One-stop shopping at Tomato Sunshine

August 14, 2012
Ernie and Donna DeAngelis reign over the fresh produce at Tomato Sunshine.

Did you read the Rehoboth Foodie’s apology in his Beach Paper column last week? A little humility will do that guy some good. Apparently he had picked up some wrong information regarding gyro sandwiches. At least he owned up to it!

People in glass houses and all that, I guess, because now it’s my turn. When I announced the opening of Ivy last spring, I stated that the Dewey Beach eatery/dance club would have a cover charge. To be fair, pretty much everyone in the local papers wrote the same thing - because that’s what we were told. But by the time they opened for business, the Ivy boys had reconsidered the cover charge.

So, in a rare moment of repentance, I’m here to tell you that there is no cover charge at Ivy, except when they have a celebrity DJ. So at about $4 per small plate (five or six will fill you up), an evening at Dewey’s glittering bayfront saloon can be a relatively economical affair - depending of course on how thirsty you are.

See? I can be humble too. We now return you to our regularly scheduled program: Speaking of tomatoes…

Tomato Sunshine has been a fixture in Rehoboth Beach since 1990. Those of you “of a certain age” might remember Bucks County, Pa. native Ernie DeAngelis as the manager of Rehoboth’s Sea Horse restaurant from ‘87 to ‘89. His very first Tomato Sunshine was out on the highway where the Comfort Inn now stands. He had learned a lot as a farmhand in high school, and what he didn’t know he picked up from his friend Donna’s brother. When the Comfort Inn came to that property, Ernie moved his produce stand to the present location near Holland Glade Road on Coastal Highway.

At the time, Donna owned and operated her own open-air market in Newark. She grew up in St. Georges between the nuclear power plant and the oil refinery. “And we had well water,” she smiles. “My grandmother lived to be 92, and I’m still feeling pretty good myself.”  After she and Ernie had known one another for a while, she sold her store in Newark and they got married. Their sons, Julien, 17, Evan, 15, and Biase, 11, all help out at the store.

The first Tomato Sunshine was nothing like the sprawling facility it is today. They had one small building, but their reputation as purveyors of tropical plants traveled far and wide. They supplied golf courses and miniature golf places with majesty palms and hibiscus, with customers driving from Baltimore and Pennsylvania to select from Ernie and Donna’s towering inventory.

In 2008 - on the Tuesday before Mothers’ Day - it all burned to the ground. By the next day, it was as if it never happened, except perhaps for the big tent where the building had been. “Nobody knew we had had a fire,” says Donna, “and by the weekend the place was beautifully decked out for the holiday. Our credit card equipment and phone connections melted, so we couldn’t take credit cards. But everything else was fine.”

Tomato Sunshine has come a long way since tropical plants and fire engines. The plants are still there, along with a variety of unusual cheeses, prepared sauces, jams, relishes, pallets of stone, sod and lots of fresh produce. What they are able to get locally, they do; with corn, cantaloupes, watermelons, perennials and annuals sourced from local Delaware growers.

Autumn brings apples, cider and pumpkins, and local families still carry on the tradition of buying their Christmas trees from Tomato Sunshine and sipping a bit of egg nog with the DeAngelis family. The October clearance sale is another hallowed tradition, as residents in the know stock up on pottery, fountains, stone and other goodies for the following spring. Ernie, Donna and the boys continue to expand their range, and they hope to be carrying fresh baked goods in the near future.

Twenty-two years! They must be doing something right.