If family history holds, the fifth-generation owners of Busch’s Seafood in Sea Isle City can expect to turn the business over to the sixth generation in the year 2030.
There is a sixth generation, Tyler, 9, and Logan, 5, sons of fifth generation owners Al and Kin Schettig, who in 1998 joined Kim’s parents, fourth generation owners George and Linda Phillips, in the 120-year-old business.
George Phillips, whose great-grandfather George Busch started Busch’s as a hotel in 1882 before his son, George Busch, Jr. established the restaurant in 1912, is convinced Busch’s will survive because of its consistency. “And big portions,” Kim Schettig says.
“If you got something here 30, 40 years ago, and you brought your kids back after telling them about it, it would be the same as you remembered” Phillips says.
There’s a reason for that. Most of Busch’s employees are lifers, people who have spent almost as much time in the business as Phillips, who took over from his parents, Anna M. Busch and Philip Phillips, in 1962. Phillips’ 38 years running the restaurant currently gives him more seniority than anyone, but there have been empoyees, like cook David Christopherson and waitress Ellie Davalio, with 42 and 40 years, respectively, who predated him.
Wanda Bock, whose job it was to make the restaurant’s top secret deviled crabs, spent 50 years in Busch’s kitchen. That recipe, which originated with Phillips’ grandmother, is so closely guarded that Phillips says no more than six people have used it in 90 years.
Today, several waitresses have worked at Busch’s for 25 years, and a broiler cook, Bob Castle has put in more than 30 years. They are among the 86 employees, 21 of whom work in the kitchen, that keep Busch’s 425-seat, city block-long restaurant humming six nights a week in the summer.
For Phillips, an only child, working at Busch’s was never a question. He started shucking clams for chowder for a penny apiece when he was 9 years old, and cleaning fish for 3 cents apiece when party boats docked.
“I’d make $3 or $4 a day,” he says, “It was good movie money.”
Changes have come gradually to Busch’s. Al Schettig, who spent 20 years in marketing and sales, joined his wife, who has a master’s degree in hotel and restaurant management from Johnson & Wales, in the last two years in the restaurant. They’ve allowed chef Joe Marzalek, a graduate of the Restaurant School in Philadelphia and survivor of casino kitchens, to introduce specials to Busch’s menu of traditional fried and broiled seafood selections.
Stuffed, grilled tuna with an herb crust, 12-ounce filet mignon stuffed with crab meat, and salmon in a cognac sauce are some of the dishes Marszalek has tried out. One of Schettig’s broiled shrimp topped with a crab cake, was so popular as a special last year that it’s been added to the menu this year.
The Schettig’s are secretive about Busch’s signature items as the previous four generations have been. Bon Appetit magazine contacted the restaurant for its she crab soup and deviled crab recipes, the owners declined to publish them.
She crab soup, served on Sundays and Tuesdays, was created by cook Vincent Barberi, who worked for Phillips’ father. He died about nine years ago, Phillips says, and the soup-making job was passed on to Christopherson, who died two years ago. Al Shettig is now the keeper of the recipe and the maker of the soup.
“Others have tried to make it, but they can’t,” Phillips ays, “There’s a certain sweetness to ours that others can’t match.” The soup is so popular that 40 gallons of it sell out before closing time on the two nights a week it is offered.
Other big sellers at Busch’s are the softshell crab dishes when in season, the Jersey Shore platter ( baked deviled crab, baked deviled clam, fried scallops, fried shrimp, fried flounder and petite lobster tail) and the Eastern Shore platter (baked deviled crab, fried softshell crab and crab meat au gratin en casserole.)