The Business of Eating

Two crazy guys from Jersey

November 20, 2012

Regular visitors to my little corner of the Cape Gazette know that I admire the brave entrepreneurs who somehow manage to wring success out of the financial minefield of resort restauranting. Luminaries such as Alison Blyth (La La Land, Yum Yum, Go Fish!, Go Brit!), and Sydney Arzt (American Pie, Side Street Café, Sydney’s) are just a couple of the talented businesspeople who have improved Rehoboth with their creative spirit.

It’s a rare restaurateur who won’t claim that you have to be crazy to open an eatery - especially in a beach town. In fact, two local guys are so proud of their craziness that they made it the name of their restaurant. Darryl Ciarlante and Joe Zuber are certainly Dos Locos.

Jersey-born Joe Zuber knew exactly what he wanted to do, graduating directly from high school into culinary training. He liked customer service better than slingin’ hash in the kitchen, so he returned to school, eventually becoming the manager of a swanky assisted living community known for its gourmet kitchen.

This was around the time he met Darryl Ciarlante. Darryl was a carpenter and woodworker for a large company that created and assembled exhibits for museums. These sorts of design companies work on their clients’ timetables, and Darryl would often find himself, shall we say, “at liberty” for periods of time. He took advantage by attending bartending school and working part time in restaurants. That experience would soon pay off.

When Joe shared his dream of owning his own restaurant, Darryl’s entrepreneurial spirit kicked in, and they opened a diner in Hammonton, N.J. The eatery was next to a busy train station, and Joe’s retro ‘50s concept was sure to be a hit. But a week after they opened, the town decided to move the train depot to another location. The station, and now Joe and Darryl’s diner, were on the wrong side of the tracks. The restaurant lasted barely a year. Zuber describes the ordeal as “the best worst learning experience I’ve ever had.” He returned to food service management with an international food service corporation.

It was during this time that nasty medical waste was washing up onto the New Jersey beaches, and friends suggested that Joe and Darryl try vacationing in Rehoboth Beach. “We looked at one another,” laughs Joe, and said, “Rehoboth Beach? What in the world is that?” But it wasn’t long before they were hanging out at a little Mexican joint on Baltimore Avenue named Dos Locos. The owners soon opened another place on First Street called Plumb Loco. (Lily Thai is now in that spot.)

One night at Plumb Loco, through the fog of too many cervezas and nachos, they spotted a wrinkled sheet of paper in the window with “For Sale” scrawled across it. They sold everything, bought the place and adopted the original name of Dos Locos. The eccentric name took on real meaning when Darryl decided on a new look for their first July 4th weekend. Friends armed with razor and shaving cream were happy to oblige, and Ciarlante’s shiny head has been reflecting those Corona neons ever since.

Two-hour waits can be good news and bad news, and they eventually moved to 10 Wilmington Ave. on the heels of the exiting Manos restaurant. After four years, a brand new Dos Locos opened in the old Abizak’s spot on Rehoboth Avenue. With increased space and a lively bar, two-hour waits are now a nightly occurrence in the summer.

The guys never forgot their retro concept that fizzled so prematurely in New Jersey. So when the old Blue Plate Diner vacated the former gas station spot on Savannah Road, they assembled a ‘50s filling station motif - JD’s Filling Station, to be exact. Vintage decorations include an old gas pump from their Uncle Harry, an antique Flying A pin-up photo of Darryl’s mom, and front grills from iconic ‘50s rides, including a Camaro and a Pontiac.

As these two crazy guys recover from their 20th season as Rehoboth restaurateurs, the summer crush of customers at Dos Locos and the smiling families devouring homestyle breakfasts, lunches and dinners at JD’s Filling Station in Lewes seem to be proof positive that these two crazy guys must be doing something right.