Spotlight On… Morey’s Piers!
In 1996, Steve Izenour, an American architect, urbanist, and theorist, had some thoughts for the revitalization of Wildwood, a mere stone’s throw from the brewery. In a letter to Jack Morey, the second-generation owner of Morey’s Piers, he advised against attempting to become another poor, homogenized imitation of a Disney theme park.
“Rather, your strategy should be to make the most of what you have,” he wrote. “What Wildwood is, is one of the last really down and dirty, TACKY with a capital T, beach resorts. What you need to do is take Tacky to new heights.”
Now celebrating their fiftieth year of business, Jack Morey and his team have been concentrating their efforts over the past twenty-three years on doing exactly that: creating a destination of such refined Tackiness that not even Disney could beat them at their game.
And, to help celebrate, we brewed up a crisp, clean, and ridiculously approachable Kölsch-style ale, Wild Wooder, available at eateries throughout the Piers.
On the hottest day of the year, with our plans to meet at Jumbo’s having been stifled by the stifling heat, we sat in Morey’s meeting room — painted to resemble a day on the Wildwood beaches and emblazoned with a reminder to make each day memorable for every guest. Overlooking the flashing lights of the Piers, the ubiquitous gulls screamed and yelled overhead in their attempt to assert dominance over the throngs of visitors — and, perhaps, to snag a french fry from the hand of an unsuspecting guest. Braving the heat and the humidity undaunted, the revelers at Morey’s Piers try their hand at one of the many games of chance or attempt to catch what slight breeze there might be at the top of the Ferris wheel, the bells and whistles below insisting upon Morey’s Piers’ sole reason for existence: unrelenting joy.
Jack began his career at Morey’s selling balloons on the boardwalk when he was nine years old, working for his father Will and uncle Bill.
“We had the first ride in 1969, which was the giant slide,” he remembers, “and some smartass threw cigarettes at my balloons, and I ran upstairs and cried to my mother. Now, just a few months ago, my brother admitted that it was him.”
In those early days, the Morey family was known more for hotels and Boardwalk concessions than rides and games, instrumental in helping to develop the doo-wop look and feel of Wildwood that persists to this day.
“At the time, we were a Boardwalk attraction — a carnival, if you will,” he recalls. “That was the time we started to do a lot more travel.”
It was the renaissance of theme parks — Disneyland opened in ‘55, Disney World ten years later, and Great Adventure in ‘74 — and, over the next twenty years, as new ones popped up, the Morey family would travel to them to get ideas as to how to compete with the big boys.
“It was smart at the time,” Jack says, “but in hindsight, it maybe wasn’t the best of direction — chasing theme parks. Accidentally, we got into the mindset that we could compete with these giant, mega, multi-million dollar places.”
They were slowly learning that the neverending race to build the biggest roller coaster was a recipe for disaster — it could easily wipe out the growth they’d seen to that point.
That’s when Steve Izenour’s letter gave Jack a shove in the right direction.
“With that, we changed the entire paradigm as to how we thought about rides and food and beach views and private space versus public space,” he says. “It changed every single decision we make.”
As Morey’s Piers began to come into their own, they realized that they had two pieces of the puzzle — rides and water parks — but, to create a stable foundation, they needed a three-legged stool, opening Jumbo’s in ‘99 and Joe’s Fish Co. shortly thereafter.
“We had our more traditional water park food offerings,” says Jordan Morey, Jack’s son and Jumbo’s Food and Beverage Manager, “but it was really about five or six years ago that we realized that if we were going to expand our business, it was going to be through food and beverage.”
In 2005, Morey’s brought on an Executive Chef for the first time: Chef Wally Jurusz, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, having cut his teeth at such famed eateries as the Four Seasons Hotel in Philadelphia and the Washington Inn in Cape May.
“Before that, we didn’t really have anyone with professional culinary experience,” says Maggie Wisniewski, Public Relations Manager at Morey’s, “so we brought him on to reinvent our menus and give us a fresh perspective through his expertise.”
Maggie credits Wally with elevating Morey’s food offerings.
“We started to think outside of traditional Boardwalk food,” says Tim Samson, Morey’s Director of Marketing.
Part of thinking outside the box meant bringing on our brews. You’ll be able to find CMBC at many of the eateries throughout Morey’s; however, no one could remember exactly when we first became available.
“It was before my time,” Sales Manager Richie Rallo said.
“Wally, for a while, was doing the ordering for all the locations,” Jordan says, “and it was before my time in Food and Beverage. When I started in the full-service role, it had always been Miller Lite and Cape May IPA — those were the two top-selling beers in our system.”
Tim couldn’t remember the year, but he thought it was when Morey’s started expanding their alcohol offerings.
“I don’t know, but we’d be interested in that information,” Tim laughed.
“Cape May is such a recognizable name,” Jordan says. “People associate their vacation with what they’re drinking. When you have a name like Cape May and follow it up with that taste, it’s just something memorable and people enjoy it.”
Each of Morey’s locations generally has between two and three tap handles with our name on them.
“We have a lot of local breweries now,” he says, “but people are often drawn to the Cape May name.”
Jordan says that if anyone’s looking to venture away from the “more traditional” beers, Morey’s guests ask about Cape May first.
“Out of all the local breweries, Cape May has the highest brand recognition,” Tim says. “People try it because they want to try something local when they’re on vacation, and they continue to buy it because of the quality.”
Morey’s began their relationship with us carrying Cape May IPA in the water park, and, as they expanded their offerings, began carrying both Honey Porter and IPA at Joe’s Fish Co. and at Jumbo’s.
“Oktoberfest sales are great, too,” Jordan laughs. “I almost drank you guys dry last year.”
“Down at Joe’s for a few years, The Bog did very well,” Jordan says. “But then, this year, we added Wild Wooder into the mix.”
At this point, Morey’s could have gone to any number of breweries in their back yard to partner with on Wild Wooder, and we’re honored they’ve chosen to stay by our side for so long, particularly with such a momentous milestone.
“We have a lot of the same interests within the community,” Tim says. “You give back. We give back. There are a lot of synergies within the brands, and, quite honestly, we knew it would sell because our guests love Cape May stuff. It was kind of a no-brainer.”
Wild Wooder has proved extremely popular with Morey’s visitors.
“Do you have any more?” Jordan quips, referring to the fact that Morey’s has gone through an entire batch of Wild Wooder in just over a month-and-a-half — far faster than anyone expected. “There’s a story that goes along with it that makes it really easy to sell.”
Furthermore, as a style, Kölsch is wildly underrepresented. Crisp, clear, and refreshing — and with a low, 4.7% ABV, terribly drinkable — it’s a great beer for sipping while out in the heat of the summer.
“We were a little nervous when we heard Kölsch,” Jordan laughs, “but you won me over. People have been super receptive to it. We definitely tell the story when people ask about it, we certainly push it. Once people have one, they absolutely love it. I mean, it’s so approachable. It’s a great summertime beer; it’s really drinkable. And it really fits multiple different beer drinkers: your traditional beer drinker, your craft beer drinker. It kind of fits with the summer body, as well, with it being only 4.7%.”
“It’s something lighter that I think is more approachable than some of the heavier stuff we carry,” Tim agrees.
Available at many of the dining options available at Morey’s, Wild Wooder ends up pairing well with each menu. Each of Morey’s eateries serves a different purpose: the menus run the gamut of cuisine, ranging from contemporary cuisine to traditional Boardwalk fare.
“At Joe’s Fish Co., you’ll find your trendier options,” he explains, “at Stubborn Bros., you’ll find your California cuisine with all the avocados and poke and fish tacos. Back at Pigdog Beach Bar, it’s kind of a low-country barbecue theme. Wilhelm’s Bier Garten is Oktoberfest German fare. And then at Jumbo’s, it’s probably your most traditional Boardwalk theme.
“With that many different offerings, you kind of have the opportunity to dip into all those different types of foods.”
While it’s important for Morey’s to keep up with what’s popular, some things remain the same. Jordan’s worked at many of the Morey’s restaurants, and, while he loved the food and the beers and the cocktails at Joe’s Fish Co., he tried to move the same concepts a half-mile south to Jumbo’s, and it simply didn’t work.
“People still come to the Boardwalk for pizza and french fries,” he says. “When you’re in Wildwood and you’re on Mariner’s Pier, people want Boardwalk food. So, our goal is to offer the highest-quality Boardwalk food possible.”
Aside from the variety of the menus at each of Morey’s eateries, the ambiance differs at each one, as well.
“Joe’s is really diverse because it can kind of be your date-night spot, but it’s also a great spot to go with your family, as well,” Jordan says. “We get a lot of families that would come up, the kids would ride the rides right around the rooftop bar, and the kids would come running up while the parents would be having a couple of drinks, and then they’d all go out on the boards with their family.”
Stubborn Bros. at Ocean Oasis Water Park & Beach Club is a little more laid back than Pigdog Beach Bar at Raging Waters, Jordan tells us.
“At Stubborn Bros. and Ocean Oasis, you get a little more of the island theme,” he says, “more frozen drinks, but, really, all of our locations are family-oriented. We’re not the type of place that you’re gonna come out and find a bunch of college students. Pigdog’s probably a little more rustic, but, again, it’s for families.”
With its huge bar, beach games, and easy access from Wildwood’s famed beaches, Pigdog is a favorite for beachgoers. And, while nearly all of the Morey’s venues have daily live entertainment, usually solo acts, Pigdog hosts a Summer Concert Series featuring bands in the evenings from 5-8pm through the second Saturday in August.
Ultimately, Jack sees Morey’s Piers as a function of personalities — of the generation before him and the one coming up behind him — combining to create an uncultured culture in Wildwood.
Jack recognizes that Wildwood’s Tacky-with-a-capital-T isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay.
“We may not be for everybody, but we are for anybody,” Jack says. “Entertaining the masses is critically important to our values. We can’t be just for kids. We’re for the kid in all of us. So, we have to entertain the whole family. That’s where Jordan specifically comes into play. The places that we’re trying to continue to grow — whether it’s Pigdog or Stubborn Bros. or Joe’s — they all have their niche and their spot.”
“At the end of the day,” Jordan says, “we’re in the business of providing for families, making sure they’re having a good time and a memorable experience.”
And Tacky. With a capital T.
You can find Cape May Brewing Company beers at Jumbo’s Grub & Pub, Wilhelm’s Bier Garten, Pigdog Beach Bar & BBQ, Joe’s Fish Co., and Stubborn Bros. Beach Bar & Grille — all on the Wildwood Boardwalk. For more information see www.moreyspiers.com.