Billy and Maddy Carder have served up three decades of memories at BJ’s On The Water
Billy Carder was a real estate agent and bartender at Fager’s Island in 1978. While he was reviewing Ocean City real estate with Gene Parker, they saw a piece of property for sale on 75th Street and the Bay in Ocean City. Even though it had old beach cottages on it, Billy, Gene and a few others saw the potential in the property to become something more. They decided to invest in the land and build a restaurant and bar.
Naysayers claimed that the property was too far north to be successful. Besides Fager’s Island, it was the only other property set back on the Bay and away from traffic at the time. The other thriving bars and restaurants were situated directly on Coastal Highway with easy access to visibility and parking.
The goal of BJ’s On The Water was not just to dip into the hectic summer season and close for the winter, but to build a local customer base as well. They also wanted to have a kitchen that remained open until 1:30 in the morning year-round—a concept that Billy borrowed from the Kitty Hawk Saloon that unfortunately burned down the same year BJ’s opened. Their vision was clear, but time would tell whether this restaurant model would fare well in a town that is driven by the summer season alone.
Fast forward to 2009, you will see that the plan worked. The location is perfect, the service is impeccable and one of BJ’s biggest draws is that you can always count on the kitchen being open until 1:30 a.m. serving their entire menu. “I get asked a lot ‘what kind of crowd do you have?’ I like to say that when we opened in 1979, we had a young crowd and now, in 2009 we have an older crowd….the same people from 1979 that are now 30 years older,” Billy said with a chuckle, “but seriously, we have some of the very same great customers coming in today as we did on opening day in 1979.”
Another key to their longevity is consistency. The quality of food is always reliable and so is the service. Billy knows the staff plays an integral role in the success of his operation. Anyone who goes to BJ’s knows that great service comes standard with your meal.
After 30 years, Billy finds while some things have changed, most things have stayed the same, and that is the way he and the loyal customers of BJ’s like it. Billy and Maddy, his wife of 20 years, are hands-on owners and can almost always be found at the restaurant. To this day, Billy admits that he does not always have the answers—but the key, he says, are his customers. “You should always pay attention to your customers, they are number one…the reason you are in business.”
When you are walking in or out of BJ’s, you cannot help but notice the snapshots of employees from days gone by. Their pictures, some old and some new, turn the clock back to hazy summers long ago — seasons where being in business for 30 years was more a dream than a reality. Billy and Maddy wouldn’t have it any other way. Are there plans for the two to slow down or retire anytime soon? “No,” Billy answered without hesitation, “That’s a definite no. We’re not ready for that.”
BJ’s On The Water