Matt’s legacy stands in tribute to skilled restauranting
This past August, a number of readers e-scolded me for not acknowledging the seventh anniversary of the passing of restaurateur/entrepreneur Matt Haley. Matt’s aptitude for the art & science of hospitality and restaurant operation is the force that drives the continued success of his SoDel Concepts restaurant group. By mid-2022, they will own and operate 14 Cape Region restaurants – with more on the horizon. Far from being a “chain,” SDC is a tight-knit association of locals that provides hundreds of our Delaware neighbors, friends and their kids with gainful employment.
In 2005, as an offshoot of their restaurants’ success, Matt Haley and Scott Kammerer (now president and CEO) created Haley/Kammerer Consulting Group. That and subsequent services like SoDel Concessions and Highwater Management share their expertise with local and regional restaurants, sports complexes, golf courses, brewpubs, breweries and the like; specializing in day-to-day ops, back office systems, new restaurant planning, front-of-house training and cost control.
In January 2011, Matt and Scott formed the Global Delaware Fund with the goal of administering goods and services to at-risk children both locally and internationally. The aid includes food, clothing, and shelter as well as counseling, scholarships and educational grants. Haley and GDF, in a very hands-on manner, created long-term sustainability for entire communities in need. It has since split and expanded in Kammerer’s own SoDel Cares, partnering with the Boys & Girls Club of Rehoboth, Rehoboth Elementary School, the Cape Henlopen Educational Foundation and the Cape Henlopen Senior Center – just to name a few.
Scott and his longtime management team keep tight reins on the various operations. He has continued to distinguish himself as the current chairman of the Delaware Restaurant Association, and is the 2015 recipient of the DRA Cornerstone Award for industry achievement and service. He was named Delaware Businessman of the Year at the same time that SoDel Concepts was awarded Delaware Superstar in Business.
Matt Haley and I shared a special bond, though it wasn’t through anything I did. When I first met him – in a late-summer’s night line at Louie’s Pizza – he said he knew me, but I probably didn’t remember him. The line for slices was long, so he elucidated: Back in the early ‘70s, one of my first sound recording studios was located in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Kensington, Md. It was a large facility for the D.C. area, and it was hard to keep a low profile with the occasional limo pulling up to the front door, and instrument-laden musicians trudging in and out at all hours.
Local kids loved it, and they would often try to sneak past our front desk in hopes of catching a glimpse of a rock star. Most of the time, the joke was on them: In those days chances were better that they would witness the rather boring production of a national radio/TV commercial or an orchestra creating bits and pieces of a movie soundtrack.
But one of our young interlopers from the neighborhood was relentless, and barely a week went by when we weren’t chasing him out the front door. If I had known that he would be receiving the Humanitarian of the Year Award from the prestigious James Beard Foundation, I might have been a little nicer to him. Of course, that star-struck kid was none other than Matt Haley, who grew up in Kensington. By the time he and I got our hot pepperoni slices, all was forgiven.
No matter what his accomplishments, Matt was always quick to shine the light on his partners, associates, chefs and employees. “There’s no way I could do all of this alone,” he told me. “Everything we do, from opening restaurants to creating schools to collecting coats to creating scholarships and educational grants; it’s all a group effort. From our dishwashers to our line cooks to our servers, managers, chefs and upper management – our success is the direct result of their efforts. At the end of the day, when we open a new restaurant, the first thing we do is thank everyone involved for playing their role in helping us expand so we can keep doing the things we do around the world. Without them on the front lines, day in and day out, none of this – from our charitable endeavors to these awards, would exist.”
In spite of the multitude of obstacles over the last year and a half, our little coastal towns retain their status as culinary destinations. The ongoing success of Matt Haley’s early endeavors reflects well not only on his ever-growing team, but also the locals and vacationers who continue to support everyone in our Cape Region hospitality industry.