Not-so-hidden gems in the fourth block
It all started when Keith Martin’s grandfather opened a taxi service on the first block of Rehoboth Avenue where Snyder’s Candy is now. As the go-to chauffer for visiting notables and glitterati from Washington, D.C. and New York City, he quickly discovered that he needed a spot where he could work on his vehicles. So he opened a little gas station at the corner of Rehoboth and Lake avenues. Back in the day, that was one of five gas stations that graced downtown Rehoboth Beach.
In the late ‘50s he opened Peg’s Diner just one door east. Peg was his wife, and the little diner eventually became the Homestead Restaurant, specializing in breakfast and lunch. When the Martins decided to extend their hours to include dinner, they renamed it Café on the Green – which became the first dance bar/restaurant to open downtown. After Café on the Green became Oscar’s Seafood for a while, it was eventually taken over by entrepreneurs Hugh Fuller and Troy Roberts’ fledgling Purple Parrot. It remained there until around 2004 before moving to its current location not much more than a block from the ocean.
Alongside the original Parrot restaurant were several small stores, including a cute little place called Mostly Irish. In 1994 the Martins built the Comfort Inn on Coastal Highway and sold it in 1997. They loved downtown Rehoboth and witnessed the little beach town morph not only into the Nation’s Summer Capital – but also a burgeoning culinary mecca for vacationing foodies.
And along with those foodies came the need for additional places to stay. Vacation season began to extend into the late spring and early fall, and the demand for high-quality lodging increased. Keith elaborates: “Rehoboth needed more rooms, and my parents, my wife Sherri and I wanted a facility to compare with longtime landmarks like the Bellmoor, the Avenue Inn and the Boardwalk Plaza.” So in 2008, Hotel Rehoboth came into being. The classic style and sunny color of Hotel Rehoboth made it an instant landmark. The Martins’ goal was casual elegance, and their 52 rooms achieve that goal with muted hues evoking sun, sand and sea.
The hotel’s commanding presence helped legitimize the gaggle of restaurants that now gather nearby. Located just off the lobby is SoDel Concepts’ Italian brainchild, Lupo Italian Kitchen, where Tuscan-themed dishes are served up in simple yet elegant surroundings.
The hotel is flanked to the west by one of Rehoboth’s hidden gems, Roland Buckingham’s Catchers restaurant. This unassuming little spot might be dwarfed by its bright-yellow next-door neighbor, but Buckingham dishes up big tastes like his scallops wrapped in bacon, fried shrimp and mini-crabcakes (not to mention steamed hardshells). Fine dining? Of course not. A fun, family-friendly eatery where everything is cooked fresh and to order? Yup. And every dish includes a side of Roland’s impossibly dry and engaging sense of humor.
Recent developments at Hotel Rehoboth include the availability of freshly prepared breakfasts served every day from 7 until 10 at Lupo Italian Kitchen. The newly remodeled eatery not only offers sit-down dining, but morning delights such as their fluffy omelets and one-of-a-kind pancakes are also available for room service.
Neighbors-to-the-east Jeff and Kim Hamer have a long history here at the beach, and adjacent to the hotel is one of Jeff’s very first ventures, Fins Fish House. After helping to found Arena’s, he turned the former Sir Guy’s into his popular seafood spot which is even more user-friendly after a recent remodel. The Fins brand became so popular that Fins Hospitality Group has expanded several times, including the Fins in Bethany Beach and the Ale House & Oyster Bar on Coastal Highway.
Needless to say, guests at Hotel Rehoboth will never go hungry. Keith Martin, who operates the hotel with his mom Peggy, speaks reverently about commerce in Rehoboth Beach. “We’re all in this together, and without all of us there wouldn’t be business for any of us.” And business has been good for Keith and Peggy, evidenced by the recent addition of a professionally outfitted meeting room with all the bells and whistles, including internet and state-of-the-art A/V equipment.
I love putting a face on our local businesses. Getting to know Keith and Peggy, Jeff Hamer, Roland Buckingham and so many other entrepreneurs has given me even more respect for the brave locals who stepped up - and are still stepping up to the plate to help make Rehoboth Beach an even better place to visit - and to live.