A special thank you to a brave restaurant pioneer
It’s hard to imagine Rehoboth Beach without The Pond. This neighborhood hangout has been a fixture – under various names – for almost half a century. Many years ago, successful Virginia attorney Pete Borsari took it over as the Frogg Pond, mostly as an investment. But like so many of us, he fell in love with the place and ended up moving here to be a hands-on owner. As if seasonal resort restauranting was not hard enough, Pete made it his business to offer local musicians a year-round stage upon which to ply their trade. In fact, he often featured two bands per night during the season!
This isn’t a news story about why The Pond closed last week. It seems a little early for that, given last week’s emotional outpouring not only from loyal customers, but also from employees and the many musicians who called the place home. But as I have written so many times on this page, eateries close for any number of factors, and the governmental trials and tribulations aimed at restaurateurs over the last couple of years didn’t help.
My Facebook pages and email boxes are busy places (thank you, by the way), and it wasn’t a surprise that people quickly reacted to the news. There were posts like, “Oh, we can’t believe it; so sorry to see you go,” or “How sad, how could this happen … etc., etc., blah, blah…” Though I am sure everyone felt they were being sincere, I couldn’t help but notice that a number of people – who I knew for a fact had never patronized the restaurant – were chiming in with seemingly heartfelt platitudes. It just seems to me that if one is going to broadcast his or her opinion, concerns or even criticisms – good, bad or indifferent – shouldn’t that person have at least gone there?
One of the most annoying things I experience in my job is when somebody says or writes (usually in a self-righteous tone), “Oh, we never go out on Coastal Highway or to downtown [Rehoboth or Lewes or Dewey or Bethany] in the summer or on the weekends! It’s too crowded! And in the summer we have to pay to park downtown!” Really? You moved to the beach, and you aren’t willing to pay a few bucks to patronize the businesspeople who risk a whole lot more than that so you can enjoy dining by the ocean?
Restaurants are nickel-and-dime businesses, and they must sell a certain amount of food to stay alive. It’s as simple as that. And if we locals don’t support them (or at least give them a try – especially in the off season), then we have no business fawning over an owner who finally locks the doors. Note: This is not meant to imply that The Pond did not have its supporters; people loved the place! And, as I said, there were many reasons Pete made the difficult decision he did. Trust me: lack of loyal fans wasn’t one of them.
But that doesn’t change the fact that restauranting is relentless and not for the faint of heart. An experienced culinary instructor recently sent me a note saying, “No one considers that just because the broccoli costs, say, $1 a head, that the true cost must include how much is trimmed and thrown away. This is referred to as the actual cost versus edible cost, and applies to every bit of food served. It’s not like buying 100 T-shirts for $4 each and selling them for $10. How much hamburger meat do you start with to end up with a 4-ounce burger? Well, how much fat content is in the meat, and how long are you going to cook it, and to what temperature? Can you call it a ‘quarter pounder’ if you start with 4 ounces? No, you can’t.” Food safety is another essential factor, and every food service business must have at least one person on the premises – every hour they are open – who is certified in safety/sanitation. Today’s dearth of qualified help can make that a challenge. The whiners who indignantly call a restaurant “pricey” have no concept of the myriad costs involved.
I’ll say it again: None of this should be construed as even remotely applying to The Pond or any other particular restaurant here at the beach. Any number of factors can arise – including just getting tired and walking away. But that doesn’t make the loss of a beloved sanctuary any less painful. Thank you, Pete, for giving us such a comfortable spot with straight-ahead food and so much great, local music over the years.