When Wilson Gates took over The Buttery in July 2016, he knew he was taking on the vision of his predecessors, John Donato and Twain Gonzales.
He made some changes he felt were for the better, but they didn’t help with declining business. He said the restaurant, at the corner of Savannah Road and Second Street in Lewes, had become a high-end, special-occasion restaurant and struggled to attract a younger crowd.
“John and Twain opened it up. It was theirs,” Gates said. “I can’t fill their shoes. It’s not something I feel I can do as well as them.”
Then just before the new year, a water leak resulted in extensive damage, destroying the restaurant’s HVAC system and cooling units.
With significant work needed, Gates said, there was no better time to rebrand the restaurant.
When it reopens by the end of April, the restaurant will be known as the Second Street Tavern. The restaurant will target a younger clientele. There will be a larger bar with 12 to 14 beers on tap, and a lounge area with leather couches and a fireplace where friends can grab some drinks and appetizers. The dining rooms along Savannah Road and Second Street will remain.
“I really want to do beer and do it really, really well,” Gates said.
To pay homage to Dogfish Head, and founder and Lewes resident Sam Calagione, Gates said 60 Minute IPA will be $3 all day, every day.
“That is by far the best-selling beer around here,” he said.
The menu will feature many of The Buttery’s staple dishes, but it will have less-expensive items too.
Part of the reason for the change, Gates said, is the changing landscape of Lewes. He said more than 1,000 homes will be built along Gills Neck Road and Freeman Highway in the next few years, and the demographics are shifting toward people in their 40s and 50s.
“I want to transition to a little more of a family atmosphere, a much more comfortable atmosphere,” he said. “I want this to be a place where people come in for a drink and share some food.”
He also said it was important to shift toward something he’s comfortable with. “I need to put my stamp on this place,” he said.
Gates also owns Bushi Sushi on Market Street, which he said is very successful.
Donato and Gonzales sold their iconic restaurant in 2016 to the Gates family after 23 years.
Donato had extensive experience opening restaurants for investors along the East Coast, so they began searching Lewes and Rehoboth for the right location. They decided Lewes was the right fit. There were only two or three other restaurants in downtown Lewes when they opened in the spring of 1994 in the former New Devon Inn, now Hotel Rodney, at the corner of Second and Market streets.
The Buttery expanded rapidly, doubling the space in two years. Donato and Gonzales knew they needed a bigger space, so they purchased the Trader Mansion and restored in the ’90s. The duo moved to Delaware from Pennsylvania, trading their corporate lives for a life on the farm in Georgetown.
In the ensuing two decades, The Buttery set the standard in Lewes. Donato said he likes to think they brought a consciousness of cuisine to the area, a place where if a customer is paying $30 for an entrée, they get the service to go with it. And the area embraced them, he said.