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New eatery celebrates the old and the new in Dewey Beach

September 24, 2021

 A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of announcing the future opening of Starboard Claw in Dewey Beach. This will be the third Starboard-branded venture in Dewey, along with Starboard Raw just a few doors north. Under the new ownership of Steve “Monty” Montgomery, Starboard Claw will light up George Bendler’s old Hammerheads location at 1818 Coastal Highway. Monty will also welcome two longtime employees aboard the ownership train: Zach Warner of Bethany Blues and The Starboard’s Keith Kirk. The bold new venture will feature Bethany Blues' ribs & brisket, “Chicken Ed” Riggin’s legendary roasted & grilled chicken and, of course, crabs, making Starboard Claw the only hardshell crab joint in Dewey. Word on the street is that Ed might even make a few cameos in the restaurant as he brings the Starboard crew up to speed on the vagaries of his chicken preparation.

Monty and crew certainly know their restaurants, and all this excitement got me thinking about Duke Duggan’s Last Resort Bar - the hometown precursor to the current Starboard Restaurant & Bar. Back in the early ‘60s, Duggan’s eatery was less than a quarter of the size of today’s Starboard. He served spaghetti and meatballs, and late-night wintertime sing-alongs with Dewey and Rehoboth locals were not unusual. Sadly, Duke passed away in 1997.

Addition after addition was built as the popular tavern began to catch on. When Chip Hearn’s family purchased the property, Chip’s bloody mary bar and assortment of hot sauces were a hit. Chip tells me, “I had lines for breakfast on Sundays, so I decided to let them make their own bloody marys. It went from a happy breakfast to a loud and very happy breakfast!”

Chip’s fiery collection took on a life of its own and became the famed Peppers store in Lewes (and online as Peppers.com). In fact, it was acknowledged in the Guinness Book of World Records. In 1999 he sold The Starboard to a trio of restaurant partners. One of those is Steve “Monty” Montgomery, a hands-on guy who seems to be everywhere at the same time. As the self-described “12-year-old kid who worked on the beach,” he sold hot dogs on the sand and rented umbrellas.

As a teenager, Monty learned every station and position at the restaurant. He pays tribute to his old boss by saying that Hearn’s marketing skills made the bar what it is today. “We all wanted to make Chip proud,” Monty smiles, “he really helped change the image of Dewey Beach.”

There’s a lot of restaurant know-how behind The Starboard. Partner Jim Weisgerber spends much of his time at Bethany Blues crankin’ out smoky barbecue. Dick Heidenberger spends a lot of his time in Bethany at Mango’s and his son’s new boardwalk spot, Heidaway.

On busy weekends, customers can be seen lining the highway waiting to be served by their favorite mixologists. Monty says, “I love watching people have fun. People go everywhere else to see bands, but they come to The Starboard to see the bartenders.” On hot days, he often hands out bottled water and little sandwiches to people waiting in line. When they finally get inside, they make a beeline for their favorite barkeep. Probably explains why The Starboard is No. 1 in liquor sales in the State of Delaware.

A 1997 newspaper observed the passing of founder Duke Duggan by showing him at the pearly gates, suitcases in hand. One angelic gatekeeper says to the other, “…I have a feeling this joint’s about to start jumpin’!” For well over half a century, The Starboard has never stopped jumpin’, and continues to expand its signature brand of food and fun, thanks to loyal customers and good business sense.

 

  • 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 byesbek@capegazette.com.

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