1 an hour and I’d spend it at Fun City,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs said he began to look at what Ocean City needs when he decided to open up a new venue. The town had lost quite a few restaurants over the years and several nightclubs had closed including the Ocean Club and Diesel.
Ocean City needs to continue to offer vacationers plenty of outlets for food and fun, Gibbs said, and that’s where the idea for Castaways was born. While Gibbs and family decided that fine dining was not the way to go, they still wanted to create a restaurant that would be more than just another beach joint.
The new structure on the former Captain Bob’s restaurant site has quiet dining areas, an extensive deck on the bay, a long bar and a music stage and dance floor.
Patrons can have a quiet dinner or be in the middle of the party, Gibbs said.
Castaways’ slogan is “steaks and fishes with a Caribbean twist.” The tongue in cheek phrase comes from his own childlike side, Gibbs explained.
“Children have more fun. That’s what we’re trying to do around here,” Gibbs said.
The food, which includes traditional favorites as well as Caribbean influenced dishes, often crosses the two cuisines.
“We didn’t go with a traditional crab cake. To the best of my knowledge, you can get only one spicy Caribbean crab cake with jerk seasoning [in Ocean City],” Gibbs said.
The Caribbean crab cake is Castaways’ best selling entrée. Customers say they come back specifically for that dish, Gibbs said.
“It makes you feel kind of good,” he said.
While food is the focus all day, when the clock chimes 10 p.m. the bands start to play.
“Ironically enough, it started out as a sports bar. It’s not a sports bar,” Gibbs said. “I’ve always known I’m a lot more interested in music than sports.”
Over the winter, Gibbs auditioned over 250 bands for five regular summer slots and special events. Half the musicians selected are original acts, rather than strictly cover bands, Gibbs said, playing a mix of their own songs and others.
After hearing that many patrons felt the music played in the resort is ‘too young’, Gibbs decided that Friday nights would feature bands with horn sections, playing a mix of original music and covers of songs by groups like Chicago and K.C. and the Sunshine Band. Every night has a theme, including Tuesday nights as cover nights, focusing on the college student audience.
Castaways opened in summer 2005, and in its short lifespan response has been very positive, according to Gibbs.
“It’s kind of weird being in a position where people thank you,” he said.
Gibbs has a vision beyond the walls of Castaways.
“I’d like to see us reach out to more people as a town, as a community. We have to make sure the whole town is healthy,” he said. “We should be putting something into that.”