Ocean City —
Paul and Arlene Knox-Stryker love the closeness of Ocean City. They have lived in town for 19 years and have gotten to know many people - and even more since owning Arlene's on Asbury.
"It doesn't feel like work," Arlene said of the restaurant. "It feels like people are coming to your house and you're entertaining them."
When a customer walks into Arlene's on Asbury, they're greeted by a friendly face - whether it is Paul, Arlene or another employee - and may very well get caught up in the cozy, family atmosphere. The décor is reminiscent of a kitchen at home. The atmosphere is comfortable and welcoming.
In all, it is just the kind of restaurant one would expect to find in a town known for its family atmosphere.
"We have a good customer base," said Paul. "Very friendly, very loyal and very complimentary."
The couple has owned Arlene's on Asbury for three years. Until recently, the restaurant was named Callahan's after the previous owners. The Knox-Strykers held a contest in their store for a new name, and Arlene's on Asbury seemed the popular - and perfect - choice.
Arlene's on Asbury isn't the first restaurant venture for the pair. They previously owned a popular Philadelphia breakfast and lunch joint, Lorna Doone's. After selling the restaurant, the owners of Arlene's on Asbury were looking to sell and the Knox-Strykers decided to try something new.
"When this became available we decided to do it again," said Arlene.
"One thing led to another," added Paul, "and we were able to get back into business."
The couple was happy to take over a store that already had a strong reputation in town. The Callahans had owned their restaurant for more than 10 years.
"To be on the island, with the seasonality of things, it's hard to get started on the ground floor," said Paul. "(The restaurant) had an established clientele."
Despite the seasonality of Ocean City, Arlene's on Asbury stays open year round. Like most area businesses, it booms in the summer and slows down in the winter, but the Knox-Strykers take it all in stride.
In addition to the name, the menu has taken a turn since the new ownership. Arlene and Paul added a number of items to the menu and gave old fare a new twist.
"We do more of a healthier menu," said Arlene.
There are a variety of soups. The quiche is a popular item for breakfast as well as the omelettes, which can be made with egg beaters or egg whites. All the vegetables and fruits are fresh. On the sweet side of things, cinnamon French toast is a favorite choice.
"We have the normal stick-to-your-ribs kind of food," said Paul, "but we have other choices, too."
Salads are popular for lunch as well as fish of the day. The quiche remains a favorite all day long. There is stir fry, quesadillas, vegetarian options and more.
For kid meals, there is the normal fare like chicken fingers or grilled cheese. Kids can get fries to go with their meal or a choice of fresh carrot sticks, grapes or applesauce.
"It's healthier than just fries all the time," said Paul.
One thing that hasn't changed entirely are the faces of the restaurant. Many longtime employees of Callahan's stayed on during the switch in ownership. While the Knox-Strykers were new faces behind the counter three years ago, there were plenty who were not.
"There's always a warm welcome here," said Arlene with a smile.
The Knox-Strykers help to maintain the family atmosphere in their restaurant by keeping their own family close by. Children Paulie, 7, and Jacob, 4, are familiar faces around Arlene's.
"Our customers love it when our kids are in here," said Arlene. "They're very receptive of them. We even have a couple customers our kids call aunt and uncle."
The couple's teenage son, Charles, was an Ocean City High School student when he died in a car accident nearly 10 years ago. A scholarship fund has been set up in his name and the Knox-Strykers host a benefit every February at the Flanders Hotel to raise money in memory of Charles. Last year's benefit raised $8,000 for scholarships given at OCHS this past spring.
Arlene and Paul will continue holding the benefit in memory of Charles every year. They also plan to own Arlene's on Asbury for quite a while.
"We'll continue to work hard and hopefully build a bigger client base. We'll continue what we have going," said Paul.
"We just love being on the island," Arlene added.
Arlene's on Asbury is located at 624 Asbury Ave., Ocean City. It offers inside and outside seating, catering and is available for private parties. The restaurant can be reached at (609) 399-3639.