Hospitality pros treat themselves to a special evening

October 27, 2023

In keeping with the hallowed tradition upheld by many of Delaware’s best eateries, the Delaware Restaurant Association 21st Annual Cornerstone Awards Celebration held Oct. 23 did not disappoint. Not that we expected anything less from our intrepid food industry trade organization. Powered by over 1,900 businesses, the Delaware restaurant community employs more than 47,000 people with an annual economic impact of over $3 billion. In other words, this crew throws a pretty decent party!

The Hyatt Place Dewey Beach venue on the bay was packed with food industry notables who were well primed to toast the irrepressible spirit of their peers. Party fuel for the gala included great food, cocktails, beer and wine proudly served at a virtually endless array of stations lining the perimeter of the beautifully appointed rooms. At the stroke of 6, Hot Sauce band kick-started the gala into high gear.

The purpose of the annual event is to recognize Delaware food industry professionals who have dedicated themselves to making a difference in their communities. Delaware Restaurant Association President/CEO Carrie Leishman summed it up perfectly: “We are extremely excited to celebrate this year’s Cornerstone Awards. It is especially meaningful at a time when our restaurant community has been through so much over the last few years. Congratulations to our 2023 award recipients, who epitomize the incredible dedication and resiliency that our industry represents.”

This year’s coveted Cornerstone Award goes to Nicola Pizza and the Caggiano family, creators of one of the Cape Region’s most iconic establishments. Patriarch Nick Caggiano Sr. gave a moving speech that centered on the family aspect not only of Nicola Pizza but also our restaurant community itself.

One of the honors bestowed by the Delaware Restaurant Association is Restaurateur of the Year, and this year’s honoree is Lewes Oyster House. Co-owner and Executive Chef Sean Corea (of Dogfish Head, Espuma, Nage and Fork & Flask fame) was joined onstage by partners Tom Little and Tim Bartley. In a surprisingly short time, these guys took over the old (original) Rose & Crown space that most recently hosted Jerry’s Seafood, and morphed it into one of the First Town’s most popular restaurants. Reservations are a must, and when you go, you’ll see why.

The DRA Industry Impact Awards for 2023 were presented to Delaware food writers Pam George (published regularly in Delaware Today and Delaware Beach Life magazines, among many others); James Beard nominee Patty Talorico, who has written for such high-profile publications as Bon Appetit and Food Network magazines; and, coincidentally enough, yours truly. I am thoroughly honored. I love beach dining and beach restaurants, and it was a great experience being able to celebrate that with so many of our Delaware food industry notables.

Last, and certainly not least, is the recognition of Cathy Kanefsky, president and CEO of the Food Bank of Delaware. Over the last two years, she has made groundbreaking changes in how the charitable organization operates and the breadth of services offered. Among so many other accomplishments, the organization has almost doubled its number of staff and volunteers. The Food Bank of Delaware is a major force inspiring hope in our communities by providing food to nourish Delawareans in need. The organization spearheads action and collaboration on long-term solutions to hunger and poverty.

Some of Delaware’s best treated us to delectable bites and sips. That generous crew included Downtown Blues, Lewes Oyster House, the Starboard Crush Bar, the Federal, Woody’s Dewey Beach, Drift, DiFebo’s Restaurants and Market, Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats, Paul’s Kitchen & Wines, Hyatt Place Dewey Beach, Stingray, Crust & Craft, Curry & Spice, Hamilton’s on Main, Home Grown Café, La Casa Pasta, the Quoin Hotel, Snuff Mill Restaurant, Breakthru Beverage, NKS Distributors, Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, Standard Distributing and Tito’s Vodka.

And this was a partying bunch! After listening to DRA Board Chair Gianmarco Martuscelli kibitz back and forth with President/CEO Carrie Leishman, foodies in the know streamed across Coastal Highway to the new Starboard Claw restaurant and bar to honor Martuscelli.

Amid the cheering and virtually endless food and drink, our Delaware eateries have stepped up to the plate in every sense of the word. The answer to the eternal question, “What’s for dinner?” shines brightly here in Delaware, and I’m proud to know so many talented entrepreneurs and risk takers who are genuinely dedicated not only to their craft but to our culinary enjoyment as well. And their fearless advocate, the Delaware Restaurant Association, continues to have their backs.


  • 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

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