Arlene’s on Asbury back in business

Attention: open in a new window. PrintE-mail

Submitted / Arlene’s on Asbury is back in business after a five-week, post-Hurricane Sandy hiatus. Submitted / Arlene’s on Asbury is back in business after a five-week, post-Hurricane Sandy hiatus.

OCEAN CITY — After being under water during Hurricane Sandy, Arlene’s on Asbury is back in business and owners Paul and Arlene Stryker couldn’t be happier with their newly remodeled restaurant.

“We came back better. We made a lot of improvements,” said Paul Stryker, the head chef who owns the restaurant with his wife, Arlene.

Brown carpet was replaced by tile in warm shades of browns and blues. The walls are a buttery yellow, and the couple’s extensive, colorful tea pot collection is right where it was before the flood waters hit, sitting high atop a divider separating the kitchen from the dining room.  

“We got hit hard,” Paul Stryker said. “We were down for five weeks. There was a lot of heartache and expense, but no loss of life. It could have been worse. We could have been Seaside Heights.”

The Strykers live on Seventh Street, close to the beach and not far from the restaurant.

“We stayed on the island, and we thought things would be worse at home,” he said.

They expected powerful waves from the ocean, but not an overflow from the bay.

“We were a lot more concerned about the house. We looked on the web during the storm and saw some of the pictures of the downtown and realized how bad it was. We were glad that we stayed on the island. It allowed us to get in as soon as we could we could get out and start working,” he said.

Stryker said it was “overwhelming” at first.

“Where do you start?” he said. “Then we realized you just start. It was such a mess. We had refrigerators floating around. Every container that could hold water had water in it. We were shell shocked. We had to just start tearing up and throwing things out. We did a lot of the labor ourselves. We just kept focused, kept going.”

Since they reopened last month, Stryker said they have received nothing but compliments on the updated interior.

“We changed a lot of things, but we kept the charm,” he said.

With 15 wooden tables and accompanying wooden chairs, the restaurant seats 48. When the weather warrants, there are five tables for outdoor dining, under the blue and yellow awning and as assortment of blue and yellow umbrellas.

“Even when it’s cold, people still love to sit outside,” Arlene Stryker said, adding that she keeps blankets by the register for those who need one.

The Strykers bought the restaurant, formerly Callahan’s, from the Callahan family in May 2005. They changed the name about a year later.

“We had a restaurant in Philadelphia, Lorna Doone’s,” Paul Stryker said. “We served breakfast and lunch in the land of cheese steak and hoagie heaven. We were famous for breakfast and catering.”

Smitten with the seashore, and anxious to relocate before their oldest son started high school, they moved to Ocean City and commuted for a few years, leaving by 3 a.m. to arrive in Philadelphia to open by 5 a.m. The drive grew old, so they sold the Philadelphia restaurant and looked to open a local eatery.

One thing led to another, and through mutual friends they connected with the Callahans, who were looking to sell.

Callahan’s, Stryker said, came with a steady customer base, which he felt was important when starting over. Loyal customers, he said, have proven to be the backbone of their success.

“You establish a relationship. They feel comfortable here, they come back again and again, and you get to know their families,” he said. “We have a lot of regulars, particularly in the offseason. Once the summer comes, we don’t see them as often. The Callahans were here for 10 years, they built up a good clientele and a lot of them are still coming in.”

The Strykers didn’t make too many changes when they took over. They still offer the same popular cuisine, with a twist on some healthy items.

“We kept all of the favorites,” Stryker said. 

The enormous menu has various items for breakfast and lunch.

“We have lots of salads, some Weight Watcher’s items. We cater to gluten-free, which is really helpful for some people. We have gluten-free pancakes and wraps.

“I’m famous for my homemade soups,” Stryker said. “I make three different kinds every day. We have a half-sandwich combo and great pancakes and omelets.”

The couple met serendipitously through Arlene’s mother several years ago.

“Arlene’s mother worked for me at the restaurant in Philadelphia, and she said, ‘Why don’t you take Arlene out?’” Stryker said.

Arlene Knox had suffered a terrible tragedy, her husband, a Philadelphia police officer named Charles Knox, was killed in the line of duty. Stryker said he was drawn immediately to the young widow and mother, who before long became his wife.

“She suffered a lot of tragedy, but she was never one to feel sorry for herself,” Stryker said. “She channels her energy to working and she’s happy talking to people all day.”

The couple suffered another tragedy when Arlene’s son, Charles Knox Jr., was killed in a car accident. He was 16 and a student at Ocean City High School. The Strykers host a scholarship benefit each year in memory of their son.

“The benefit turned into a really good thing. So far we have raised over $100,000,” he said, adding that The Flanders does a “fantastic job” as the host location. The scholarships are awarded to deserving Ocean City High School students. The annual benefit will be held in February.

Stryker said city officials and public works employees deserve a tremendous amount of credit for their hard work during and after the storm.

“I can’t say enough,” he said. “I give the city an A-plus. They were fantastic getting those dumpsters on the street and then quickly getting them out of our sight once we filled them. Before you knew it there was an empty dumpster in its place and you just kept going. It meant so much to be able to just keep moving. As fast as we filled it, it was gone.”

Post-Hurricane Sandy, Stryker said most of the talk in the restaurant these days revolves around the storm.

“It’s definitely the topic,” he said. “Everyone asks, ‘How bad was it?’ Or they share their own stories. We really missed being here while we were closed. We’re getting back to some sense of normalcy. It’s a form of therapy to be back at work. It’s where we want to be, with the people. It’s not like work, being here, it’s like this is home and people are coming to visit.”

Submitted / Arlene’s on Asbury is back in business after a five-week, post-Hurricane Sandy hiatus. Submitted / Arlene’s on Asbury is back in business after a five-week, post-Hurricane Sandy hiatus.

blog comments powered by Disqus