What a long strange trip it’s been!
The Grateful Dead certainly didn’t have Rehoboth restaurants in mind when they titled that 1977 album, but 2011 has left a trail of openings, closings, renovations, false starts, failures - and even the occasional arrest. A long strange trip, indeed.
Last winter I wrote about the ghost town that was Wilmington Avenue. Only the brave lights of Mariachi, Espuma, Henlopen City Oyster House, Rehoboth Ale House and Confucius remained lit to guide off-season diners southward.
Then Ken Gerhart and Beal Thomas made a valiant attempt to resurrect the former home of Manos, Confetti’s, Dos Locos and Retro Grill, promising live music and late hours at their Cosmopolitan Grill. Across the street, skilled restaurateur Tony Nomikos exorcised the shadows from the long-vacant original Cultured Pearl. He firmly believed that his moderately priced Tuscan Grill would tempt hungry visitors to Wilmington Avenue. So far, so good.
Bethany Beach developer Ken Heaps added his Cajun-flavored Cypress to the parade of tenants at 37 Wilmington that included Square One, Yum Yum, Shag and Atlantic Jazz Yard. His ambitious plans also involved the empty shell of La La Land. Tables remained eerily set behind darkened windows as signs vowed (and finally delivered) Mallory Square Fish House. It’s too early to predict what the late-season opening (and the arrest of the owner for allegedly selling liquor without a license) might mean for Mallory Square. A midsummer Romeo’s popped up in the old Oasis Convenience Store corner, only to pop out six weeks later. What was that all about?
The original Eden became Taste, Taste became Blue, and Blue became Cilantro. Out on Coastal Highway, Marty McDonnell realized his dream of a Ledo’s Pizza franchise while the local Five Guys owners flipped burgers in Lewes, Rehoboth and Bethany Beach. Deli 88 touted sandwiches and subs, and Josh, Derek, Mike & Mark’s Big Chill Surf Cantina wooed board lovers with light Mexican fare.
The Boardwalk Plaza Zerbys turned Oby Lee into The Point Coffee Shop and Bakery, and across the street, Home & Company morphed into Philly-based PrimoHoagies. Matt Haley and Bryony Zeigler installed Matt’s Fish Camp into the old Seaside Grill just in time to say a fiery goodbye to Catch 54 in Fenwick. They’re already rebuilding.
Dewey Beach Club became Scraps. Scraps became Port Dewey. Jake’s Wayback Burgers opened in the middle of a hurricane with identical twins at the helm. Next door, Wu’s Kitchen became the third in their trio of Sussex eateries. Lauren and Ed Ristenbatt reopened the revamped Café Solé as the island-flavored Solé, while Chris McKeown absorbed Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory to make a grander Agave. Eden’s Mark Hunker and Jeff McCracken lifted JAM Bistro from a basement into the storied Camel’s Hump. Touch of Italy opened a second location in Lewes with sit-down dining and a wood-burning oven. Pete and Noula Panagakos shuttered Zorba’s in favor of Turquoise in Bethany Beach.
2011 certainly gaveth, and most definitely tooketh away. One of the first to fall was the co-branded A&W/KFC next to Camelot. Cosmopolitan Grill expired after barely 60 days, but Rob Stitt and Matt Sprenkle stepped in as Shorebreak Lodge. Again, so far, so good.
Salt Air’s Jonathan Spivak was sidelined for health reasons, and the restaurant sadly followed suit shortly thereafter. Marty’s dream and Ledo’s light and flaky crust became the stuff of history in late fall. After a franchisor/franchisee dustup, the Lewes Five Guys went dark. But not for long: Pat’s Pizzeria is adding another location to the four-state chain. Next door, Barista Café went the way of all flesh. In the Villages of Five Points, M. Gallucio’s closed under reportedly unpleasant circumstances, as longtime Rehoboth landmark Seaside Thai gave up the ghost in late summer.
But the beat goes on. A long-awaited Panera Bread is breaking ground across from Starbucks on the highway, as Alison Blyth relights Deli 88 with Go Brit!, a variation on her popular Go Fish!
The siren song of restauranting is hard to resist, and only the strong survive. As we peek into 2012, I guarantee even more surprises. So keep an eye on The Business of Eating, and I sincerely thank you for persevering on the other end of this keyboard. Have a delicious New Year!