‘We couldn’t have done any of it without you’
Notwithstanding the under-the-radar rumblings of the last few months, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sadness when La Vida Hospitality boss Josh Grapski’s words finally appeared online: “An opportunity has arisen for us to move on from Fork + Flask ... It is bittersweet with the departure of Fork + Flask from the La Vida Hospitality portfolio, knowing that Nage was the opportunity that placed roots in DE for La Vida ... We move forward knowing that 18 years at Nage/Fork + Flask set the foundation for our company and culture. Fork + Flask will remain open until April 16, 2022, as we are committed to offering the same great service until that time ... Thanks to all the supporters over the years. We couldn’t have done any of it without you.”
As one of the first shining stars in our fine-dining lineup on the highway, Nage/Fork + Flask owes its existence to über-chef (and all around nice guy) Kevin Reading. He and Josh worked as chef/sous chef at Reading’s former eatery in Wilmington. Josh, along with Kevin and chef Hari Cameron, graduated from The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College in Philadelphia. A short time after Reading sold Espuma in downtown Rehoboth, they became business partners, converting Reading’s former Sweet Dreams Bakery (operated in association with baker extraordinaire Andrew Hooven) into Nage. Kevin’s people-management skills meshed perfectly with Josh’s business acumen.
Kevin’s eventual move to open Abbott’s Grill in Milford triggered the beginning of what is now La Vida Hospitality’s collection of popular brands. After Big Chill Surf Cantina’s retro ’70s surf theme was born, LVH expanded from within to become the launching pad for Crooked Hammock Brewery in conjunction with partner Rich Garrahan. The Taco Reho truck (and the now perpetually busy Taco Reho restaurant) grew out of a friendship with rock ‘n’ roll taco maven himself, Billy Lucas. New concepts emerged from whatever the new partner was passionate about.
Nage has served as a springboard for many talented people, none the least of whom prep cook, line cook, sous chef and eventually head chef Hari Cameron. He was instrumental in putting Nage on the map as a culinary mover and shaker. Hari went on to break ground with his modernist a(MUSE.) restaurant, and then creating the Grandpa Mac brand with his brother Orion. Speaking of springboards, a significant number of talented people were part of the Nage/Fork + Flask family. So many, in fact, that it’s impossible to list each and every one of them here. But that list would certainly include opening GM Mark Harrison; chefs Ryan Cunningham, Brenton Wallace, Ted Deptula, Richard Davis, Paul Gallo and Sean Corea; sous chefs Dillon Walker and Andrew Guffey; catering guru Kathy McDonald; star barkeepers Ginger Breneman, David Engel, Rob Bagley, Sean and Shannen Norris, the late Palma Salerno; baker Keith Irwin; pastry chefs Dru Tevis, Lizzie Kornheiser, Edie Enriquez and Becky McClain; longtime professional server Scotty Johnson; front office specialists Chrissy Sarro, Tommy Little and Steph Cameron; front-of-house greeter Nancy Stout … the list truly goes on and on.
I’m sure I missed more than a few. But I guarantee that if you frequent local restaurants, many Nage alumni will be serving you, mixing your drinks, cooking for you and perhaps even owning the place.
So many memories! The annual cocktail party in February became the place to see and be seen for winter-weary locals and restaurant rats alike. Generous to a fault, La Vida Hospitality donated the proceeds from these over-the-top bashes to various charities, including my own culinary scholarship foundation that I share with Fork + Flask’s next-door neighbor Touch of Italy.
Another memory that still makes me smile is when then-GM Mark Harrison and then-Executive Chef Ted Deptula fretted for weeks over their first (and last) Blindfolded French Wine Dinner. It sold out immediately, and the vagaries of sightless dining became all too real. What to serve? Too big? Too small? Hard to cut? Spills? Inadvertent fork stabbings? How will they know the food’s there? Will we have to hose everybody down? All these questions were answered when a room full of brave, blindfolded souls gathered at Nage to try something new. We were warned that servers would be approaching from the left and retrieving from the right. We were told where forks, spoons and wine glasses would be. In spite of the best-laid plans, wine was spilled, forks were strewn everywhere, carefully curated French cuisine ended up on the floor and in laps, fingers were dragged through plates … in short, a wonderfully hilarious time was had by all.
One particularly personal memory is when Fork + Flask decided to offer a Saturday brunch to supplement their already famous Sunday brunch. When they chose to feature live music, Josh and crew took the chance on a relatively new local band. That band was mine. We were still somewhat untested, but they took a chance on us. We felt like part of the family and I’ll never forget it.
Josh Grapski, his team and partners are moving on to expand and nurture their other properties, including Crooked Hammock – now sporting three locations including North Myrtle Beach, S.C. The unusual state/private entity partnership that spawned Big Chill Beach Club at the southeast end of the Indian River Bridge has proven to be wildly successful. There are future plans for the Big Chill concept; the Taco Reho brand … and who knows what else.
But Nage is where it all started. I’ve rarely seen such a loyal following of regulars. But, in the prophetic words of songwriter Benard Ighner, “Everything must change; nothing stays the same.” Thank you, Kevin, Josh, Mark, Hari, Sean, Ginger, Kathy, Tommy and everyone else who is (or was) part of the Nage/Fork + Flask family. You gave so many of us restaurant lovers a cozy spot where we felt welcome, and where, at the risk of thrashing a musical metaphor, “… everybody knows your name.”
Onward and upward.