The “Beef Wave”

The Beef Wave, approx. 1993. Photo courtesy of Kelly Hewitt-Hunt via Flickr.com

Pizza Delivered Straight To The Bow

By Joe Nawrozki, Baltimore Sun Staff Writer
August 17, 1995

Michael Zinkhan is hunkered down in his small Zodiac boat as it slithers through the weekend traffic jam off Hart-Miller Island.

The importance of his mission is etched on his face as he moves among the boats, swimmers, inner tubes, personal watercraft, anchor lines, sea nettles and other navigational concerns. He weaves right to avoid a woman floating lazily on a device called a “Noodle”; a black retriever bathing in the cool water of the Chesapeake Bay forces him to make a hard left.

Undaunted, he grabs the handset and calls the captain of the mother ship: “I need a beef on white, two fries with vinegar on the side, two slices of pizza . . . got that?”

“Got it,” Joe Lacher answers.

Mr. Zinkhan and Mr. Lacher are part of the stalwart crew of the Beefwave, a chunky, 30-foot pontoon boat that for eight years has been catering to the needs of hungry boaters at Hart-Miller Island.

On a crowded summer weekend, as many as 1,000 boats are anchored off the western shore of the popular bay playground between the mouths of Middle and Back rivers. Some boaters bring food and beverages, but many rely on the Beefwave for fresh sandwiches of beef, ham, barbecue and turkey cooked over a charcoal pit on the boat. Pizza, soft drinks, hot dogs and potato chips are on the menu.

Other entrepreneurs work these waters — including a snowball boat and a pizza boat. But none offers such a broad menu or can boast of such a flow of steady customers as the Beefwave, which anchors a few hundred feet off shore and sends the Zodiac out to hustle business for deliveries, $1 extra.

“I’m here with my family every year and I couldn’t do without the beef boat,” says Michael Calhoun, a radiation oncology specialist at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore. “Just like on land — you offer good food for good prices, people will come back. Plus, we don’t have to pack food to take with us. I hate it when the bread gets soggy in the cooler.”

Like most customers, Mr. Calhoun wades in from his craft, in his case a 20-foot Galaxy runabout anchored about 50 yards away. The waters along the island are usually chest high or less.

Gene Stanley, a letter carrier from Parkville, and his young son Tommy wait for a couple of slices of pizza along the side of the “Beefwave” and talk about the good life.

“Sunshine, friendly people, refreshing water, good food,” Mr. Stanley says, raising his arms to the sky as if in supplication to the gods of summer. “It’s almost like Ocean City, only closer to home.”

The Beefwave is the brainchild of Mr. Lacher, 33, who lives in Bowleys Quarters in eastern Baltimore County. He grew up on the water and knows much of the county’s 173-mile shoreline.

During the week, he works as a boat mechanic with more than 200 customers. On Saturday and Sunday, he feeds the multitudes, weather permitting.

“Joe is one of the hardest working people on the Middle River,” says Joe Sommers, who docks his yacht on Galloway Creek, home port for the Beefwave. “He’s got his own American dream going.”

Officer George Carter, who patrols Hart-Miller as a member of the county police marine unit, has seen other floating enterprises rise and sink off Hart-Miller.

The Beefwave is unique because it has “the smaller rubber craft going from boat to boat taking orders, going to the customers,” he says. “It’s a great service for recreational boaters. It’s a good idea, sorry I didn’t think of it myself.”

On Friday afternoons, Mr. Lacher prepares for his journey by buying at least 200 pounds of beef and smaller amounts of ham and turkey. He also stocks up on pizza, charcoal and other supplies.

Weekend workdays begin at 11 a.m., when he starts the grill, and end about 7 p.m.

Working in the cramped quarters of his boat requires a special brand of dedication. The heat inside, even with the large exhaust fan blowing, can become quite unpleasant when August’s temperatures are in the 90s and no breeze can be found.

But on good weekends, he will sell all of his beef and make up to 100 deliveries on the Zodiac. He would not disclose how much money he has made.

“It gets real crazy out there sometimes because of so many people, boats and other things in the water,” says Mr. Zinkhan, pilot of the small delivery boat.

“And sometimes I’ll take an order from some people, it in, go back to the Beefwave to pick it up, go back with the order and find that they moved their boat. Now that’s something a delivery person for a sandwich shop on land doesn’t have to worry about. But then, for me, I have never been robbed.”

Mr. Zinkhan says his only embarrassing moment occurred when he delivered two pizzas to a boat and his galley crew had forgotten to slice them. He returned to the Beefwave, got the pies cut and returned them to the customers.

One of the secrets to his success, Mr. Lacher says, is that family members work the beef and pizza business with him. His sisters, Roxanne Cargile and Jackie Zinkhan, cook and deal with boat-side patrons. Mr. Lacher’s niece, Kara Lacher, helps in the galley and with customers, some of whom are from Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Wherever they’re from, they wade to reach the beef boat, as it’s known by Hart-Miller regulars.

“This place can be wall-to-wall boats but everyone is nice,” says Glenda Tammy, a Roland Park resident. “I’ve been coming here for about six years but we still call each other by our boat names. It’s like your second neighborhood and when we’re here, we get the beef sandwiches.”

Danielle Albert, 8, of Lancaster, Pa., likes the Beefwave for other reasons: “I like his food and the water is shallow enough; I can wait for my order in the water.”

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