Jimmy's Kitchen: waking up the shore
It hardly seems like a time frame that any restaurant owner could advertise and get by on: 6:30 a.m. until 1 in the afternoon. But for Jimmy Mourlas, owner and head chef of Jimmy’s Kitchen in Fenwick Island, business has been quite prosperous since they first opened in 2001.
Now approaching their seventh summer, Mourlas boasts he has found the perfect balance of hospitality, cuisine and dedication to keep customers coming back.
It’s hard to credit any single thing to the long line that forms at the restaurant each morning, though Maurlas said he’s not complaining. “A big part of it, for me,” he said, “is that everyone likes working here. It’s not a long shift, and everyone is able to stay on the same page.”
Jimmy’s Kitchen brings the familiar comfort of home-style cooking to the restaurant plate, with a full breakfast lineup ranging from French toast, pancakes, hash browns, omelets and the regulars’ favorite — chipped beef with gravy, or S.O.S.
Mourlas and cook Tim Moeser have been known to dish out 400 meals on a Saturday or Sunday. In the heart of the summer, the two have even pushed out an impressive 74 breakfasts an hour. “That’s really a lot of meals for two guys,” said Mourlas, “but we make it work.”
His secret to staying focused when orders are flying through? “L-O-V-E,” he said. “You really have to like what you do. And if you’re not ready, you’re going to get in the weeds, bad. We have regulars who come in and get the same thing, which might help with ticket times. Preparation is a lot of it, too.”
It’s not uncommon for Mourlas or Moeser to start their day at 4:30 in the morning, prepping up gallons of their S.O.S. — and the makings of all their other menu items — by hand, making sure they can accommodate the hungry customers that will soon await them.
With doors currently open Friday through Sunday, Mourlas said the weekday hiatus this year will only last six weeks in all — a significantly shorter length than the traditional 10-week winter schedule.
“Around this time, we’ll add another day or two each month, until summer gets here,” he said. Progressing into March, customers will be pleased to see the Open sign in Jimmy’s Kitchen’s window on Mondays and Thursdays, too.
The early hours aren’t discouraging any customers, either. With breakfast running from 6:30 a.m. until 11, and a lunch lineup of soups and sandwiches rounding out the early afternoon, Jimmy’s Kitchen has grown accustomed to seeing a full dining room on a daily basis.
Sundays commonly draw in a late-morning crowd, as hungry customers stop in after church services. “We might stay open later in the afternoon as we get into this summer,” Mourlas said. “We’re still trying to work some things out with that.”
On the busiest summer days, Mourlas said he has had some customers grow impatient with the wait. “I usually tell them to come back during the week,” he said, “when it’s going to be less crowded. As for everyone who eats here, though, I don’t hear any complaints.”
He mentioned that one of the main reasons people like his restaurant is because of the familiarity. “We’re a lot like your own kitchen,” he said, “only you don’t have to clean your dishes. This area is a real ‘meat and potatoes’ area. People want bacon and eggs for breakfast. That’s what’s going to sell.”
Mourlas is no stranger to the restaurant environment, having worked at well-known establishments, including a 12-year stretch at General’s Kitchen in Ocean City, as well as a brief turn at Bonfire. “I had worked the night shifts, but didn’t like them so much,” Mourlas said.
It was primarily through his work at General’s Kitchen, alongside former restaurant owner Gus Bollas, that Jimmy started to gear his specialty toward the meal that starts everyone’s day. “A lot of people want to be in the NBA or be a famous baseball player. For me, I wanted to have my own breakfast house.”
His parents both worked in the airline industry, taking away much more time from family than he had wanted. Today, Mourlas is very family-oriented, spending as much time as he can with his wife and kids. His father-in-law, longtime Ocean City mayor Roland “Fish” Powell, helps with the register every weekend.
“I owe him a lot of credit for this place. When he first came in, it was nice,” Mourlas said. “A lot of the people up this way went to school with him, and they came in to see him. It definitely helped boost my business.”
That close-knit, family mentality is carried with him each day with his employees. “We all look out for each other here,” he said. “Everyone works together and gets along. Even the customers become like part of the family.”
And Jimmy’s Kitchen is constantly drawing in a crowd, from first-timers to dedicated diners. “You find that a lot of people here and in Ocean City, even the college kids, would get up early for breakfast,” he said, though the younger crowd makes up only a fraction of the clientele that Mourlas is used to seeing in Fenwick Island, especially this time of year. “We get a lot of local and retired folks on this side of town,” he said.
“You’ve got Selbyville and Bishopville, everybody coming down [Route] 54. It’s not like Ocean City, where you see more stragglers. We see new people and the regulars all day — every day. There are different people and there are some that come in a couple times a day.”
Ocean City radio personality DJ Batman has stopped in for a bite, as has Baltimore Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr. “That was really exciting,” said Mourlas. “He was definitely the most famous customer I have ever fed.”
In addition to high demand, breakfast foods turned out to be a much more affordable offering in the restaurant world, according to Mourlas. “Overhead is everything in a restaurant. You can throw eggs and bacon away if they go bad, and it’s not going to hurt you too much,” he said. “You start losing lobster tails, filet and a bushel of crabs — that’s high dollar.”
For more information on Jimmy’s Kitchen, call (302) 537-2423.