As the saying goes, when one door closes, another one opens. Such is the case with the location that was recently home to Peppers of West Ocean City. While it’s sad to see locally owned and locally loved businesses like Peppers West shut their doors, there is great solace in knowing they are being replaced by local, community-minded business owners. Enter Travis and Jody Wright. You probably know the talented husband and wife team from their West Ocean City restaurant, The Shark on the Harbor. We’ll admit to a complete bias when it comes to Travis, Jody and The Shark, as we’ve been loyal customers since the days when The Shark was located at 45th Street. The food is delicious of course, but what we really love is the quality ingredients. The Shark was dishing out locally sourced, organic dishes well before it was a buzzword slapped on every box, menu, and marquee. Needless to say when we heard Travis and Jody were taking over Peppers West, we had to get the inside scoop.
The new restaurant, to be called Culture Authentic Eatery, will be fast-casual; a dining style that has taken over metropolitan areas like New York City and D.C. over the past few years. Think a few steps above Panera, Chipotle or Cosi – an absence of full table service but with the presence of higher quality food than fast-food restaurants. Order from the counter and enjoy at your convenience at Culture or on the go (as West Ocean City office dwellers, this was magical music to our ears). Food will also be available to order ahead of time via both a mobile app and online. The seating area will be casual, with a mixed variety of sofas and chairs. There’s even beer and wine to sip on while you wait or as you enjoy your meal. Oh it gets better too…
The food concept is one of the more unique designs we’ve seen. Aptly named Culture, the menu will change on an annual basis, with the theme of the décor and the menu centered around a different culinary culture each year. So for example, American street food one year, Mayan the next, and so on. Up first? Peruvian. Staples and customer favorites will remain on the menu year after year, such as the Peruvian-style rotisserie chicken, which will come as a ¼, ½ and whole chicken. “Annually, the culture will change,” explained Jody. “The mainstays will stay the same but the sauces and the sides will change annually. It will be a pretty simple menu, but still developed and well-rounded enough that everyone can find something good.” “We’re never going to change things drastically, but enough to keep it interesting,” explained Travis.
The inspiration for the idea was born primarily from Travis and Jody’s love for traveling and exploring new culinary cultures. “When we travel, we like to experience different parts of the world and embrace the culture of where we travel and of the local community,” said Jody. In fact, the duo made a recent trip to Peru to ensure they were on point with their inspirations for the first year’s menu and décor. Menu ideas, artwork, textiles, and local flavor from the trip will all be infused into the restaurant.
The idea for the Peruvian-style rotisserie chicken (to be featured on the menu) has been a long-time dream for Travis, who grew up in the D.C. area where Peruvian restaurants are abundant. “I’ve been obsessed with this chicken since I was 14 or 15 years old,” he explained. From there, Travis and Jody began tossing around ideas, settling on a fast-casual concept. “You don’t always have time to sit down, so we look for places like this to eat,” said Jody. After a year of ironing out details and honing their concept, the pair started looking for the perfect place, making sure not to rush into a spot that wasn’t attuned to their vision. “We took our time and when this became available, everything just fell into place,” she said. As frequent customers of Peppers West and friends of Denny-O, they also plan to dedicate a space of the restaurant to Peppers.
Another major aspect will be building a strong community vibe within the fast-casual restaurant. For example, local artwork will be featured throughout the space. They also hope to create the ideal spot for families and local sports teams to come to pick up food after a game or to celebrate as a team. The goal is to create an atmosphere where customers can relax, do work (courtesy of the free WiFi), catch up with friends, or just unwind during a lunch break or at the end of the day. “It’s more relaxing than a fast food chain,” explained Jody. “We really want that good energy. And a place where you can feel good about what you are eating.”
Sustainability is also paramount for the couple, said Travis, “it’s all about sustainability; it’s a very earthy feel.” Eco-friendly packaging and bamboo plates are just a few of the environmentally conscious features to expect.
Like The Shark, Culture will be open year-round. When asked about the ever-expanding restaurant scene in West Ocean City, Travis and Jody both agreed that the area was evolving into a terrific dining destination for locals and visitors. “The more year-round businesses the better,” said Travis. “To us, the more the better,” agreed Jody, adding, “we all believe there is more value in having West Ocean City as a dining destination.” They both also gave credit to the area culinary programs, for helping to foster the burgeoning culinary scene in Worcester County.
So you’re probably wondering by now when you can get in the door and start racking up points on your Culture loyalty card (which by the way will be called the Culture Club). An April or May opening date is the goal, with both Travis and Jody agreeing on May 1st as the latest date. Until then, stay tuned…
**Note: At the time of this interview, renovations were heavily underway so look for future photos and follow-up articles!**