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The Memorial Day dash to nowhere

May 12, 2017

Before our little beach town became the culinary destination that it is today, it was virtually unheard of for a restaurant to open after Memorial Day. “But that’s the big day,” owners shouted breathlessly. “We just HAVE to be open by then or ....” But very few actually thought ahead enough to complete that sentence. 

That out-of-breath rush to the finish line would sometimes end up as a recipe for disaster. Year after year, I watched restaurant after restaurant cut corners on server training (especially on the computer, or POS as the sauce-splattered cognoscenti call it), menu creation, and kitchen systems and procedures so they could open their doors on that magical Friday - with the paint still wet on the walls and servers still wet behind the ears. And there they sat - unprepared - in the Memorial Day crosshairs to be descended upon by weekend visitors who would be gone by mid-day Monday. Computer breakdowns, service breakdowns and nervous breakdowns often resulted in unfortunate experiences for expectant customers - many of them leaving with their fingertips angrily clicking away on Yelp. And for what? Two days that are gone as quickly as they came? It’s no secret that there’s very little difference in restaurant traffic between the week following Memorial Day and pretty much any week in late April or early May. 

One of the more recent and rather brazen departures from this false deadline was the opening of Bramble & Brine on Rehoboth Avenue. They opened in October several years ago, to the solemnly shaking heads of the naysayers (including yours truly, in fact). We know-it-alls were quickly proven wrong. Seats at the well-run restaurant quickly became the holy grail of dining, and until they closed their doors last year over family issues, reservations were an absolute must. Other restaurants that took their time (or are taking their time) to open include the Touch of Italy on Coastal Highway, the future Bluecoast in Gateway Center, Minh’s Bistro next door to Rosenfeld’s, Miyagi Ramen Bar, and several other area eateries that will probably still have brown paper on the windows over Memorial Day weekend. 

Interestingly, I have encountered several restaurant owners who proudly told me that they ran themselves ragged to open by Memorial Day - and that “...everything was OK.” Well, one of the interesting perks of doing what I do is that customers often email me with their comments and complaints rather than informing a restaurant of their dissatisfaction. It’s all I can do to zip my lip when owners crow of their last-minute Memorial Day openings - without seeing what popped up in my email box over the weekend. So why go through all that stress and expense just to be open for two days - and not put your best foot forward? Many of the new restaurateurs are finally getting it, and I’m hearing it more and more: “We’ll open when we’re ready.” 

It’s finally sinking in that it’s not just about June, July and August any more. We’re moving closer and closer to a year-round paradigm as the Zagat, James Beard, TripAdvisor and other accolades continue to be showered on our Culinary Coast. First impressions do indeed count, and smart restaurateurs are making sure they can take the heat - both in the kitchen and in the dining room - when it finally comes time to transform their construction site into a smoothly running restaurant.

  • So many restaurants, so little time! Food writer Bob Yesbek gives readers a sneak peek behind the scenes, exposing the inner workings of the local culinary industry, from the farm to the table and everything in between. He can be reached at byesbek@capegazette.com.

    Masthead photo by Grant Gursky. Used with permission from Coastal Style Magazine.

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