Mystery solved on Rehoboth Avenue
A number of years ago, I wrote an article about a particular restaurant on Rehoboth Avenue. Among the responses were some rather strange emails about various (imagined) nefarious activities surrounding that restaurant. After 16 years of doing what I do, I’ve learned to research everything I read and hear. Everything. At the end of the original article revealing the truth, I finished with: “I truly hope I don’t have to print this again in another seven years.”
Well, here we are. In spite of the facts, silly chatter continues about the tiny Red Square eatery in downtown Rehoboth Beach. Is Red Square an unusual restaurant? It sure is. It follows a very specific model that’s nothing like the usual crabcake/burger/pizza/shrimp ‘n’ grits fare. So enough already: What’s up with Red Square?
Founder Tom Kopunek was born in Washington, D.C., and moved here in 1984. As a research chemist, he was sent to work in Russia, where he met the strikingly attractive Victoria, a Russian language professor. In 1991, Tom and Victoria returned to the United States, married, and produced their two sons, Ruslan and Philip. In 2013, Tom passed away quite suddenly. He’s still missed there behind the bar where he loved to offer tastes of his premium vodkas to appreciative customers.
Back in ’97, Tom and Victoria opened a PostNet franchise in Midway Shopping Center. But Victoria missed her homeland’s ritual of leisurely fine dining, so in 2001, Red Square was born. In the tradition of Manhattan’s Russian Tea Room and Washington, D.C.’s Russia House, they stock well over 100 different vodkas, best when tasted in conjunction with imported black caviar. There are no TVs, no Buffalo wings, no cover bands, no Keno, and certainly no NFL tickets. I asked Victoria why they made such an investment in a beach town known for peanut butter fudge and fried flounder.
“We did it here because we love the beach. And those who like what we do – many of whom are from Washington, D.C. – are faithful customers,” she said. One of the reasons the restaurant appears uninhabited in the late afternoon is that the caviar/vodka crowd is generally a late one. The Russia House in D.C. stays open until 3 a.m. on weekends!
In 2002, the PostNet became JavaByte, combining live entertainment and high-speed internet services. “It was everything a café was supposed to be, but without the alcohol,” said Tom. Victoria earned her real estate license in ’07, and she still sells properties up and down the Delaware coast for NextHome Tomorrow Realty.
Victoria has a healthy sense of humor about (most of) the silly rumors that fly around town. People who have done nothing more than walk by whisper excitedly that it’s a front for the “Russian mob,” and that who-knows-what is moving in and out of the back door. Victoria laughs: “People say we’re in the mob. I tell them we are a very friendly mob. Oh, and we don’t even have a back door!” She shakes her head and I change the subject.
On sunlit afternoons, the glass façade on the south side of Rehoboth Avenue can make Red Square look a bit dark and mysterious. But as the sun sets, Victoria’s hand-picked Swarovski crystal chandeliers cast a soft glow over the crimson booths and silver serving pieces. When I mention that the place never looks crowded, she responds rather animatedly: “We have 36 seats. Our kitchen is tiny. I only have one oven. I don’t know what I’d do if all those seats were full.”
I’ll probably jinx myself if I write (yet again) that I hope I don’t have to print this again in another five or seven years. In the meantime, if you like departing from the ordinary with quality caviar, a mellow yet elegant atmosphere and unusual vodkas, give Red Square a try. And you’ll be safe. Remember: They don’t have a back door.