Whaleyville’s Oasis ‘A Nice Little Get Away’
WHALEYVILLE — Only about two months from celebrating its seven-year anniversary, Oasis Bar ‘N’ Grill and owner Bobby Riccio are looking to continue to grow the restaurant and focus on special events, including the expansion of the popular Bikes to the Beach program.
Riccio is the first to admit that Oasis’ popularity was never a sure thing when he took over the property. A former police officer, Riccio had noticed that the building and 4.5-acre lot in Whaleyville was for sale while he was out directing traffic. Though he didn’t have any bar or restaurant experience, Riccio said that the property really called to him and he decided to take a chance.
“For me, it was a gamble but it was a life experience,” he said.
It seemed like the gamble might have been a losing one at first. Oasis opened in December of 2006, months before the typical summer rush that brings visitors to the Eastern Shore. Now that he’s more seasoned, Riccio acknowledges that it was an unconventional move.
“Who opens a business on Dec. 1, right before the holidays, the dead of winter, out here after the summer is over?” he asked. “Looking back, if I ever do a bar again I would do almost everything the opposite of what I did.”
The following 18 months were tough, Riccio continued, especially since the bars that had been on the property before Oasis had “rough and tumble” reputations, potentially intimidating customers and causing the Worcester County Board of License Commissioners (BLC) to keep extra eyes on the place. But eventually people started to see that Oasis would be different than anything Whaleyville had seen before, said Riccio.
“I’m not inventing the wheel. I’m just making it run much smoother, much better, much more efficient,” he said.
By bringing on an experienced and creative staff, like manager Craig Morse, Riccio was able to quickly learn what he needed in the bar and restaurant business.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do it without him. He’s been with me the whole time,” Riccio said of Morse.
With the same gambling spirit that moved a police officer to become a bar owner, Riccio began to experiment with the establishment’s image, arriving at the restaurant’s current nickname: The Redneck Riviera.
“It’s out here and you’re in the country. It’s still close enough to Ocean City and Salisbury but it’s a nice little get away,” said Riccio.
Oasis has carved out a niche with outdoor events, being among the first establishments in the area to promote craft beer on a big scale and for being a biker friendly bar that has been able to avoid that “rough and tumble” label that past establishments had to deal with.
Riccio is especially proud of the duality of Oasis. On one hand, it’s very much a biker’s bar and is one of two host locations for Bikes to the Beach events in the autumn and spring, with the third annual spring rally scheduled for April. But at the same time, Oasis is also a laid-back restaurant that everyone will find welcoming.
“It’s not pretentious, prices are reasonable and it’s friendly,” he said.
While Riccio has been steadily expanding Oasis from the beginning, enlarging his outdoor space and performing renovations inside, his main focus right now is in fostering the Bikes to the Beach event, especially the spring portion.
“I really think for the spring rally, we want to get it to the level of the fall rally,” he said.
Along with major sponsors like Fishtales and Jack Daniels and fellow host location Hooper’s Crab House, Oasis is a big supporter of Bikes to the Beach, which is unique, he continued, in that it puts a large emphasis on local bikers.
“We wouldn’t be able to do it without [OC BikeFest and Delmarva Bike Week] and we like to think they wouldn’t be able to do it without us, he said. “But we take more of a localized approach … We need to concentrate on the local businesses and our core value is making sure that these localized businesses continue to grow.”
By expanding the spring piece of Bikes to the Beach, Riccio hopes to pad out the traditional shoulder months in the Ocean City area. If the April Bikes to the Beach event becomes an area staple, Riccio believes the boost to businesses would be strong not just for Oasis but for all of its neighbors as well.