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The Busch era is over in Sea Isle, N.J.

By 6.15.10

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SEA ISLE, N.J. -- I don't want to sound like Burt Lancaster in the Louis Malle 1980 film Atlantic City, but the news here today is that Busch's, the granddaddy of the big seafood restaurants on this little stretch of barrier islands, is going to be knocked down in order to make way for more condos. Lancaster, playing a washed up former go-fer for the mob, is reminiscing with a young punk on the boardwalk about the glory days and says, "You should have seen the Atlantic Ocean back then."

It was just five years ago that the current owners of Busch's, the fifth generation of the family to run the restaurant over its 128 consecutive years of operation, attempted in a press interview to put a stop to the fears and rumors that the landmark restaurant was going to be sold or demolished: "There are no plans, not even a thought, of making Busch's into condos."

Well, the allegedly nonexistent thought is now a reality and so are the condo blueprints and it looks like the sixth generation of the family that was waiting in the wings, teenagers Logan and Tyler, already talented in art of cleaning crabs and stacking dishes, is now on the road to becoming something more generic, perhaps accountants or tax attorneys.

Coming to America, George and Anna Busch founded Busch's on the southern end of this barrier island as a small hotel in 1882. That was just six years after Lt. Colonel George Custer made the mistake of taking on the forces of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse in the Battle of Little Big Horn.

What made Crazy Horse even crazier in that battle was the new flood of white prospectors heading westward following the discovery of gold on Sioux lands, producing a string of broken treaties and the corralling of previously freewheeling Indians onto reservations.

Speaking of things related to fire water, John Dougherty reported in the local Beachcomber magazine a while back that it was George Busch's brother Adolphus, similarly entrepreneurial, who headed farther west and joined the Anheuser Brewery, "becoming the 'Busch' in Anheuser-Busch."

Adolphus rose through the ranks the smart way, by marrying the owner's daughter. He wed Eberhard Anheuser's daughter, Lilly, in 1861. To fully seal the deal, Adolphus's brother married Lilly's sister in the same service, providing Mr. Adolphus with two newly minted Busch sons-in-law on the same day.

Three years later, Adolphus began working at his father-in-law's brewery. In 1880, he became president of the company upon Eberhard's death that is today the largest brewing company in America.

Here in Sea Isle, so top secret is Busch's recipe for deviled crab, the restaurant's long-running signature dish, that the owners told the Press of Atlantic City several years ago that the recipe is so closely guarded that "no more than six people have used it in 90 years." It's like the Vatican's covert archives.

The other big news here is that we can sit on our deck and watch 700,000 cubic yards of newly dredged up sand being pumped onto our storm-damaged beach, at a cost per cubic yard of $7.02.

Reimbursement for three-quarters of that $4,914,000 price tag is supposed to come from the state and federal governments, both of which are broke. It's an expense that many environmentalists and my most doctrinaire libertarian friends aren't happy about. Both say to let the ocean go where it wants. Easy to say if you don't own a house on the beach or a boardwalk fudge shop.

In fishing news, the stripers are biting like crazy on clams in the early morning surf. No BP oil yet.

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About the Author
Ralph R. Reiland is the B. Kenneth Simon professor of free enterprise and an associate professor of economics at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh.