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Saltwater Portrait

Rebecca Fluharty: Setting the standard in restaurant design

Cape Region native surprised to be turn lifelong love of creation into commercial success
September 11, 2018

Story Location:
18701 Coastal Highway
Lewes  Delaware  19958
United States

The creative design force behind many of the Cape Region’s most popular and stylish restaurants says she got her start modestly, joining her dad on construction sites back when Route 1 was still farmland.

Rebecca Fluharty’s dad, George, owned a masonry business, and he would take the kids to job sites all the time, Fluharty said. He’d let them look at blueprints, she said. “I’ve always liked looking at a new set of blueprints,” she said. “Looking them over, thinking to myself, ‘Oh, I would have done this or I would have done that.’”

Fluharty, 41, was born and raised in Lewes. She graduated from Cape Henlopen High School and, off the top of her head, can date her family in the area to at least her great-grandparents. Things have changed, she said, looking out onto Route 1, recalling a time when someone had to drive to Dover or Salisbury to go shopping.

Fluharty said she’s never really thought about permanently leaving the Cape Region. She said she went to the Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science, which is now a part of Thomas Jefferson University, where she majored in architectural design and minored in textile design.  “It had a good reputation, and it was close, so I could come home on the weekends,” she said.

Fluharty’s dad died in March. Up until his death, she said, she would call to get his opinion on design specifics. “It was very helpful to be able to call him up and ask if this made sense or if that made sense,” she said.

In one of those everything-comes-full-circle moments, Fluharty helped with the recent renovation of Fins Fish House in Rehoboth on Rehoboth Avenue. Her dad did the masonry on the building 30 years ago when it was built. It was sentimental to be able to work on the same building, she said.

In the age of self-promotion, Fluharty is noticeably absent from the internet or social media. A quick Google search brings up contact information, but it’s limited. Fluharty laughed about it, acknowledging she’s been thinking about getting her brand out there more, but so far, she said, she’s been lucky. She’s gotten all her business through word of mouth.

“I’ve been fortunate that my clients have liked the work I’ve done, and when asked, they haven’t had a problem sharing my information,” said Fluharty.

Fluharty said the design process for every restaurant is different. It depends on space, budget, time, current state of the property and owner involvement, she said. Some owners are hands-on and have a certain idea in their heads, while others aren’t, and they trust the product will come out the way they want, she said.

Fluharty said sometimes the biggest hurdle is getting her ideas across to the owner. “I see the vision in my head, but they’re not always easily articulated,” she said. “I’ll tell them to trust me, and most of the time they let me do it.” Fluharty said she gets inspiration from Instagram, traveling and antiquing. She said she’s got certain antique spots where she likes to shop, but is always looking for someplace new.

Fluharty said she’s thought about expanding her company, but she likes to be on site during construction. “I’m a very hands-on person,” she said. “I want to be involved from the day the process begins until the day after it opens. I like to stay around for the first day to make sure kinks are ironed out.”

Fluharty said she likes to add style by repurposing old items. The interview was taking place at a Fluharty design – Crust & Craft on Route 1 in Lewes. She quickly listed off the restaurant’s repurposed items – the big, red, glowing pizza sign in the back left corner is the Route 1 sign from the previous pizza restaurant; the Crust & Craft sign on the back right wall and the pizza, pasta, bar sign in the kitchen are scrap pieces of steel used from the current exterior signs; and the modern-looking light fixture on the side wall was previously the menu bar that was above the counter from the previous restaurant, without the menu.

“I like to recycle things,” Fluharty said, admitting most restaurants don’t have this many items.

Fluharty said she would, and does, do residential designs, but she much prefers commercial design work. When she first started in design, she said, she would have predicted she would be working in residential, but that’s the work she does the least. “Nowadays, I’d take one commercial job over five residential jobs,” she said. “I’ve always liked designing and creating things. I never thought I’d be doing restaurant design, but I love doing it. It’s what I love to do, but I didn’t know I would.”

As much as she enjoys designing restaurants, Fluharty said she doesn’t have any desire to open her own restaurant. “I see what those owners are doing to make their restaurants work,” she said. “I like being able to finish a project and then hand it over. Plus, I’m definitely a terrible cook.”

Fluharty projects

The list of restaurants and commercial designs that Rebecca Fluharty has completed is wide-ranging. Here is a short list:

• Floral Inspirations, Lewes
• Big Oyster Brewery, Lewes
• Big Chill Beach Club, Delaware Seashore State Park
• The Blue Hen, Rehoboth
• Pig & Publican, Lewes
• The Peninsula Golf and Country Club, Millsboro
• The Coffee House, Rehoboth
• Crooked Hammock, Lewes
• Crust & Craft, Lewes
• Rose & Crown, Lewes
• Bluewater Development, Ocean City