Landscapers provide delectable curb appeal for our eateries

December 14, 2018

A pretty reliable measure of a well-run and well-designed restaurant is not necessarily how many things go on behind the scenes. The true measure is how few of those things are actually noticed by the guests. One of the best examples of this is the maintenance and irrigation of indoor/outdoor plantings that brighten our surroundings as we chow down on our burgers, oysters, and fish ‘n’ chips. One of the primary organizations in Delaware that makes sure that the landscaping around a restaurant remains colorful and vibrant week after week and season after season is none other than East Coast Garden Center near Millsboro. 

Valery, Rick and Chris Cordrey work as a team to help restaurateurs (and other businesses, to be sure) maintain curb appeal. Let’s face it; we also eat with our eyes, and this visual nibble begins the minute we get out of the car and walk into our favorite eatery. In fact, the appearance of a restaurant’s physical plant can have as much effect on the guests’ experience as the way the food is arranged on the plate. Valery says it best: “If they care enough about having the outside looking nice, then you know that the inside will look nice too.” 

Chris Cordrey was the lead designer in the unusually complex task of beautifying the new construction that became Bluecoast Rehoboth. As SoDel Concepts’ 10th owned and operated restaurant, the facility is very close to CEO Scott Kammerer’s heart. He made his desires very clear even before the first shovel went into the ground: “I don’t want it to look like a restaurant in the middle of a parking lot. I want it to look like an oasis.” Cordrey’s work was cut out for him: Bluecoast Rehoboth is indeed in the middle of a parking lot, landlocked in a sea of asphalt with a busy highway right in front. And largely due to his talents and those of his family, those facts are barely apparent once you sit down and tuck into your first cocktail or appetizer. 

Chris attacked the project from several fronts. The first was direct plantings. The outdoor dining area and the huge patio (with its own bar and stage for music) had to be screened from the highway both visually and audibly. Specific plants were selected that provided as much sound diffusion as possible. Fortunately, bushes and plants that exhibit that characteristic also make great privacy hedges. 

One of the boundaries of the outdoor patio is a sidewalk. Botanicals don’t respond well to being planted in concrete, so the Cordreys solved that problem by making use of containers that could be positioned strategically as needed. Each planter - large and small - displays a tall shrub or flower, affectionately known as the “thriller” because it is so obvious to the eye. Surrounding that element are colorful flowers and plants that maintain a low stature. Chris adds a bit of drama with other greenery spilling lazily over the side of the container. The combination is striking. 

One challenge in particular wasn’t solved until after much discussion: The side yard off the outdoor dining area was slated to be a game area for kids and adults alike. Kammerer was adamant that it had to be real grass. (His penchant for simple, beautiful food extends to his taste in design.) Anyone with a back yard and kids knows that real grass would not have lasted through opening night. But Chris Cordrey was there with a solution: artificial turf. I have dined on that patio and in the outside dining area many times, and I never knew that that beautiful, lush lawn was designed to take the pounding of hundreds of feet per night. 

The same concept applied to the interior of the space, with hanging plants and floor planters placed exactly where they belong. All of these containers and direct plantings would die in a few days if it were not for East Coast Garden Center’s exclusive irrigation system. Operated by timers, valves and strategically located pipes, each and every container, direct planting, flower box, bush and shrub is automatically watered on a strict schedule. That was possible, says Cordrey, because East Coast was brought into the project very early - even before construction. So underground pipes, valves and carefully selected soils could be easily installed and positioned to keep everything thriving and colorful. The entire planting regime is reworked seasonally, so whether you dine at Bluecoast Rehoboth in January or in July, you will always be treated to thriving, succulent plant life. 

And the Cordreys’ talents aren’t just about Bluecoast Rehoboth. East Coast Garden Center rotates and replants over 4,000 containers for each season over its entire Sussex County client base. Every season - several times a year - over 70,000 annuals are planted at all of the restaurants the Cordreys service. As you might expect, this is a year-round effort involving fertilizer (East Coast’s secret formula), maintenance of the irrigation system, pruning, replanting and trimming. 

So when it comes to Valery, Rick and Chris Cordrey, this business of eating is a lot more than just a big salad and brightly colored garnish on your plate. Their local restaurant clients are colorful reminders that this business of eating is also about curb appeal.

  • 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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