Jakes Seafood, a popular seafood restaurant anchoring First Street and Baltimore Avenue in Rehoboth Beach, has closed its doors after nearly three decades.
Owner Bill Klemkowski said the Jakes on Route 1 will remain open and be the focus of the family-owned business. Founded in 1988, Jakes was a family venture with Klemkowski; his wife, Lois; and his mother, Rosemary. Klemkowski had worked as a longshoreman in his native Baltimore, and the family decided to open a carry-out seafood restaurant serving fresh fish and crab cakes. Klemkowski said the original Jakes was much smaller, with only 40 seats, and food was served on paper plates and styrofoam bowls.
“It was like a food court in a mall,” he said of Jakes’ origins.
The focus was on quick service and food cooked to order. But by 1991, customers began pointing out they had to bring their own silverware to eat it. So, Klemkowski said, they expanded the restaurant, making it full service with real china plates and silverware. Expansions continued until the restaurant reached its current size in 2001.
Jakes has remained a family business in the truest sense. Klemkowski’s son, Will, started working at Jakes when he was 14, washing dishes and bussing tables. By 2005, Will became the manager.
Both father and son attributed the closure to the changing restaurant environment in downtown Rehoboth.
Will said summers in Rehoboth have become shorter every year. It used to be the season went from Memorial Day to Labor Day, he said, but now summers don’t really get going until around July 4 weekend and last through the middle of August. That short time frame gives a restaurant like Jakes six weeks to turn its highest profits, and that wasn’t happening in recent years, Will said.
Klemkowski said the development of a top-notch restaurant scene on Route 1 also played a role. He said when Jakes started, the best restaurants were all in downtown Lewes or Rehoboth. But now, high-quality restaurants have popped up on Route 1, with ample, easy-access parking, something downtown Rehoboth is short on, Klemkowski said. He said within downtown, the restaurant business is extremely competitive, and rents have become very high; when Jakes started, it was one of the only seafood places in town.
Will said to his knowledge the building, owned by Wilmington-based TMC Investments, has not been leased to another tenant yet.
The Klemkowskis said closing Jakes downtown was a necessary business decision, but they are extremely sad to see it go.
Will said, “I’m not happy to shut the doors at all. I want to be on First and Baltimore. I grew up there. I have so many great memories over 30 years. I’m proud to be a part of that.”
He said memories of friendships formed and being a part of the Rehoboth community outweigh the negative of closing the restaurant.
“A lot of blood, sweat, tears and sacrifices went into building that restaurant,” Klemkowski said. “It’s hard, but on the other hand, I know I touched a lot of people.”