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Persistence and talent pair nicely with restaurant success

September 17, 2021

Successful people are good at turning adversity into advantage. A good example is chef/restaurateur Kevin Reading, owner of Abbott’s on Broad Creek in Laurel, and partners with brewmaster Ryan Maloney in the Brick Works restaurants in Smyrna and Long Neck. Kevin tells me that he landed his first job at 14. It wasn’t long before he found himself managing Taboo restaurant in West Palm Beach, Fla. He’ll never forget the incident when he had to confront the head chef about unacceptably long ticket times. Some chefs (usually those who lack confidence in their abilities) make themselves unapproachable through defiance and verbal abuse. Needless to say, the confrontation (and the unthinkable possibility of the chef’s quitting) was not pleasant; Reading knew then and there that he had to be proficient at every job in the place - including the chef’s. So in 1994 he enrolled in the Culinary Arts program at The Philadelphia Restaurant School.

Shortly thereafter he opened Fox Point Grill in Wilmington. Friends warned him that upstate diners wouldn’t tolerate anything unusual. He ignored their advice, opening the doors with a menu that included wild game, terrine of eel, cactus salads and elk. Food critics loved his anything-but-conservative fare, and the place took off. Would his out-of-the-box thinking work everywhere?

When fire damaged the restaurant in 2001, Reading brought his concept to Rehoboth Beach. And thus was born Espuma. But Wilmington’s taste for his progressive bent apparently didn’t exist in Rehoboth Beach - at least not for the first year. But things started to take off when his staff insisted that he stay open in the off-season. Nothing if not adventurous, he bought a snow shovel, reined in the menu, turned on the heat, and bingo! Espuma’s numbers skyrocketed 70 percent. The few Rehoboth fine-dining icons that existed in those days were closed for the season, so Espuma became the perfect place for locals to eat well and warm up by the ocean.

During that time, Kevin and pastry chef Andrew Hooven opened Sweet Dreams Bakery on Coastal Highway, immediately garnering Delaware Today’s Best Bakery award. Again, the unthinkable: Hooven suffered a brain aneurysm and was Medevac’d directly to the hospital. The good news is that Andrew recovered and is back in kitchens again. But the bad news was that during that ordeal Kevin unlocked the bakery every day at 4:30 a.m., worked until mid-morning, and then opened Espuma; finally leaving around 1 a.m. Every day. For the entire summer. Something had to give.

He sold Espuma and proceeded to create Nage in Shore Plaza where Sweet Dreams had been. It would take a special cook to help Reading realize his vision for the fledgling Nage, and he finally chose a young and enthusiastic Hari Cameron. By 2007 Nage was earning awards and critical acclaim throughout the state. When former culinary schoolmate (and chef /entrepreneur in his own right) Josh Grapski joined the team, the bistro’s concept was extended to Washington, D.C. Hari went on to garner multiple James Beard nominations for his now-closed a(MUSE.) restaurant. In addition to being a spokes-chef for various purveyors of high-end food and equipment, Hari has partnered up with his brother Orion to open the wildly popular Grandpa MAC casual sit-down eatery on Coastal Highway.

Reading admits to suffering from “restaurant ADD.” He thrives on developing ideas and concepts, but doesn’t relate well to the day-to-day operations. To that end, he reduced his involvement in both Nages and opened Abbott’s Grill in Milford. But the unthinkable has a way of sneaking up on Kevin Reading. Abbott’s grand opening in ’09 was just in time for the devastating back-to-back snowstorms that crippled Delaware for a month. He obviously weathered the storm. Reality also has a way of catching up: He closed the Milford location and now concentrates on Abbott’s on Broad Creek. Both Brick Works breweries/restaurants are doing well, and word on the street is that they aren’t finished yet!

Kevin’s accolades are way too numerous to mention. But he’s most proud of a customer comment card left on a table after a particularly hectic dinner rush. It read, “We felt as if we were the only table in the restaurant.” In the food biz, words like that help fuel the endless hours of effort and risk that are an inescapable part of The Business of Eating. We who live - and dine - at the beach are fortunate to have the likes of Kevin Reading, Josh Grapski, Hari Cameron, Ryan Maloney and Andrew Hooven among us.

  • 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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