Chris Wertz planning SoDel Concepts urban gardens for spring

January 27, 2015

Despite the wintry landscape, Chris Wertz is already gathering ideas for his gardens - at least eight of them. Wertz, who is studying horticulture at Delaware Technical Community College, this spring will start urban vegetable and herb gardens at all eight SoDel Concepts restaurants at the beach. A bartender at Papa Grande’s Coastal Taqueria in Rehoboth Beach, he’s already in charge of seasonal, decorative plantings at the restaurants.

A popular trend in the restaurant world, an urban garden uses available space as a growing platform, typically in a town setting. The garden might include containers, raised beds or ground in vacant lots. “We’ve been interested in starting gardens at our restaurants for some time,” said Scott Kammerer, president and CEO of SoDel Concepts, which in addition to eight restaurants owns Plate Catering and Big Thunder Roadside Kitchen, a food truck. “When we learned of Chris’ interest in horticulture, we let him spearhead the effort.”

SoDel Corporate Chef Doug Ruley said the chefs are excited about having fresh produce right outside the kitchen door. “We’re really looking forward to collaborating with Chris and being creative with herbs, peppers, lettuces and other vegetables. It will give us the freshest produce possible.”

Wertz is tailoring the gardens to the restaurants’ needs and settings. For instance, hot peppers are a natural for Papa Grande’s, which has another location in Fenwick Island. Fish On in Lewes and NorthEast Seafood Kitchen in Ocean View have large outdoor dining areas that can accommodate containers of flowers and produce. The largest of the herb gardens will likely be at Bluecoast Seafood Grill in north Bethany Beach, a freestanding structure with lots of space.

Wertz, who’s been in the restaurant industry for 20 years, became interested in horticulture while living in New York, where he took classes at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the New York Botanical Garden in The Bronx. “I love learning about sustainable agriculture and hydroponics,” he said. “The garden is a passion of mine, and I decided to pursue a degree at Del Tech.”

Wertz said he’s grateful to SoDel Concepts founder Matt Haley, who recognized Wertz’s interest and put him in charge of the garden at Papa Grande’s in Rehoboth Beach. “Scott Kammerer then put me in charge of all the restaurants’ gardens,” Wertz said. “That’s how SoDel is - always providing staff with opportunities.”

Kammerer agreed. “As a company, we love to encourage and support the interests of our employees.”