Haley ties business success to worldwide charitable efforts

Chef Matt Haley performs an outdoor grilling demo video for a local magazine website. PHOTOS BY BOB YESBEK
February 18, 2014

Back in the mid-‘70s, one of my sound recording studios was located in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Kensington, Md. It was a large facility for the area, and in spite of our efforts, we couldn’t help but attract local attention. It was hard to keep a low profile with the occasional limo pulling up to the front door, and instrument-laden musicians filing in and out at all hours.

Local kids loved it, and they would often try to sneak past our front desk in hopes of catching a glimpse of a star. Truth be told, in those days chances were better that they would witness the recording of a national commercial or an orchestra creating a sound track for a movie.

But one of our young visitors from the neighborhood was relentless, and barely a week went by when we weren’t chasing him out the front door. If I had known that he would be receiving the Humanitarian of the Year Award from the prestigious James Beard Foundation, I might have been a little nicer to him. Of course, that star-struck kid was none other than our very own Matt Haley, the founder and owner of the SoDel Concepts restaurant group. The organization owns and operates Fish On! in Lewes, Bluecoast Seafood Grill in Bethany Beach, NorthEast Seafood Kitchen in Ocean View, Lupo Di Mare in Rehoboth, Catch54 and Papa Grande's in Fenwick Island, Matt's Fish Camp in North Bethany and Plate Catering.

Matt Haley and partner Scott Kammerer also operate Highwater Management, a hospitality company that provides organizational and consulting services for breweries, liquor stores and restaurants both in-state and out-of-state. In January 2011, Matt formed The Global Delaware Fund with the goal of administering goods and services to at-risk children both locally and internationally. The aid he provides includes food, clothing and shelter as well as counseling, scholarships and educational grants. Haley and GDF, in a very hands-on manner, aim to create long-term sustainability for entire communities in need.

With all this going on, it’s increasingly difficult for Haley to maintain a low profile. And his philanthropic accomplishments here and overseas were not lost on the James Beard Foundation. Since 1986, JBF has celebrated and honored America’s diverse culinary heritage through programs that educate and inspire. Its awards are among the most coveted in the food industry, and the honor of Humanitarian of the Year is bestowed on an individual whose work in the realm of food has improved the lives of others and benefited society as a whole.

In early May, Matt’s work will be officially recognized and honored at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center in New York City.

Even as Matt was generously letting me in on his exciting secret a few weeks ago, he was insisting that the award was earned by his entire organization. “There’s no way I could do all of this alone,” he told me. “Everything we do, from opening restaurants to creating schools to collecting coats to creating scholarships and educational grants; it’s all a group effort. From our dishwashers to our line cooks to our servers, managers, chefs and upper management - our success is the direct result of their efforts. At the end of the day, when we open a new restaurant, the first thing we do is thank everyone involved for playing their role in helping us expand so we can keep doing the things we do around the world. Without them on the front lines, day-in and day-out, none of this - from our charitable endeavors to these awards, would exist.”

This wasn’t something that just happened to Matt. In fact, he learned to cook as a vocational skill after recovering from drug and alcohol abuse in his early 30s. He opened his first restaurant, Blue Coast Seafood Grill, in 2001, and by 2009 SoDel Concepts was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of the fastest-growing food and beverage operations in the nation.

Our little town of Rehoboth Beach is hitting its stride as a culinary destination, and the list of prominent award nominees and winners continues to grow. Matt Haley’s honor not only reflects on him and his organization, but also on the locals and vacationers who continue to support all of our Rehoboth-area restaurants.

  • 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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