Make mine On The Rocks

Peggy Mitchell, Joe Peltz and Jeanne Blakeslee (l-r) join local pirate-at-large, Lighthouse Pete, in front of a big boat filled with cars. BY BOB YESBEK
July 24, 2012

When I received an email from the executive director of the Delaware River and Bay Authority, I was concerned. After all, what would the guy in charge of the Delaware Memorial Bridge, the Cape May-Lewes Ferry, the Three-Forts Ferry and five (count ‘em, five) regional airports want with me, a humble food writer? Well, OK, a food writer.

Turns out that food was exactly what Scott Green had in mind. In particular, the former senior executive vice president of MBNA/Bank of America, former counsel to the Delaware House of Representatives and former New Castle County attorney wanted me to know about On The Rocks Bar & Grill at the Lewes ferry terminal.

It sounds very municipal and one-size-fits-all - until you go there. Scott’s band of operations managers, directors and food service experts take this place personally. It starts when you perch yourself on a barstool and Ken McEvoy appears, pad in hand, with a cheery, “What’ll ya’ have?” It’s still apparent when you spy the affable Mr. Green (five airports - are you getting this?) at the other side of the bar, laughing with guests as he holds an impromptu staff meeting in the sun.

New Jersey retiree McEvoy and his wife Linda keep the grill hot and the bloody marys flowing while some pretty qualified people work behind the scenes. Food and retail operations at the terminal are shared by Jeanne Blakeslee and Peggy Mitchell. Peggy is a Sussex County girl who honed her skills with none other than Aramark, the professional services and food industry giant. She was also a McDonald’s general manager for 14 years. “I have ketchup in my blood,” she smiles. As a ServSafe, FDA and HACCP trainer, her food safety and sanitation skills are beyond reproach. (For non-restaurant people, those funny words and letters mean that everything’s really clean.)

After working in the nutrition end of home day care, former lifeguard and certified local Jeanne Blakeslee came to the job 16 summers ago, positioning herself on the forefront of customer service. Menu changes not only reflect feedback from day trippers and regulars, but also the many Lewes restaurateurs she calls friends. Green dubs Jeanne “ambassador for On The Rocks,” and credits Peggy with the “brainstorming mayhem” that generated the perfectly descriptive name.

Wilmington native Joe Peltz is spending his second career keeping a close eye on the numbers. Joe brings his management experience at Port of Wilmington to the money matters at the terminal. Many restaurant fans will agree that it’s nice to return and find your favorite eatery still open, and it’s guys like Peltz who make sure that happens.

Of course, the big value-added at On The Rocks are the ferries themselves. Cars line up. Announcements are made. Boats arrive and depart with split-second timing. Repeat. And repeat again. This does not occur by magic, but Wisconsin-born ferry operations manager Heath Gehrke makes it look that way. His never-silent walkie-talkie seems surgically attached as he choreographs the multi-million-dollar ballet of hulking ships, cars, trucks, motorcycles and even bikes. Heath moves a lot of metal and humanity across the Delaware Bay.

The dock bar has actually been there for 15 years. As it grew beyond snacks and a Pepsi, the idea of branding it as a destination was born. Brews from 16 Mile are showcased, and frozen cocktails churn in icy machines while burgers and chicken grill right before your eyes. Musicians perform and events play out as soft crab sandwiches, fried shrimp and flounder pay tribute to Lewes’ maritime roots. Delaware’s Tall Ship, the Kalmar Nyckel, even makes regular visits to the terminal.

Executive Director Green sums it up: “We’re really in the transportation business. But we want food to be part of the experience. What’s better than enjoying yourself with an unmatched view of this incredible asset we have.” For a minute, I though he meant the frozen margarita machine. Turns out he was referring to the Delaware Bay.

  • 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

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

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