Talented chef travels from the Moon to Venus

March 31, 2011
From lobster streudel to bar wings, Chef Pete McMahon does it all in Dewey Beach. BY BOB YESBECK

Watch out, Dewey Beach: There’s a new kid in town, and his name is Pete McMahon. Well, he’s not all that new, but this summer he’ll be taking on a lot more responsibility as executive chef of Highway One Partnership’s Dewey Beach restaurants.

And he’s prepared for the job. His grandfather worked at the Russian Tea Room in New York for more than 25 years. Pete followed suit, earning a degree from Johnson and Wales University in Providence, R.I., and thriving in food service for over 26 years. Thirteen of those were spent at Rehoboth’s iconic Blue Moon, where his flair for keeping the fine-dining menu beach friendly helped contribute to its outstanding reputation.

In 2005 he left the Blue Moon and partnered with Highway One’s Alex Pires to open JD Shuckers in Lewes. Pete quickly realized he wasn’t on Baltimore Avenue any more. Shuckers’ location and homegrown clientele defined it as a neighborhood eatery with no patience for high-minded cookery. He rose to the occasion, evolving the restaurant into a fun and flirty family place sporting a raw bar and local entertainment. His resourcefulness paid off: He and Pires sold their shares after five years and walked away debt-free. You don’t hear that every day in this business of eating!

Last year, Pete took over the kitchen at Venus on the Half Shell. He revamped the menu and is giving the place a new look by capitalizing on the bay view. His efforts are paying off. From the Moon to Venus, his philosophy remains unchanged: “Keep it upscale, but not over the top.”

Dewey Beach is not all frou-frou feasting and hoity-toity menus. Wearing more hats than just his white toque, Pete will help integrate and centralize the operations of the Rusty Rudder, Northbeach, Jimmy’s Grille, and of course Venus. His challenge will be to innovate and boost quality while still keeping a watchful eye on the bottom line. Not an easy job.

On any given summer’s day, Pete will oversee the peaceful waterfront cachet of Venus, while simultaneously cranking out (in Pires’ words) “happy beach food” just a few hundred feet away at Northbeach. At the same time, Rusty Rudder’s buffet has to be creative, economical and family-friendly while the fryers, blenders and draught handles go full-tilt at Jimmy’s Grille. At the height of the season, Highway One Partnership will employ over 550 people to feed and entertain up to 2,500 Dewey Beach visitors daily. With four different price points and levels of culinary execution, Chef McMahon has his work cut out for him.

Television has made food a star. Diners are now aware of ingredients and techniques that used to be secreted behind kitchen doors. Pair that with an economy that can preclude indulgences such as dining out, and it becomes apparent that success in today’s market hinges on multitalented and adaptable guys like McMahon.

Pires calls Pete “a genuinely nice human being.” His easygoing style and willingness to connect with employees and customers might even bring a bit of that celebrity chef status to Dewey Beach. Pires told me that he’ll never forget a recent fine-dining experience in California when a chef, decked out in his dress whites, approached his table, smiled and asked, “Well, how am I doing?”  That chef was none other than Wolfgang Puck. TV has indeed made food a star, and the supporting cast - in the kitchen and in the dining room - is expected to play its part.

Speaking of stars, one of the great things that Pete inherited from his time at Shuckers is a friendship with talented guitarist and ‘90s rocker Paul Cullen. This summer, customers at Venus on the Half Shell will be treated to Paul’s distinctive guitar stylings.

Chef McMahon has a lot more surprises in store for Dewey diners, and of course I’ll keep you informed.

  • 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.