It’s been less than a week since Rehoboth Beach began to mourn the loss of Back Porch chef and co-owner Leo Medisch. And then, on Sunday morning, Tom Kopunek, co-owner of Rehoboth’s Red Square restaurant and JavaByte Café in Midway, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. He leaves behind his wife Victoria and two sons, Ruslan and Philip. Tom was 53.
Born in Washington, D.C. and raised in Pennsylvania, Kopunek has called Rehoboth his home since 1984. He met Victoria while on assignment in Russia as a research chemist, returning to the United States in 1991 to be married. After operating their PostNet franchise in Midway for several years, Tom and Victoria expanded it into the popular Javabyte Café in 2002, providing internet and business printing services as MailBiz. Tom celebrated his love for music by reinventing JavaByte as a venue for local musicians to sharpen their skills.
Victoria missed the ritual of fine-dining so prevalent in her home country, so in 2001 she and Tom created Red Square where they could celebrate her heritage with fine vodkas and rare caviars. In fact, the restaurant’s vodka collection (over 180 varieties) was Tom’s pride and joy. While some locals questioned how Red Square could be quiet while the local fish houses and burger joints were busy, Tom and Victoria enjoyed a late-night Washington, D.C.-based clientele who enjoyed fine spirits and caviar in the tradition of Manhattan’s Russian Tea Room and Washington D.C.’s Russia House.
Tom was very active in local events, particularly the Rehoboth Beach Jazz Festival. In fact, his year-round contributions earned him the Producer of the Year award. Tom’s passing comes as a shock to the festival staff as they gear up for October’s event. “Tom was our dear friend, and was instrumental in making the whole thing happen,” says a festival executive. “We are devastated.”
Sadly, on Sunday night Red Square was to play host to Ruslan’s 21st birthday celebration. Both he and Philip are known as high-achievers when it comes to local sports, and their loss comes while they are both in the midst of preparing to leave for fall semesters at college.
Tom was happiest behind the bar; offering tastes of his premium vodkas to appreciative customers. During an interview last September, he told me, “We do something a little different. We’re not competing with anybody. And enough people appreciate what we do to keep us there to enjoy this dining tradition along with them.” Tom’s hospitality will be sorely missed.
As of publication, there are as yet no definite plans for services.