REHOBOTH BEACH, Del. (AP) — Regular visitors to downtown Rehoboth Beach’s three popular Thrasher’s French fries establishments know better than to ask for ketchup.
Piping hot fries, cooked in peanut oil, are famously served with only salt and apple cider vinegar.
No ketchup. Not ever.
That’s how it’s been since the concession stand was founded on the Ocean City, Maryland, boardwalk in 1929. There are no plans to deviate from this Eastern Shore tradition at its resort town locations in Ocean City, Rehoboth and Bethany beaches.
Not all tourists know or even care about Thrasher’s history. They just want ketchup. And that has sparked something of a condiment clash with some of Thrasher’s neighboring businesses, particularly Gus & Gus Place.
If you haven’t purchased anything from Gus & Gus, an iconic eatery offering burgers, fried chicken and corn dogs on Rehoboth’s mile-long boardwalk since 1956, don’t ask for ketchup.
They’re not giving away or even selling the condiment to people who are not their customers.
Still, that hasn’t stopped nearby Thrasher’s patrons from demanding ketchup, trying to sneak squirts from Gus & Gus’s ketchup bottles or attempting to walk off with ketchup packets.
It’s become such a problem, the cash-only, family-owned business put up a sign near the counter: “Ketchup is for Gus & Gus food only. No exceptions!”
It hasn’t worked.
“There are people who come over and ask nicely and ask if they can buy some (ketchup) and we tell them no,” says Bill Svolis, 47, who has grown up in the business founded in 1956 by his father, Gus.
“People pretty much cuss at us a lot. It happens almost every day.”
On Aug. 25 at dinnertime, a Thrasher’s customer was so angry he couldn’t have any of Gus & Gus’s ketchup, he yelled at employees and wouldn’t leave the old-school eatery that still has jukeboxes in its booths.
Rehoboth Beach police were called, but Svolis says he’s not sure if they ever showed up. A message left with Rehoboth police was not immediately returned.
A diner named Jeff B. of North Bethesda, Maryland, complained in a July 11 Yelp review about not being able to use Gus & Gus’s ketchup.
“They refused to give my 5-year-old daughter ketchup because they saw one person in our party bought Thrasher’s fries, but we just spent 50 dollars worth of food from them. It’s ketchup. It probably cost them 5 cents a packet…,” he wrote.
Not exactly true, Svolis says. All that free ketchup adds up.
“Ketchup, it ain’t cheap,” he says, adding he pays $30 a case for cans of ketchup that are used to refill the eatery’s squeeze bottles. On the WebstaurantStore website, a case of 1,000 Heinz Ketchup packets costs $29.99.
Gus & Gus Place isn’t anti-ketchup; just the opposite. At their walk-up window and sit-down dining room that hugs the southern part of the boardwalk at the corner of Wilmington Avenue, they gladly offer bottles and ketchup packets for all the foods they sell, including their own peanut oil cooked French fries.
They just won’t give it away.
Svolis says ketchup begging and thievery isn’t new. It’s been rampant for years.
“It’s not just us, it’s every business in town. It happens in Ocean City. It’s been going on for a long time.”
Alex Morari, manager of Louie’s Pizza at 11 Rehoboth Ave., which is close to two other Thrasher’s French fries stands, says he has the same, ongoing ketchup problem as Gus & Gus Place.
He estimates between 20 to 30 people a day come into the family-owned business asking for free ketchup.
“I let people understand right away, ‘I have my customers and Thrasher’s has theirs.’ I have my own fries. I’ll gladly serve them ketchup free when they buy my fries,” Morari says.
At Louie’s Pizza, a Rehoboth landmark for more than 40 years, Morari says he now charges people $1 for a 4-ounce cup of ketchup.
If anyone objects, he lays it out for them: “I say, ‘This is a business. I need to make money. I say, ‘I’m not the Red Cross.'”
Svolis says he has talked to a Thrasher’s manager at the 101 S. Boardwalk location near Gus & Gus Place about the condiment conflicts, but they don’t plan to offer ketchup.
Logan Kline, manager of Thrasher’s French fries on Rehoboth Avenue, says Thrasher’s is following a business model: No deviation from original procedures or original recipes.
And that means: No ketchup.
“It’s a company tradition since 1929,” Kline says. “Some people do have a problem with it. They have their own opinions. Some people argue with us. It’s a rare occurrence that people get super, super angry. I just say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. This is the tradition.'”
Svolis isn’t looking to get into a food war with any Rehoboth business. Gus & Gus Place started off the summer on a sad note. Family patriarch Gus Svolis, a fixture in the seasonal business for more than six decades, suffered a stroke in the eatery on June 29 while sitting at a table with his sons.
“He was almost on his way out,” Bill says. The elder Svolis, who recently turned 88, was hospitalized in Philadelphia and is now recovering in Lewes. “He is making small steps,” his son says.
And while Svolis says there has been talk among family members about Gus & Gus Place selling ketchup to Thrasher’s customers, it’s probably not going to happen.
Like Thrasher’s, Gus Svolis is very firm about maintaining his own time-honored traditions.
“The old man, he refused to do it,” Bill Svolis says. “He said, ‘We’re not here to sell ketchup.'”
Information from: The News Journal of Wilmington, Del., http://www.delawareonline.com