Rehoboth dining: It all started with Vic and Joyce
Regular visitors to this page know about my love for the history of Rehoboth-area dining. More than one coffee break here at the Cape Gazette has been spent with a certain editor (I’ll refer to her simply as “Trish Vernon” to protect her privacy) competing to see who can most accurately name the parade of restaurants past. She always wins. That’s probably why they call her “Editor.”
I am honored to be a part of the upcoming Beach Eats exhibit at the Rehoboth Beach Museum. I’m looking forward to working with director Nancy Alexander to help piece together the jigsaw puzzle depicting who opened what and where, and who did it first. Two names appear over and over on many of those puzzle pieces, so imagine my surprise when I learned that none other than Victor Pisapia recently returned to Rehoboth for a visit, attending a dinner party at the home of Joyce Felton. The undisputed king and queen of upscale dining in Rehoboth - together again!
If you live here in Rehoboth and you’re wondering who these people are, shame on you. Victor and Joyce pretty much singlehandedly pioneered the reputation for fine dining that Rehoboth enjoys today. Thirty-two years ago, Pisapia (then co-owner of the Back Porch Café - already open for six years) and New York caterer (and part-time Back Porch hostess) Felton maxed out their credit cards, sold Pisapia’s car and shouted out the winning bid to purchase an old Victorian beach house on Baltimore Avenue.
Their dream of a low-key, über frou-frou eatery with candles flickering on darkened walls alongside a quiet bar with just a hint of soft background music didn’t have time to come true. The Blue Moon was an immediate success, with diners flocking to the Nation’s Summer Capital to experience something other than corn dogs, cheesesteaks and pizza. The bar took off, quickly becoming the place to see and be seen. Stories about the Moon’s occasionally chequered past have grown into part of what makes Rehoboth Rehoboth. Nobody can say that it hasn’t been a wild ride, with Tijuana Taxi, the Surfside Diner, Westside Café and the alluringly infamous Strand nightclub riding the crest of the wave. Former newspaper reporter Barry Price calls it “the golden era of entrepreneurial Rehoboth.”
Joyce Felton lives nearby and enjoys retirement with her longtime partner, Susannah Griffin. Victor Pisapia is still very much the entrepreneur. VictorsFood provides multifaceted services such as cooking classes, food tours, parties, special events, corporate cooking/team-building activities, and forays into gastrotourism. He resides in Sydney, Australia, with his partner Jim Bahr, who, along with Steve Elkins and Murray Archibald, was instrumental in creating CAMP Rehoboth and the popular Letters from CAMP Rehoboth. The publication has grown from a four-page typewritten newsletter to the professionally produced magazine it is today. They all have most certainly left their mark on Rehoboth Beach!
If Victor and Joyce are the pioneers, there are many others who followed in their footsteps to eventually assemble the assortment of eateries for which Rehoboth is so well known. Names like Sydney Arzt, Kevin Reading, Siri Svasti, Dominick Pulieri, Harry Tsoukalas and his brothers, Chip Hearn and his father, Marilyn Spitz and Alison Blyth are just a few that come to mind.
Resort dining is nothing short of a challenge. The season is short, and too many establishments compete for too few patrons in the winter. But, as the off-season becomes less of a ghost town and more of an eight-month shoulder season, even some national chains are taking notice. And to think it all started with an auction.