There are two reasons to visit the north end of Ocean City’s Boardwalk early in the morning: to see the sun rise over the shoreline, and to beat the line for fresh fried doughnuts at Brown’s Restaurant.
At 6:30 a.m., the staff at Brown’s is ready for the morning rush. As the oil in the restaurant’s two doughnut-making machines heats up, the sweet scent of fried dough envelops the block, working better than any “open for business” sign. It is 10 minutes until Brown’s officially opens, but a small line begins to form at the window that‘s quite impressive for a midweek day.
“We’ll get the machines going when we come in, and we don’t shut them off until 11:30,” said Brown’s doughnut maker Jack Foster.
Foster, 21, of Egg Harbor Township, has worked at Brown’s for “as long as (he’s) legally been allowed to work,” starting as a busboy. He now staffs the doughnut shack window and leads the “doughnut boy” crew.
“I like getting to talk to people and see the familiar faces. You get build relationships with the customers, especially the locals,” he said.
Working at a shore business often means coming in for the season and counting down until the last day of work, but Foster said he has loved working for the family–owned restaurant.
While Foster has four years under his belt, owner Jim Brown, 55, has been there since he was 13 years old.
Started as a summer gig by Pennsylvania teachers Marjorie and Harmon Brown, the restaurant is celebrating 42 years in Ocean City. Now the second generation, Jim Brown and his wife, Melissa, are running the “almost famous” family restaurant.
“We came up with that when Melissa and I were designing our sign,” Brown said. “I’ve worked here my whole life; I know it’s a tradition for a lot of people and families, but I mean, who are we to say we’re famous?”
The growing number of morning boardwalkers and bike riders stopping to get in line may prove they actually are famous.
Back in the shack, Foster uses a large countertop stand mixer to make the first batch of batter, a homemade recipe. As he fills two automated dispensers on the restaurant’s two doughnut frying machines, a second batch of batter is already in the works.
Four young men staff their stations in the cramped doughnut-making area, taking and fulfilling the first orders of the day.
For Brown’s, simplicity is key when it comes to the confections. The toppings, chocolate and vanilla frosting, powdered sugar and cinnamon sugar “beach sand” are mixed and placed in large bowls. Sean Kelly, 20, flings a freshly cooked doughnut into the vanilla frosting to get a good coating.
It takes each Mark II machine 125 seconds to make two doughnuts, which means for the 4½ hours Brown’s serves breakfast, about 500 doughnuts are funneled, fried and served.
The thought of spending a summer waking up at dawn, cramming into a small kitchen space and standing over hot frying oil may turn some off from the idea of indulging in the occasional doughnut, but Foster and his co-workers laugh and admit they still eat at least one doughnut a day.
“I’ll go home, and my clothes, my hair, will smell like doughnuts, but it’s not the worst,” said Marty Cattie, 18, of Ocean City.
The limited supply adds a bit of exclusivity to the treats. According to Foster, demand comes in early.
“We have people who stop at the window after 11:30 and they’re disappointed they missed out,” said Foster. “We’ll make the doughnuts until the line dies down and we’ll have the rest at the counter — but we’ll sell quick.”