New life coming to Rehoboth’s Wilmington Avenue

March 24, 2011
Jesús and Maria Ramirez keep the coffee flowing year-round at Café a Go-Go. BY BOB YESBECK

Tumbleweeds blustered across the tarmac. The wind whistled mournfully. Windows were dark, as “For Rent” signs quivered in the breeze. What was this forsaken place? Well, up until a few weeks ago, it was the ocean block of Wilmington Avenue. Other than the small number of brave eateries that toughed it out over the winter, things were pretty desolate down there. But not anymore!

Beal Thomas and Ken Gerhart are breathing life into the old Retro Café space with their brand-new Cosmopolitan Grill. The American Bistro concept will include reasonable prices, daily brunch and live piano music in the evenings. Tommy Long will head up the kitchen, and fabled mixologist David Engel will work the bar with his quick wit, high-octane cosmos and great hair.

Across the street in the old Cultured Pearl building, Tony Nomikos departs from the Greek overtones of the Ocean Point Grill in Lewes by dishing up Northern Italian and Mediterranean cuisine at the soon-to-be Tuscan Grill. From what I could see through the drywall dust, lumber and new kitchen equipment, the look will be bright and sunny. A bar is being constructed right in the front window. I’ll give it the Martini Test and get back to you.

The demise of La La Land was like a Steven King movie. It was there, and suddenly  it vanished. Behind shadowy panes, tables remained set in mute testimony to the Ghosts of Servers Past. Apparitions notwithstanding, it looks like Mallory Square Fish House and Grille will be resurrecting that venerable spot. My spies, moles and operatives are still investigating, so I’ll keep you posted as things develop.

Watching these people hammer, saw and drill wore me out, so I strolled around the corner to Café a Go-Go where Jesús and Maria Ramirez whipped me up an iced triple latte. As I prodded them for more information about La La Land, I was surprised to learn that Maria had been the general manager there for five years. Even more surprising was how they made it to Rehoboth Beach in the first place.

Maria and Jesús worked for a large oil company in Mexico; Jesús on an oil rig and Maria in the office. She also taught mathematics to seventh- and eighthgraders.

But they never stopped dreaming of the day when they could own a business in the U.S. One thing led to another, and they found themselves in Dewey Beach, where Jesús landed a job at the old Amigo’s restaurant.

In 1990, on the Saturday night of July Fourth weekend, a frustrated Maria knocked on the back kitchen door of La La Land. The door opened, and the chef said “Do you know how to wash pans?” Maria spoke no English, but she spied the vacant dishwashing station and nodded “Sí.” She washed dishes there for four years.

Her energy didn’t go unnoticed, and she began to bus tables and run food. As her English rapidly improved, she answered phones, kept the books and eventually became general manager. Maria ran the joint until 2005. She worked from 5:30 a.m. until 9:30 a.m. at a local coffee shop, and then managed La La Land from 10 a.m. until closing.

She spent 16 years there, but the couple never lost sight of their goal to have their own business. In 2005, Maria and Jesús put every bit of their savings into fitting up a tiny space on Rehoboth Avenue. Jesús’ love of American ‘70s music prompted the name “Café a Go-Go,” and they were off and running. Their Mexican-themed coffee drinks are the stuff of legend – they even smoke, dry and grind their own ancho peppers for the spicy Mocha Loco Latte.

Café a Go-Go is the perfect vantage point from which to keep you updated on the renaissance of Wilmington Avenue. I’ll be perched at the bar with my latte. And if you’re really lucky you might even spy a certain newspaper publisher enjoying his Cuban latte and breakfast burrito.

My lips are sealed.

  • 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.