Who is Peter Harp?

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Peter Harp Peter Harp

Realtor and former restaurateur talks shop

OCEAN CITY — He was in the family restaurant business for more than four decades, working his way up from washing pots, pans and dishes at Hogate’s to owning and operating the Tuckahoe Inn.

Along the way he was a baker, fry, sauté and broiler cook, chef and host and when he finally burned out – 33 years after his father bought the Inn – Peter Harp sold the landmark Beesleys Point eatery and transitioned into real estate.

Now a broker/salesman for Berger Realty’s 17th Street office, he spends his days by the boardwalk in near tranquility.

“Real estate is a service industry,” he said. “I work with the same people, all the summer visitors, just in a different atmosphere. You have the ‘three R’s’ in service, restaurants, real estate and retail. I’ve done two of them. It’s in your blood or it’s not.

“I really like real estate, I work with nice people,” he said. “I went to a cocktail party every night for 33 years at Tuckahoe Inn. I enjoyed it, but there were many, many long nights. Now it’s nice just to go home at the end of the day.”

Harp grew up in Brigantine, the middle of the late Charlie and Tina Harp’s three children. His father served in the Air Force during World War II and retired years later as a colonel. He went to work at Kent’s Restaurant, working his way up to vice president and general manager, but left in 1951 to go out on his own.

Attracted to Ocean City’s family atmosphere the Harps leased Hogate’s restaurant on the bay at Ninth Street.

“I was 13,” Harp said. “My mother was a housewife. She went to accounting school and she took over the front of the house, the business end; my father did the back, the operations. He worked in the restaurant from May to October and then in the winter he was a cruise director for Holland America. He went on cruises around the world.

“When I was in high school, he asked me what I wanted to do, I said ‘be like you!’” Harp said. “That was my goal, but one day my parents told me they had a ‘new idea.’ They bought the Tuckahoe Inn and we were going into the business year round.”

Harp went to Cornell; when he graduated, he was a full time restaurateur. He bought the Inn from his father in 1968.

“My mother stayed on, she was the minority partner, but if she said something, well I had to listen,” he said. “My mother, bless her heart, was always right.”

Tina Harp grew up in Atlantic City. Her father and his brothers owned hotels, butcher stores and banks. Charlie Harp arrived in Atlantic City in 1927 during the “Boardwalk Empire” era.

“He saw Al Capone on the boardwalk,” he said.

“My parents worked very well together, the restaurant business is hard on relationships,” he said. “They bought a house in Ocean City on Snug Harbor and they were very happy.

“My mother took to the business like a duck to water. My grandfather was in the hotel business, so she knew and understood the service industry. She would always say her father told her that you ‘treat everyone like a guest in your home.’”

Harp says he misses the Tuckahoe Inn.

“We were a family, and it’s still like that there,” he said. “I think my parent’s spirit is in that building. We had a wonderful crew, lots of happy memories, good people.”

The restaurant business, he said, has changed dramatically.

“At one time there were four restaurants in Ocean City seating over 500 people,” he said, of Hogate’s, Chris’, Simm’s and Watson’s. “We used to serve easily 1,200 to 1,500 dinners on Saturday night. We had 100 employees, 45 waitresses and they would all be working on the weekends. It was arm service, no trays.

“There was no air conditioning in the cars, and there we were by the bridge,” he said. “So we would bake in the mornings, and get big fans, and blow the aroma of baking buns, breads, pies and all kinds of goodies into the traffic. They’d have their windows rolled down and you’d see them pointing, ‘We’re going there for dinner!’

“We were competitors, but very friendly with the other restaurants,” he said. “It was a different world. You have to do a lot of volume to make a profit in the business. A good restaurant back in the day made about four cents on the dollar.

“Quality was important,” he said. “You never wanted anyone to say ‘this is terrible.’ You tried to please everyone and, really, you can’t. One time, I ran out of fresh veal and I made a couple of calls. I always got the best, you could cut it with your fork, and this one time I got an inferior quality, you needed a chain saw. I never did that again.”

Harp says the restaurant business had a lot of ups and downs.

“We had a great ride through the ’60s and then in the ’70s we got hit hard,” he said. “We had the gas crisis, the casinos opened and offered free buffets, we had boutique restaurants opening in Cape May and they put pine nuts and alfalfa sprouts on everything. All of the sudden there was nouveau cuisine. We were the island of tranquility in a sea of change. We survived.

“Then the business changed again. All of the sudden the fried seafood, our famous Stites Point seafood combination, the crab cake wasn’t good enough again. Fried food was supposed to be bad, but we all survived all those years eating it. People didn’t want to wear jackets in the dining room, it became more casual.”

In the late 1990s, Harp built a big dock and marina behind the restaurant, attracting boaters. He opened an outdoor deck, “Cap’n Charlie’s,” named after his late father. Business boomed, but it took a toll.

“I felt very responsible to be there every night, and it would be 1-3 a.m. before I got out,” he said. “After six years, I felt my health was in jeopardy.”

The restaurant sold. Not one to sit for long, Harp earned his real estate license and indulged a hobby; history.

“I always loved history,” he said.

He got involved with Upper Township’s Apple Festival and other events at the historic Gandy House.

“They would have music and crafters,” he said. “In 1820, when it was built, Farmer Gandy would have had a musket. So I demonstrated, in costume, flint lock musketry. I’d fire about 20 rounds. It was lots of fun.”

He became a docent at Hereford Inlet Light House.

“I talked about what it was like back in 1870,” he said. “You would look at the horizon and see 50 ships or more out there. There were few roads, no railroads yet, the sea was the only means of transport.

“The Sindia would be like a 747 flying for Fed Ex today,” he said. “You had four, three and two-masted ships, like the tractor-trailers and delivery trucks out there. They went up and down the coast and that’s why you needed light houses and life saving stations.”

Now, Harp enjoys spending time with his two daughters, Jennifer and Marla, and six grandchildren.

“I stay busy, at a relaxed pace,” he said. “I’m not a high pressure Realtor. I work hard and I do well. I like to play my banjo, watch television. I like to go to concerts at the Borgata. I’m enjoying life.”

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