A Rehoboth Beach dining mainstay – with dual personalities
My involvement with the RehobothFoodie.com/Touch of Italy Culinary Scholarship Foundation brought with it yet another perk: Increased interaction with Meghan Gardner, one of the partners in Rehoboth’s iconic Blue Moon restaurant. Over the years Meghan has worked closely with the Delaware Restaurant Association Educational Foundation in our shared efforts to help local high schoolers continue their education in the culinary arts and sciences.
Like the Back Porch Café, the Robin Hood and even Gus & Gus’ Place on the Boardwalk, the Blue Moon occupies a cherished spot in Rehoboth restaurant history. It all started around 1980 when Back Porch Café co-owner Victor Pisapia and New York caterer/part-time Back Porch hostess Joyce Felton sold Victor’s car and maxed out their credit cards in order to acquire a restored Victorian beach house on Baltimore Avenue. They thought that it might make a nice restaurant – and who knows, maybe even a quiet little bar. Their combined talents eventually gave birth to the Blue Moon. In the spring of ‘02, a young Meghan Gardner took a job bussing tables. Soon she was serving, helping out in the office, and managing The Moon’s renowned wine list and dining room operations. In the meantime, a young Lion Gardner was honing his cooking skills at Rob Stitt’s original Eden Café on Rehoboth Avenue (and Taste that replaced it), the new Eden on Baltimore Avenue, Fins and S.O.B.’s. He and Meghan married in 2004. Shortly thereafter, longtime Blue Moon Executive Chef Pete McMahon moved on, and in 2007 Joyce appointed Lion as executive chef. He was pleased. “We needed this change to bring the Blue Moon back to what it had always been.” McMahon is now the corporate executive chef for Highway One LP.
As luck would have it, two Blue Moon regulars named Tim Ragan and Randy Haney had just sold their business and moved to Rehoboth. When they showed interest in joining forces at Blue Moon, they and the Gardners decided to break away and open their own concept. When they revealed their plan to Joyce Felton, her rejoinder was unexpected: “Make me an offer.” The four partners scrambled to do what she and Pisapia had done so many years before: They liquidated everything, and in 2008 the deal closed in just 30 days. One thing (well, a whole lot of things) led to another, and the four partners are now basking in over 38 years of fine dining, upscale wines and late-night cocktails at the beach.
A businessman in his own right, Ragan felt that the Blue Moon had potential as an entertainment venue. He felt that a modern bar needed more than just dark corners, video games and matchbooks for scribbling phone numbers. “I was a typical customer, and I knew what I wanted to see.” To that end, Randy called in his construction connections to make the bar more entertainment-friendly. The rest is history as the music and performance lineup at Blue Moon continues to bring a bit of glitter and personality to Baltimore Avenue.
Felton and Pisapia’s legacy is in good hands as the Gardners, Ragan and Haney work every day to keep The Moon cooking, serving, pouring, catering, entertaining - and that mirror ball spinning. Meghan explains, “We each get to do what we like to do. We love being here and being here together.” Given all he expectations from locals and vacationers, I asked her how they keep it interesting after all these years. She told me, “It has to stay interesting. Like any restaurant, we keep many of the favorites on the menu, but quietly change and improve them over the years. For example, the Moon Bomb dessert is still on the menu - and has been for years. But for all sorts of reasons it’s different from what it was back then. We get to try something new, and our guests still love it. Such is the daily balancing act of restauranting!”
The Blue Moon is among some of our shining stars not only in Rehoboth Beach history, but also in what has become a well-regarded culinary landscape here at the beach. Along with other local restaurateurs, Meghan continues to pay it forward by providing happy locals and vacationers with an upscale, yet informal dining experience. In the meantime, her talents and generosity help pave the way for potential chefs, managers and owners to get the education and experience required to continue that legacy … for at least another 38 years.