Standing next to the counter at the Royal Treat in Rehoboth Beach, Jessica Nelson said it didn’t take much to be convinced she and her three children should make the trip from New Orleans to help her family close out the 2020 season.
The kids had started school, but at the time Tropical Storm Sally was barreling toward Louisiana, threatening to become a hurricane, and Nelson’s mom said the restaurant was going to have trouble with staffing the final week of the season. So, Nelson said, she piled the kids - Andrew, 13, Logan, 10, and Emma, 8 - in a rented vehicle to make the 20-hour trip from New Orleans to 4 Wilmington Ave.
“We usually come up here for a month every summer, but we couldn’t this year because of COVID,” said Nelson. “It had been too long since the kids had seen their family, and the hurricane gave us a good reason.”
The family-owned and -operated Royal Treat has been in business in Rehoboth Beach for 40 years. It’s a breakfast eatery that closes at 11:30 a.m. every day, to reopen at 1 p.m. as an ice cream parlor for the rest of the day. It opens in early May every year and closes soon after Labor Day. The final day of business this year was Sept. 20.
Nelson is the daughter of Debbie Zentmeyer, who works the front end, and Debbie is the daughter of Ed and Doris Fornwalt, restaurant founders. That means there were four generations of family - Nelson, her children, mom and grandparents - on hand to close out the season. Also there was Scott Fornwalt, son of the Fornwalts, and Zentmeyer’s brother. He mans the kitchen.
The morning of Sept. 18, all hands were on deck cleaning up the old beach cottage after another morning’s breakfast service. Ed was washing dishes. Doris was in the back managing the books. Scott was scraping the griddle clean. Zentmeyer, Nelson and the kids were getting tables set. Ed and Doris, both 93 and married for 71 years, opened Royal Treat after Ed enjoyed a 30-year-career as a mechanical contractor.
“I was about to retire and I needed something to do,” said Ed. “This seemed like something that would be fun to do. We’ve been blessed.”
Ed worked in the kitchen for a long time, but now he’s the dish washer. He said he’ll keep working as long as he can because he has to keep busy. He said it was great having Nelson and the kids at the restaurant.
At the end of each frenetic summer season, family members retreat to their winter hibernation homes - Ed and Doris to Hershey, Pa.; Scott to Maine; Debbie to southern Pennsylvania.
Zentmeyer said she’s not sure what the restaurant would have done if her daughter and grandkids hadn’t helped the final week.
“There wasn’t anyone on the schedule,” she said, fortunate she didn’t have to figure it out.
Nelson said she knows the kids missed school, but it’s early in the year and she’d do it again.
“The kids got to listen and work with their great-grandparents for the past week,” said Nelson. “These are going to be deposits in the memory bank.”