Industry pros gather to toast Delaware restaurants

November 4, 2022

Nobody can throw a party like the Delaware Restaurant Association. Let’s face it: Hospitality is what they do, and along with their hardworking members, they do it well. So it’s no surprise that last week’s Delaware Restaurant Association 20th Annual Cornerstone Awards Celebration was such a success.

After the craziness of the last few years, this cadre of food industry notables was well primed to salute the spirit of their peers. Fuel for the gala included locally curated food, cocktails, beer and wine, proudly displayed at an array of stations lining the perimeter of the Lighthouse Cove Event Center in Dewey Beach. Local party band Hot Sauce lost no time kicking the festivities into high gear.

The Cornerstone Awards honor those who have distinguished themselves in our industry. Many would agree that two of the most deserving recipients in the history of the event are Dennis and Carolyn Forbes of Cool Springs Fish Bar & Restaurant. These affable, generous and totally professional owners operate one of the top eateries in Delaware. In fact, when TV Chef Robert Irvine filmed his Food Network show “Restaurant Impossible” in Ellendale a couple of years ago, he left the cameras and production mayhem behind in order to enjoy a relaxed dinner at Cool Springs. And no wonder: Dennis and Carolyn have been putting out exceptional food, service and genuine warmth for more than 23 years.

They were joined on stage by Robert Lhulier and Bill Irvin, dubbed Restaurateurs of the Year for their Snuff Mill Restaurant, Butchery & Wine Bar in Wilmington. The newly created Industry Impact Award was won by Michelle Souza, commercial director of Southern Glazer's Wine & Spirits, and "Red" Ryan Ennis for his Ryan Ennis Motivator/Beyond the Bar United. “Red” describes his industry-focused mental health team as “Just a bunch of misfit, former degenerate, overqualified bartenders, servers and managers here to make the world a better place one customer at a time!” See why I love this business of eating?

Speaking of eating, more than 24 Delaware restaurants and suppliers stepped up to the plate to ensure that nobody left hungry – or thirsty. As you might expect, it was all about crab cakes at Jimmy O’Conor’s Woody’s Dewey Beach station. He was handing out crabby sliders like there was no tomorrow. The Café on 26, Ocean View’s popular fine-dining spot, crunchified a smoked salmon tartlet with their own pickle/cucumber/dill slaw.

Relatively new kid in Lewes Elina Kamalova put a breakfast-for-dinner twist on her offering from Eggcellent Restaurant. She handed out mini-lox & bagels using bagel chips with capers and cream cheese. Paul Ruggiero and NKS Distributors never disappoint when it comes to creativity and generosity. They treated the crowd to top-notch canned cocktails from Western Son Vodka. (Yup, canned cocktails. It’s a thing. Check ‘em out at Beach Time Distilling in Lewes.) Not to be outdone, the Hyatt Place Dewey Beach/Lighthouse Cove Event Center dished up oyster shooters, garlic mussels, shrimp cocktail and cool blue-crab claws with a choice of accompaniments that included champagne mignonette, cocktail sauce and Old Bay remoulade.

And this was a partying bunch. After listening to notables that included a particularly moving speech from Cornerstone Award winner Dennis Forbes, foodies in the know scampered across Coastal Highway to Nalu for the traditional after-party featuring Paul Ruggiero’s Blue Cat Blues Band. The after-party was dedicated to DRA Board Chair Carl Georigi, founder and CEO of the Platinum Dining Group that includes Eclipse Bistro, Taverna, and Capers & Lemons.

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

It seems only right that Delaware Restaurant Association President/CEO Carrie Leishman have the last word: These iconic restaurateurs’ stories represent the resiliency of restaurants whose pivotal trailblazers embody a strong dedication and commitment to making this industry a better place. Each of our awardees will undoubtedly leave a long-lasting legacy in the communities where they serve.”  


  • 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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