She no longer puts in 18-hour shifts, but Maria Perdikis still works the grill at her restaurant, a Newport landmark for 35 years
The Original Newport Restaurant is celebrating 35 years in Delaware, but it can trace it origins to 1963 and Toronto, Canada. That’s when and where 17-year-old Maria Ricci, her mother and brother immigrated from Pisterzo, Italy. Her father had passed away 10 years prior, and Maria became the family breadwinner. She began working two jobs, as a dishwasher and a factory worker making lingerie, for a total of $7 a day.
Two years later, she married Sam Perdikis, a Greek immigrant. They soon had a daughter, Petula, and moved to the United States. Packing everything they had into their car, they moved in with Sam’s sister in Wilmington for two months. Sam eventually found work at the Hotel du Pont, while Maria stayed home to raise Petula. After a few years, she went to work at Strawbridge & Clothier at the Merchandise Mart in Wilmington, and they bought a home in Edgemoor Terrace.
After 15 years in the U.S., they decided to sell the house and move back to Toronto to be with their families. But Sam struggled to find a job, they had to live in a small apartment, and within a year they moved back to the States in North Wilmington. That’s when a friend informed them about a little diner down the street from them that was for sale.
The couple sold their house and put their life savings into the restaurant, naming it The Newport Plaza Family Restaurant. Tragically, Sam passed away from a heart attack soon after, leaving Maria and her daughter, who was now in college, to run the restaurant by themselves. This meant that whenever employees backed out of working their shifts, Maria had to cover for them. She worked the grill, waited tables, and cleaned up after closing time.
“Sometimes,” Perdikis says, “Petula and I would be crying together, because we had to make it. I didn’t want to close.” Some days they both worked 16-18-hour shifts, even while Petula was taking a full course load at West Chester University. (She went on Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., for her masters in music performance.)
In 1994, when the lease came up for the diner, Perdikis decided she wanted to move down the street a quarter of a mile to 601 W. Newport Pike, where The Original Newport Restaurant stands today. The larger location enabled her to expand the restaurant and accommodate more customers, many of whom followed her from the old location. Among her customers are former Vice President Joe Biden, along with governors and other public officials. Singer Johnny Mathis has even stopped at the diner.
And no wonder. The restaurant has a solid reputation for tasty, ample and affordable (cash only, no credit cards) food. Breakfast is served all day, and includes the usual bacon and eggs and pancakes as well as a western omelet with salsa on the side. Chicken and dumplings is the diner’s most famous dish. Perdikis makes her own crab cakes with lump meat, chicken croquettes, rice pudding, and bread pudding. Cole slaw, potato salad and chili are other popular choices.
There is a family atmosphere at the restaurant, and that applies to the staff as well as the customers. Perdikis, a petite, shy woman with an Italian accent, prefers to be behind the grill, but she also loves to interact with her customers and be certain they are satisfied with the food and the service. She still has goals, including being named in the breakfast category on The Best of Delaware list, the annual awards bestowed by Delaware Today and its readers.
Reflecting on more than three decades in business and the life she has forged for herself, Maria Perdikis is grateful. She remains close to her daughter and her granddaughter, Luciana, 14, and her restaurant is thriving.
“I appreciate everything that my people did for me, my customers and my employees,” she says. “I appreciate America and what it did for me. I worked really, really hard to be where I stand, and I appreciate everything, because I didn’t have anything. I’m so blessed to be here today.”
Restaurants are springing up all over Market Street, giving redevelopment a boost
In 2013, when Bryan and Andrea Sikora opened La Fia on the 400 block of Market Street, they had no intention of creating a restaurant group focused on LOMA, the nickname for the lower end of Wilmington’s main commercial corridor. La Fia was so well received, however, that the Sikoras decided to expand.
In 2015, they opened Cocina Lolo at 405 N. King St., which has been a hit with the lunch and happy hour crowd. Also that year, Merchant Bar, which opened at 426 N. Market St., quickly debunked the complaint that there’s nothing to do after 9 p.m. on Market Street.
The Sikoras appreciate Market Street’s diverse scene. “There’s a nice representation of various arts groups—arts, theater—we thought that was a good match for the customer base that we are trying to reach,” says Andrea Sikora, whose restaurants are just steps from World Cafe Live at the Queen. And there are enough office workers to sustain the lunch hour.
That’s also the case at the upper end of Market, where the Grand Opera House holds court. For a pre- or post-show pint, the Grand’s customers often make a pit stop at Chelsea Tavern, located at 821 N. Market.
While diners still drive in from the suburbs, particularly if they are going to a show, a growing number live just around the block. “We see many more residential regulars than we have in the past,” says Joe Van Horn, owner of Chelsea Tavern.
In the past six months, Sikora has also seen more local traffic. She largely credits The Buccini/Pollin Group, or BPG, whose Market Street corridor project includes 114 existing apartments, liberally sprinkled from the 400 to the 800 blocks—and more are on the way.
BPG in June broke ground on the Residences at Midtown Park, a $75 million complex that will include 200 apartments, 12,000 square feet of retail space, and a 500-space underground parking garage. In September, BPG announced the acquisition of three properties with more than 60,000 square feet that will include apartments above retail/restaurant space.
“When we bring new apartments to the area—and they get filled—then there’s the next wave of restaurant-retail activity,” says Sarah Lamb, director of design and marketing for BPG. “And we’re in that next wave right now.”
In short, the Sikoras and Van Horn are about to get some more culinary company.
Breaking the Barriers
For decades, Market Street restaurants have been dependent on office workers and theatergoers. But even when the DuPont Co. and MBNA were in full swing, it was an inconsistent customer base that exacerbated the challenges of restaurant ownership.
A short walk from Market Street, the Washington Street Ale House, Mikimotos, and Domaine Hudson persevered. Dan Butler’s Deep Blue, which he’s recently reinvented as Tonic, also displayed longevity on 10th Street. These restaurants benefit from proximity to the Wilmington Hospital and the Midtown Brandywine residential, as well as corporate offices.
Market Street, however, witnessed a series of high-profile casualties in the early 2000s. Remember 821, The Maine Course and National? Stalwarts such as Cavanaugh’s at 703 N. Market and Govato’s at 800 N. Market are open only for lunch. If the theaters were dark and the offices were closed, you could chase tumbleweeds down Market Street.
BPG’s approach puts an emphasis on residential as well as commercial development. The developer has a range of options along the Market Street corridor, from 76 studios and one-bedroom units at 6 E. Third St. to The Residences at Rodney Square, an office-to-residential conversion with 280 apartments.
Marketing materials for the 200-unit Residences at the Midtown Park, which is under development where the Shipley Street parking garage once stood, show hip urbanites riding bikes and standing on corners checking their phones.
If that rendering becomes a reality, these are the folks who want a bite, a beer, and conversation, preferably with some live music nearby.
From Top to Bottom
The northern end of Market Street has traditionally seen the bulk of restaurant activity. In 2010, Chelsea Tavern took over space formerly occupied by Restaurant 821, a fine-dining establishment that rode in on the coattails of MBNA. Chelsea took the opposite approach by espousing an alehouse concept. Owner Scott Morrison also opened Ernest & Scott Taproom, at 902 N. Market. Van Horn manages both.
Morrison planned to open a brewpub three doors down from Chelsea Tavern. Then, in February, he suffered a fatal heart attack. Van Horn has since purchased Chelsea Tavern and is in negotiations to acquire Ernest & Scott.
Van Horn is planning an expansion for Chelsea that will include indoor and outdoor seating in what is now a thruway linking Market and Shipley streets. The building at 815 N. Market is coming down, allowing the tavern to open a small beer garden in the future plaza. “We hope to be up and running in early spring,” Van Horn says.
If all goes as planned with the Ernest & Scott deal, he will renovate the space and partner with a local chef to reopen with a new concept.
Meanwhile, Daniel Sheridan has picked up the baton and is running forward with a brewpub concept for 829 N. Market St.: Stitch House Brewery.
Sheridan’s name is fairly familiar around town—he’s an owner of Locale BBQ Post and Wilmington Pickling Company. And he’s no stranger to Market Street, having worked with chef Bryan Sikora at La Fia for nearly two years while planning Locale.
“It put me at ease about being on Market Street because I saw that he could bring in clients after downtown [office workers] cleared out,” Sheridan says. “We’re confident that with a nice brewery and a nice menu we can bring people downtown. Plus, with the Midtown Park project, we’ll have a parking garage right behind us and more apartments right behind us.”
Stitch House Brewery, which will have 90 to 100 seats, is named for the building’s former occupants, a tailor and a linen shop. (It’s also been a coal house and an icehouse.)
Sheridan, who hopes to open next spring, says to expect some barbecue; there will be a smoker on the premises. But barbecue isn’t the star. To cater to the lunchtime crowd, the menu will include paninis and sandwiches. Sheridan is also incorporating a fun factor: dishes prepared and served in mini cast iron skillets, such as dips, lasagna and warm vegetable salads with goat cheese.
LOMA, at the lower end of Market Street, got its boost from La Fia’s opening. The restaurant and its siblings have created a bustling couple of blocks in the evenings.
Last summer, Twisted Soul Restaurant & Bar joined the trio. Steve and Khim Taylor, who received assistance from the Market Street Corridor Revitalization Fund, own the 80-seat restaurant, located at 413 N. Market.
Filling in the Gaps
Now BPG and city stakeholders, including Downtown Visions, are turning their attention to the blocks between Fourth and Eighth streets. Not only will this appease those who live in those areas, but it will create more activity from one end of the street to another instead of at either end, making it more inviting for those who wish to walk the corridor at night.
Starbucks is scheduled to open a location early this month at 629 N. Market. The restaurant, which sports a high-level design similar to the décor in the Riverfront site, will be open seven days a week. “It’s something our residents are demanding,” says BPG’s Lamb.
Across the street, Ardé Osteria, an Italian concept, is in the works. The restaurant is owned by Pino DiMeo, Scott Stein and Antimo DiMeo, whose first Wilmington venture, DiMeo’s Pizzaiuoli Napulitani, is a destination for pizza-lovers at 831 N. Market.
To offer an enhanced menu, the partners first looked at the space now occupied by Merchant Bar. Meanwhile, a location in Wayne, Pa., became available, and they opened Ardé Osteria as a BYO.
“Always the vision—the next evolution—was to have a wine bar, craft beer, and creative cocktails,” Stein says. “We always knew we would go back to Wilmington with this concept.” The buffalo mozzarella bar, a highlight of the Wayne location, will be available in Wilmington.
The Ardé Osteria on Market Street will reside in what some today know as the Kennedy Fried Chicken building, which is situated at the corner of Seventh and Market streets. But old-timers will recall it as Snellenburg’s Department Store. Atop the restaurant will be 15 one-bedroom and two-bedroom-den apartments. If all goes well, Ardé Osteria will open in spring 2017.
The Italian concept joins a melting pot. The Market Street corridor and the surrounding area have a significant number of small ethnic restaurants featuring sushi, Chinese, and Indian cuisine. More than a few, though, close around 6 p.m.
Sheridan wants the corridor to become better known for diverse dining during all hours, including happy hour and late night. “There’s not one restaurant that will carry the whole street,” he says. “It needs to be a collective.”
But the pie is only so big, Sikora says. Some might say that’s especially true in the 800 block, where craft beer is already big. Van Horn of Chelsea Tavern isn’t worried about Sheridan’s new brewery. “It was going to be great for business when we were going to do it, and it will be great for business when Dan does it,” he says.
On Market Street, the adage proves true: the more the merrier.