Bring on Breakfast!

These 16 spots are worth trying

PureBread Deli
Various locations
pb_1-dobermanThis café—with locations in Wilmington, Greenville, Pike Creek, Christiana and Glenn Mills—is a step up from traditional fare but still maintains the informal atmosphere one may expect of a breakfast spot. You really won’t see anything fried or greasy here; think more cold sandwiches, freshly-baked muffins, grilled paninis. My go-to is the smoked salmon sandwich, the Doberman, a classic lox including, of course, cream cheese, red onion, capers and tomato on your choice of toasted bagel.
— Krista Connor, Associate Editor

Meghan’s
1117 Smithbridge Rd., Glen Mills, Pa.
It would be easy to miss this quaint little eatery situated just over the Pennsylvania line at Route 202 and Smithbridge Road; the place can’t be larger than 600 square feet. But if you have a small group looking for a consistent breakfast spot, pay Meghan’s a visit (the place isn’t conducive to parties of six or more). Be prepared to eat immediately after ordering; the service is that fast. Meghan’s delivers a solid performance on all the breakfast basics. Their western omelet is my go-to item.
— Jerry duPhily, Publisher

Angelo’s Luncheonette
1722 N. Scott St., Wilmington
img_6175-cmykDare I say Angelo’s hot (spicy) sausage, egg and cheese breakfast sandwich on wheat toast (to go) is my favorite breakfast sandwich so far? And I loved feeling as though I had walked into a 1960s’ neighborhood luncheonette. The atmosphere was welcoming and the staff was too. They added the perfect amount of hot sauce and I was on my way. I can’t wait to go back. facebook.com/angelos.luncheonette.
— Matt Loeb, Creative Director & Production Manager

Lucky’s Coffee Shop
Rt. 202 near Silverside
With a cool 1950s vibe, this spot offers all the amenities you would expect from a diner—with a spin. I recommend ordering from the “Way Cooler Breakfast Items” section of the menu. My menu items of choice are the eggs Benedict and a side of biscuits. With a Sputnik Chandelier in the entryway, the egg shell chair in the back corner, great tunes on the speakers, and a stocked liquor cabinet, this breakfast spot truly is a blast.
— Ryan Alexander, Contributing Designer

Marsh Road Diner
407 Marsh Rd. Wilmington
A traditional diner, it’s open 24/7, with a huge menu featuring all-American staples like biscuits and gravy, chicken and dumplings and Belgian waffles, and breakfast all day. Prices are reasonable, service fast. Located just off Philadelphia Pike. Try the soup. Any soup.
— Bob Yearick, Contributing Editor

LOMA Coffee
3rd and Market, Wilmington
This has become a popular destination for early business meetings and for those simply in need of a little jolt before work. For the most part, the breakfast offerings are standard yet satisfying and always served with a smile. But the standouts here are the selection of smoothies, each of which can be turbo-charged with a shot of protein. I recommend the Three Berry option as a quick, easy and healthy way to fuel up for the day.
— Jim Miller, Director of Publications

Kozy Korner
906 N. Union St., Wilmington
Kozy Korner is an old-school diner. The food is straightforward, fresh, and very reasonably priced. It has a hometown feel in both appearance and service. If you’re looking for an omelet and a dose of nostalgia, then Kozy Korner is the place for you. And you may run into some of our political leaders.
— Marie Graham Poot, Director of Digital Media & Distribution

Sinclair’s Café
177 E. Main St., Newark
This classic Main Street gathering place features staples like omelets, breakfast potatoes, and eggs Benedict. The simple and unpretentious atmosphere invites guests to take it easy and find time for one—or two—more rounds of coffee. Open Tuesdays-Sundays.
— Krista Connor, Associate Editor

Hollywood Grill
1811 Concord Pike, Wilmington
Menus featuring Hollywood icons give it an old-timey feel, belying the fact that this spacious restaurant has been around only since 2002. In those 15 years, it has become a popular breakfast (and lunch) spot for politicians and leaders of all stripes in North Wilmington. Bill Clinton stopped by during the last presidential campaign, glad-handing staff and patrons. New Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester held a rally there. Breakfast, including cocktails, starts at 6 a.m. One caveat: avoid sitting in the northeast corner, which seems to trap the sounds of loud voices and clattering dishes, assaulting the ears.
— Bob Yearick, Contributing Editor

Drip Café
img_2432Lantana Square Shopping Center, Hockessin
My wife and I love this place, and judging by the crowd on the weekends a lot of other people do as well. Since we’re big fans of anything between two slices of bread, we naturally gravitate toward the breakfast sandwiches. The last time we went, my wife got the Power Sandwich —egg whites, turkey sausage, brie, spinach and house-made power jam on multigrain toast. I had the Scrapple Croque Madame, which has amazing fried scrapple, Swiss cheese and Dijon on grilled sourdough, topped with béchamel sauce and a sunny side up egg. We shared a side of ginger-sage pork sausage and a French press of the delicious coffee. If you go, also consider the caramel apple pancakes. They’re simply amazing.
— Tyler Mitchell, Graphic Designer

Maiale
The Cannery, Lancaster Avenue, Wilmington
Need something to get you through a long day? I stopped into Maiale in The Cannery on Lancaster Avenue on a chilly Friday morning to try one of the famous breakfast sandwiches. I went with the sausage, egg and cheese (Maiale is known for its hand-crafted specialty sausages). It was not only delicious, but I didn’t need to have another meal until dinner.
— Matt Loeb, Creative Director & Production Manager

Brew Ha Ha!
breakfastsandwichGreenville
At most Brew Ha Ha! coffee shops, the breakfast menu features a wide range of serious coffee, morning pastries, and a choice of three breakfast sandwiches, each offered on a choice of bagel or delicious homemade biscuits. However, the Greenville location has three additional options (all vegetarian) while also offering loaded oatmeal bowls and avocado toast. The weekend menu includes masa pancakes, French toast and omelets joining brunch-type cocktails for some morning fun.
— Jim Miller, Director of Publications

De La Coeur Café et Patisserie
Lovering Avenue, Forty Acres, Wilmington
I’m not sure why it took me so long to try De La Coeur . The cozy little café has a very inviting atmosphere, and more important, great coffee. We tried the breakfast sandwich (egg, arugula, bacon, and red pepper aioli on a fresh baguette) and the breakfast hash (home fries, chili, onions, aioli topped with a perfectly fried egg), and they were both delicious. I’m looking forward to returning soon for crepes.
— Marie Graham Poot, Director of Digital Media & Distribution

Locale BBQ Post
1014 N. Lincoln St. Wilmington
img_2596-cmykNeed a quick and delicious breakfast sandwich to-go, at any time of the day? Then this is your best option on the west side of the city. They’ll cook your egg fresh while you wait, then top it with your preferred meat (bacon and sausage for us) and an amazing remoulade sauce on a fresh brioche bun. They also give you a great dipping sauce, which last time was pepper-vinegar, but this time was sweet honey. Either way, it’s always worth the five minutes and five bucks.
— Tyler Mitchell, Graphic Designer

Hank’s Place
1625 Creek Rd., Chadds Ford, Pa.
Drive by this Chadds Ford treasure on any weekend morning and you will see a line of people—even in the dead of winter—waiting for a seat. Hank’s Place is that good. Sure, it has the cachet of being a favorite breakfast spot of famed artists such as Andrew Wyeth and Rea Redifer, but that’s not why people flock to Hank’s. They go for the food. The menu offers all the traditional breakfast fare as well as Greek specialties, but do yourself a favor and order something from Hank’s Specialty Egg Dishes or the Frittatas sections of the menu. Voula’s Corned Beef Hash and Eggs is my personal favorite. A word of caution: Hank’s does not take credit cards and the breakfast selections are not inexpensive (though the portions are large). So, go prepared.
—Jerry duPhily, Publisher

The Perfect Blend
249 E. Main St., Newark
This café is all about one thing: Belgian waffles. Hidden in a historic building on Main Street, The Perfect Blend is open Tuesdays-Sundays, and it’s packed on weekends with a lively atmosphere. It’s an informal, colorful place to go for that guilty-pleasure breakfast (note: more like dessert). The owner, Jeanne Kress, is gracious and welcoming.
— Krista Connor, Associate Editor

Small Town, Big Appetites

Newark is now a destination for even the most discerning diners

When the owners of Churrascaria Saudades decided to open a Brazilian steakhouse, they initially considered Middletown. Then they visited the Newark Shopping Center. “There was a new movie theater, the natural food store was opening—they felt it was a really good time to get into Newark,” says Jonathan Keegan, the restaurant’s assistant manager. “It was changing.”

But was it changing enough for diners to plunk down $46 for 15 different kinds of all-you-can-eat cuts of meat? After all, Newark is traditionally known for pizza places and sub shops—the foods that college students crave after a night spent studying or partying. In a word, “yes.”

Since opening last year, Churrascaria Saudades regularly serves up to 400 people on a Friday or Saturday night, says Keegan, who previously worked at Fogo de Chão, a Brazilian steakhouse in Philly.

And the guests aren’t all students, parents, and faculty. “You get the business professionals, the bankers,” he says. “We do a lot of medical parties. But then you get people coming in to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, graduations—lots of celebrations going on.”

To be sure, for Newark diners, there’s much to celebrate these days. The dining scene is diverse and concentrated, says Karen Stauffer, director of marketing for the Delaware Restaurant Association, which is near Main Street. “As an adventurous eater, that is something I appreciate.”

Restaurant volume is a good thing for all, says Bobby Pancake, past chairman of the Delaware Restaurant Association and a partner in High5Hospitality, whose restaurants include Buffalo Wild Wings and the Stone Balloon Ale House. “The more restaurants you have, the more people come to Newark,” he says.

But that does force businesses to up their game. “The more restaurants you have, the better you have to perform,” Pancake adds. And that’s good news for diners.

The Icons

The Main Street area has long been the epicenter of Newark dining. Admittedly, it wasn’t as diverse in the ‘80s and ‘90s, when The Glass Mug, the Malt Shoppe, Sam’s, and Daffy Deli reigned.

Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant shook up the scene when it opened in 1996—before the craft beer craze took hold. Many wondered if a brewery could survive in a town where students quaffed cheap beer and counted pennies. Fortunately, area families and diners with bigger wallets were happy to belly up to a brewpub in their backyard.

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Asian cauliflower wings at Home Grown Cafe (Photo by Jim Coarse)

Home Grown Café and Caffé Gelato also brought fresh concepts to the scene when they opened in 2000. Home Grown Café was an offshoot of a retail store, Home Grown, which opened in 1998. By 2004, the restaurant consumed most of the retail space. Surrounded by sub shops, the kitchen turned out fresh food made from scratch and vegetarian options in the days before the gluten-free revolution.

Caffé Gelato, which started as a gelato shop, has expanded to become a full-service restaurant with an award-winning wine list.

The longtime businesses have built a loyal fan base. Home Grown serves food that’s “outside the box,” says Heather Hook, a Wilmington resident who heads to Newark for the restaurant scene. “I love their buffalo cauliflower florets and the crispy russet potato chips with yogurt aioli. I swooned when I had the avocado-carob mousse.”

Two restaurants loved by generations of UD alums are still thriving, albeit with a more modern approach. The Deer Park underwent a total renovation when Bob Ashby’s company purchased it in 2001. Now it’s Klondike Kate’s turn.

In November, Gilda and Gianmarco Martuscelli bought the restaurant, which opened in 1979 in a building that held a gas station, jail, post office, pool hall, skating rink and movie theater. The family also owns Chesapeake Inn and La Casa Pasta.

Gianmarco Martuscelli saw Klondike Kate’s, which is busy during the school year, as a complement to the Chesapeake Inn, which is busy in the summer. Like Ashby, the Martuscellis have instituted some changes that initially led to pushback. Klondike Kate’s had been famous for its daily specials that extended to takeout. The UD football team would order half-priced burgers to go on Mondays, Gianmarco Martuscelli says. Offices would send someone to pick up half-priced salad and sandwiches for an entire department. Additional employees were needed just to fill the discounted takeout orders, but the dining room wasn’t full.

Back Creek Roll at Klondike Kate's made by Sushi Sumo. (Photo courtesy of Klondike Kate's)
Back Creek Roll at Klondike Kate’s made by Sushi Sumo. (Photo courtesy of Klondike Kate’s)

Now only in-house guests can order the discounted specials. Martuscelli has also streamlined the menu, which had so many items that it was worthy of a diner. The kitchen spent too much time prepping before meal service, and the volume of options slowed down the meal service. There were also too many sides, which again led to time spent prepping. Martuscelli has cut the quantity for quality. Burger meat, for instance, is now fresh, not frozen.

One addition to the menu is raising eyebrows. Klondike Kate’s offers 12 sushi rolls made by Sushi Sumo on Kirkwood Highway. “My staff had said there was no longer a sushi spot on Main Street,” Martuscelli explains. “It’s been really popular with the students.”
And for nacho lovers, rest easy. They’re still on the menu.

The Melting Pot

Sushi might be scarce on Main Street, but the surrounding area is a mecca for those who love ethnic cuisine. “There’s so much more variety in the Newark area than in Wilmington,” says Robbie Jester, executive chef of the Stone Balloon Ale House.

Consider Chef Tan and Ramen Kumamoto, both on Main Street. Chef Tan has most of the Chinese staples, complete with little red peppers beside spicy menu options. Ramen Kumamoto has created diehard noodle addicts who rave about the “tan tan,” a spicy chicken broth with miso and sesame paste, topped with minced meat, bean sprouts, noodles, and chicken or pork.

Sara Teixido, a Pike Creek resident, is such a fan of the ramen that she sent her fiancé for a takeout order of it when she was sick. She’s also a fan of Ali Baba on Main Street. “It’s stayed the same for years, but their Ali Baba hummus, carrot salad, and spicy Moroccan chicken are crave-able,” she says. “You can feast with a group, have a fun time in a unique atmosphere, and not break the bank.”

Robin Glanden, who lives within walking distance of Main Street, recommends Olive Tree Café, which also features Mediterranean food, in Chestnut Plaza. “It has a friendly owner and wait staff and absolutely delicious food—the mint tea is to die for.”

The Mexican segment is oversaturated in Newark, acknowledges Pancake of Buffalo Wild Wings and the Stone Balloon Ale House. It is home to the most recent El Diablo Burritos location, Santa Fe Mexican Grill, Del Pez Mexican Gastropub, and Tex-Mex chains, including Chipotle Mexican Grill. “There are like five burrito places within two blocks,” Martuscelli says. For now, they’re holding their own.

Good Food To Go

Along with competing for market share in a certain dining segment, many restaurants are vying for the lunch crowd, Martuscelli says. Klondike Kate’s in January added a lunch buffet on Fridays to tempt university staff interested in a quick bite. “It’s been popular,” Martuscelli says.

The plentiful choices include chains that specialize in fast-casual fare.

Roots Natural Kitchen, which offers rice bowls and salads, is a newcomer, as is honeygrow, a Philadelphia-based chain featuring salads and stir-fry.

“We wanted to open in Newark because Main Street has always been a vibrant and bustling community, whether the university is in session or on break,” says Jen Denis, the chief branding officer for honeygrow and a 2000 graduate of the University of Delaware. “The community seems ready to welcome and embrace wholesome cuisine served up fresh, fast, and fully customized. Honeygrow thrives in locations with active, creative, and civic-minded populations, and the Newark area community fits that bill perfectly.”

Soup to Nuts

Perhaps one of the most dramatic changes on the Newark dining scene has been the rise of restaurants like Churrascaria Saudades, which have a higher price point, and eateries that appeal to a variety of diners, including families.

Rigatoni & Sweet Italian Sausage at Taverna Rustic Italian (Photo by Danielle Quigley)
Rigatoni & Sweet Italian Sausage at Taverna Rustic Italian (Photo by Danielle Quigley)

Since Taverna Rustic Italian opened in 2012, it’s consistently listed among local diners’ favorites. “My husband gets pretty bored with Italian, but he loves Taverna because it is so different and the food is often locally sourced,” Glanden says.

Owned by the Platinum Dining Group, which also owns Eclipse and Capers & Lemons, Taverna has coal-fired pizzas, as well as entrees such as spinach ricotta with agnolotti, shiitake mushrooms, truffle butter, and lemon. “Taverna has been incredibly successful,” says Carl Georigi, the hospitality group’s founder, who had his eye on a Main Street location for years before the Taverna space became available. “It’s been well received by the entire community. We’re very happy we went there.”

Pancake is a big fan. He eats there often—when he’s not eating at the Stone Balloon, which his company purchased in 2015.

The Stone Balloon has gone through a few incarnations—from a wine house whose license prohibited children to an ale house concept with a celebrity chef. The most recent version gets help from Robbie Jester’s contributions. Since his appearances on Guy’s Grocery Games and Beat Bobby Flay on the Food Network, Jester has seen business soar.

He began working at the restaurant when it was the 16 Mile Ale House—an interlude between the Stone Balloon Wine House and the Stone Balloon Ale House. Business had increased 200 to 300 percent, he says. “The Stone Balloon is a different animal on the street,” he says. ““It’s a higher-quality service experience.” He’s noticed that other restaurants have stepped up their game.

Still, owners keep the college town in mind. There are a variety of price points on the menu for those who want the full dining experience or those who want a bite at the bar.

Grain Craft Bar+Kitchen, which opened in 2015, also bridges the gap between the university population and the surrounding community. Lee Mikles and partner Jim O’Donoghue are both UD grads. “We were very familiar with Main Street,” Mikles says. “The vibrancy of being on a college campus, even though we aren’t a ‘college bar,’ was very appealing. Lots of people live and work around town, and we wanted to create something to appeal to them.”

By most accounts, they’ve succeeded. “It has good food, but it’s also a bar, and it’s appropriate for families,” says Stauffer of the restaurant association, who wants to see more restaurants in the area like Grain.

A Twist on the Traditional

Longtime concepts have not gone away, but they have been reinvented. Take, for instance, Snap Custom Pizza, which lets customers choose their ingredients.

Matthew Hans, the owner of Wood Fired Pizza, also bucked the pizza parlor norm. In January 2014, he moved his wood-fired pizza concept from food truck into a restaurant. But he kept the menu focused on artisan pizzas. It also includes salads, craft beers, cocktails and a few desserts.

Wood Fired Pizza is near the intersection of East Cleveland Avenue and Paper Mill Road, a location he selected for economic reasons. But it’s turned out to be an advantage. Residents in the surrounding apartment buildings walk to the restaurant in good weather. There’s a 14-car parking lot, which may not seem like much until you realize there are only 35 seats in the restaurant.

Wood Fired Pizza opens at 4 p.m. during the week, and there’s a breakfast pizza brunch menu on weekends. The restaurant does not offer slices, and there is no delivery service. The approach is working. “We stay busy,” Hans says. “The quality of our pizza helps us stand out in a town that’s pretty saturated with pizza places.”

Buddy’s Burgers, Breasts and Fries, a local chain that recently opened a location on Main Street, turns the burger segment on its head by staying open until 3 a.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

What’s the drawback for these eateries? Parking concerns can scare some customers away, Jester says.
It’s definitely an ongoing conversation between officials and businesses, Georigi says. The city promotes its municipal lots, and many businesses validate parking. “We manage, and we work around it,” Georigi says. Still, Delawareans like to park in front of their destination.

Clearly, it’s not keeping new restaurants from opening their doors and diners from walking through them. “As far as Main Street and Collegeville USA goes, the dining scene is firing on all cylinders,” Georigi concludes.

A Victory for Diversity

A Padua education helped Lisa Blunt Rochester become the first woman and the first African-American to represent Delaware in Congress

Last year, when Lisa Blunt Rochester was campaigning to become Delaware’s only member of the U.S. House of Representatives, a constant theme of her crusade was that she had never run for office before, although she had spent years working behind the political scenes. That fact is even the first sentence of her LinkedIn biography: “I’ve never run for office before…”

It wasn’t until recently that Blunt Rochester realized she had erred in claiming this was the first time her fate was decided by voters. She actually ran for office twice in the past—at Padua Academy. And, just as in her bid for the House seat, she was victorious.

In January, Blunt Rochester was sworn in as the first woman and the first African-American to serve in Congress from the First State. That’s a dynamic one-two diversity achievement that she really started training for more than three decades ago at the all-girls Catholic school in Wilmington.

She laughed during a recent interview when she recalled her time at Padua and suddenly remembered her first forays into politics—running for student council during her freshman and senior years, and winning both times.

“That school and those teachers had a great impact on me,” she says. “That was a very important time in my life.”

But she readily admits that 14-year-old Lisa Blunt wasn’t looking forward to entering the Broom Street school.

“I didn’t choose Padua—my parents chose Padua,” she says. “The thought of going to an all-girls school, I don’t think I knew what to expect. But I think that allowed me to be in an environment where I could just truly focus on developing me, the woman I am today.”

In fact, Blunt Rochester says that even today, when she faces tough decisions in Congress, she frequently recalls the Padua motto: Suaviter Sed Fortiter, Latin for “Softly But Strongly.”

An Iconic Father

“It’s an important concept, to realize that you don’t have to have a hammer to get things done and to be strong,” she says. “That’s just one of the basic, foundational things that I got from being in that school.”

Her father, Ted Blunt, is an iconic figure in Delaware politics. He served for more than 30 years with various school districts, then became a member of Wilmington’s City Council for 16 years before rising to Council president for eight years. This gave him a myriad of experiences and personal interactions, and that’s what he and his wife, Alice, wanted for their three daughters, starting with Lisa. (Their other daughters, Thea and Marla, graduated from Brandywine High).

“That’s the price you pay when you’re a child—parents make the decision,” Ted Blunt says with a laugh. “She was our first-born and we wanted her to have an experience around other girls, and not just be around the same kids in your neighborhood. So we decided on Padua for her to get that experience with other youngsters of different backgrounds, whether they be white, black or brown.”

The decision proved to be a wise one. Ted Blunt got what he wanted for his daughter—life lessons as well as academic lessons. Lisa’s time at Padua developed her outlook on life and helped the girl become a woman and eventually a Congresswoman.

When she entered Padua, the school’s total enrollment was only about four percent black, and she was the only African-American in the class of 1980.

“That’s also one of the things that has shaped me,” she says. “It’s the ability to travel in diverse circles, but also to be strong in those times when you might feel challenged or feel as if you were the only one.
“So a lot of things influenced me from that school. And I got a great education.”

Lifelong Friends

There’s something else Blunt Rochester got from Padua, something she still treasures.

“Lifelong friends,” she says. “To have that kind of longevity with people also taught me the value of friendship and the value of loyalty and being there and having somebody’s back. That was really important.”

Karen Jablonski Black was a member of Padua’s Class of 1980, and she remembers Lisa Blunt as a bright, vivacious girl who was judged by her character and not by the color of her skin.

“We had a real sisterhood and Lisa was a big part of that,” says Jablonski Black. “Even then she had a great way of connecting with people. You know how it is in high school, where everybody has their cliques and they sit at different tables and that sort of thing. Well, Lisa was one of those people who was friends with everybody, and it didn’t matter what their color was or their nationality or whether they were smart or popular.”

Blunt Rochester greets crowd watching the International Women's Day Press Conference on March 8 in Washington. (Photo courtesy of Office of Rep. Blunt Rochester)
Blunt Rochester greets crowd watching the International Women’s Day Press Conference on March 8 in Washington. (Photo courtesy of Office of Rep. Blunt Rochester)

“That’s why we’re not surprised that she’s in politics now and doing so well,” Jablonski Black adds. “Lisa was always the type of person you could approach and she was always friendly and outgoing. And nothing has changed—she’s still that sweet person everyone wants to be friends with.”

Blunt Rochester keeps in touch with her Padua classmates, and a little over a year ago they got together to celebrate their 35th reunion. Blunt Rochester has lived in the Middle East, China and Paris, and she shared some of her new adventures with her old friends at the reunion.

“We just picked up like we were in school together just yesterday,” says Dee Jacono Kelleher, another class of ’80 alumna. “Lisa certainly hasn’t changed. She still has a smile on her face all the time and the person we saw [at the reunion] was the same person we saw back in high school—very pleasant and very motivated.

“And she was a leader even back then, even though she was a quiet kind of leader. People just gravitated to her and responded to her, and I think that’s the same reason why she’s been so successful in politics. She just knows how to connect to people on their level, no matter what it is.”

But it wasn’t merely her experience at Padua that motivated Blunt Rochester to enter public service. It was in her blood.

In Her DNA

“I wasn’t just the daughter or someone who was in public service, but a granddaughter, too, because my grandparents were involved in their communities,” she says. “It’s sort of who we are. Some of it was by their examples, but you also feel like it’s in your DNA.”

There are hardships that go with being a public servant, as Blunt Rochester knows better than most. Those include time away from the family and the expense of campaigning, the factors Ted Blunt cited when he withdrew from the race for lieutenant governor in 2008. (Winning that election would have made him the first African-American to win a state-wide office in Delaware.)

All of that was in the back of Blunt Rochester’s mind when she first considered running for Congress. She had been a behind-the-scenes politician for years, starting as an intern for then-governor Tom Carper. Her impressive resume included serving in the cabinets of two Delaware governors as secretary of labor, deputy secretary of health and social services, and state personnel director.

Slowly, steadily, she paid her dues and moved up the ranks in the Democratic Party, which has controlled Delaware politics for years. So, when John Carney decided not to run for re-election to the House so he could run for governor, Blunt Rochester was the Democrat’s overwhelming choice to succeed him.

But this would be the first time she would expose herself to the slings and arrows of a political campaign—not counting Padua, of course.

Blunt Rochester and Vice President Biden greet supporters at her swearing-in reception. (Photo courtesy of Office of Rep. Blunt Rochester)
Blunt Rochester and Vice President Biden greet supporters at her swearing-in reception. (Photo courtesy of Office of Rep. Blunt Rochester)

“There’s another side I saw with my father, and that was challenging,” she says. “When you put yourself on the line like that, sometimes there were criticisms, and as a child you care about your parents. It makes you think, ‘Do I want to do that myself?’”

Blunt Rochester weighed the pros and cons and decided the rewards were worth the risks, even if her father still had some trepidation.

“When it was time to decide to run, I remember going to Dad and telling him that I was considering doing this,” she says. “On one hand, he was like, ‘You can do anything and I’m proud of you.’ And on the other hand, I saw the concern that I used to have for him.”

But once the decision was made, Ted Blunt jumped aboard and was a stabilizing force throughout the primary and general election. That shoulder to lean on was especially important to the candidate because she had lost her husband, Charles Rochester, in 2014. He succumbed to blood clots after rupturing his Achilles tendon.

Of her father, Blunt Rochester says, “He was a great influence on the campaign trail, just being there and going to events with me. It was great to have my dad there saying, ‘You can do it!’”

Ted Blunt says he doesn’t try to control what his daughter thinks or does, but he also knows the profound impact he’s had on Lisa’s life and how much respect she holds for him and his opinions.

“I told her that in politics there are two things that happen—you either vote yes or you vote no,” Blunt says. “Then you’re going to have people that like your vote and some people who are not going to like your vote. But if you did the right thing, then your vote will stand. And I just told her to do the right thing.”

“What you hope for is that your child has learned from your experience and your mistakes and you’re always there to give them additional advice,” Blunt adds. “But you’re not there to push your opinion on them.”

The new Congresswoman has been busy since the day she was sworn in. She’s already been appointed to the House Committee on Agriculture. When that posting was announced, she cited her commitment to Delaware agriculture in general and the poultry industry in particular. Blunt Rochester made education one of her legislative priorities, and she has been appointed to the House Committee on Education.

That’s especially fitting in light of her father’s long history of working with Delaware school districts.
So, Blunt Rochester is already making her presence felt in Congress, just as she did when she was part of Padua’s student council. Jacono Kelleher, her former classmate, looks at Blunt Rochester’s ascent to the national stage, then looks at her own daughter, now a student at Padua, and says that even though there is a big age gap, the message her old classmate delivers resonates with teen-age girls.

“We’re all very proud of Lisa and what she’s accomplished and what she stands for,” Jacono Kelleher said. “She’s going to do a great job representing Delaware because you know that she will always follow her conscience and do the right thing. More than anything, it gives me hope for the future to know that my daughter has a role model like her to look up to.”

Get Out of Your Seats

Wilmington’s Gozer released its second EP in February

Standing on the small stage of Home Grown Café in Newark in a tie-dyed t-shirt and strumming an unplugged bass guitar is Brian Bruce, known to most people as Octie, for some unexplained reason. He gives a thumbs up to a group of people standing around the bar, and three of them join him onstage.

To Bruce’s right is Erin Silva, to his left Kyle Stawicki, both on guitar. Behind him is Jillian Willis on drums. They all adjust their equipment, give a few sound checks, look around at the people in the restaurant, many of whom are friends, and smile. Together they form the Wilmington band Gozer.

“Hi, we’re Gozer and we’re sorry to anyone about to eat dinner because this is not going to be an enjoyable experience,” laughs Bruce to the crowd, adding, “also, we’re really not a band that enjoys playing to people that are sitting down, so if you could all come up here and fill in this area in front of us that’d be great.”

Heeding the warning, a few diners rise from their seats and walk out the door. Other guests comply with Bruce’s request, moving to the area in front of the stage as sharp chords from Silva and Stawicki blast through the amps, and the aggressive percussion work of Willis vibrates through the bar. Then Bruce’s deep, raspy voice roars through the microphone and the abrasive sound of the band becomes clear. You wouldn’t want to take your grandmother to dinner where Gozer is playing.

That was on Feb. 4, but the band started long before that. Gozer first took form in 2013 at a house show in Wilmington as part of the combined efforts of Willis and Bruce. It wasn’t until last year that Silva and Stawicki joined and helped form Gozer into the four-piece made-at-home machine it is today.

The band still enjoys playing house and garage shows, but not exclusively. Each member is quick to tell you that he or she likes to play bars if the vibe of the place meshes with their style of music. Their tunes are in-your-face, and it’s unlikely they’ll be asked to play on the dance-club-like stages of Deer Park or The Chesapeake Inn any time soon. Your best bet to catch a show would be to check in on their favorite venues, like Home Grown Café, 1984, or Oddity Bar in Wilmington.

“Home Grown is great because we know Joanna (James-Parks, bartender at Home Grown) and she hooks it up with the booking there and I work at Oddity so it’s easy for me to set up shows there,” says Bruce. “We like playing at places that we’ve formed friendships with; we’re loud and sweaty and most people who’re into that stuff really enjoy it.”

Gozer is a loud band, and each show is like being punched in the face and falling in love at the same time. Their sound is the bi-product of a group whose members play in multiple bands, including local groups Fiancé and Tracey Chapstick. Each member brings something different to the table, which helps to form a sound that Bruce describes as “garage or alternative rock,” and Willis jokingly calls “dream rock.”

With members that spend so much time with other bands, one would think the overlapping of sounds and ideas would be a problem, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

“I feel like I write guitar parts for this band to mold to the songs that he (Bruce) writes,” says Stawicki. “He writes in certain keys and certain styles of progressions that I couldn’t do with my other projects.”
Says Bruce: “I play drums in all of my other bands. So, this is kind of like my song-writing project. It’s not much like anything else that I do.”

Gozer’s uniqueness seems to be paying off. In 2016 they released their first EP, Gozer, and just a year later they’re excited to release their second, Sick Of Waking Up, on an unconventional format—cassette tape.

“Yeah we’re releasing it on tape under our buddy Rick’s (Martel) label, Euth Group,” says Stawicki. “I feel like tape is more of a possession and it doesn’t come with the overhead of putting out a vinyl. It’s a bit cheaper and it’s something you can hold and have.”

It’s also on Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Spotify, ITunes, and Pandora for those who want to show support but don’t own a cassette player.

Sick Of Waking Up has been a family project for the band. Each member put in his or her fair share of the work and they all have a huge amount of love for the five songs.

“I think they’re all good,” laughs Bruce.

“Yeah, they all have their own little special bit to me, ya’ know?” says Stawicki with a modest smirk.
Aside from their songs, unique sound and loud, sweaty shows, what is most enjoyable about the band is that the members simply love being Gozer. The good time they have on stage is contagious, and as Willis puts it, “I think we have a lot of fun when we play, and people like that.”

The new EP Sick Of Waking Up is available now. Check out the Gozer Facebook page to give it a listen and for the dates and times of upcoming shows.

 

The Calm Amid the Culinary Storm

Bob Ashby has carefully built a hospitality empire. Now—he says—he’s retired.

Name a culinary star who has made a difference on the local dining scene, and you will likely think of a chef. Unless, that is, you’re an industry insider. Those in the know will put Bob Ashby, a seasoned restaurateur, at the top of the list.

“Bob is a great operator,” says Xavier Teixido, founder of Harry’s Hospitality, which has three Wilmington restaurants. “He’s very engaged in initiatives that keep our industry healthy.” Ashby is a past president of the Delaware Restaurant Association and a recipient of the DRA’s Cornerstone Award. He’s also served on the board of the National Restaurant Association.

If you haven’t heard of Ashby then you’ve undoubtedly heard of his restaurants: Ashby Management owns three McGlynns Pub locations, the Deer Park Tavern and Cantwell’s Tavern. It’s a successful track record for the University of Delaware graduate, but as of Jan. 1, Ashby says, he’s retired.

Those who know him aren’t so sure. “For a man who eats, sleeps and breathes the business for as long as he has, I find it hard to imagine him not having a hand in it, in some regard,” says his son Brian, chef and owner of 8th & Union Kitchen in Wilmington’s Little Italy.

Cooking Up a Business

Bob Ashby didn’t set out to become a restaurateur when he was growing up in Caldwell, N.J., but he had a keen interest in business. However, it was his football skills that brought him to the University of Delaware. Unfortunately, his athletic career was short-lived. He broke his leg during his freshman year and blew out his knee as a sophomore.

By that time, he’d met wife-to-be Sandy. She first spotted him in 1974 at a football game. (He was not playing.) “I said: ‘Who is that guy? I’m going to marry him,’” she recalls. When she met him one evening at the Deer Park Tavern in downtown Newark, then a local watering hole with beer-stained floors, she thought he was conceited. She told him so and then fell off the barstool, giving the expression “falling in love” new meaning.

While studying business at UD, Ashby started working at the Stone Balloon, which was another local watering hole that was better known for live music than its beer. Ashby had already decided he wanted to open his own business, and the young owner of the Balloon at that time, Bill Stevenson, was an inspiration.

After graduating from UD, Ashby and Sandy got jobs at H.A. Winston & Co., a restaurant chain. Sandy was waiting tables until she began teaching school in the fall. Ashby had his eye on management.
The company trained its managers “from the kitchen out,” he says. “I learned how to cook, sauté—everything. The manager was the extra hand in the restaurant when needed; it’s your job to jump in and help.” Ashby Management follows the same approach in its restaurants.

While scouting for a new location for the chain, he visited the old Drummond Ale House in Newark, another haunt from the Ashbys’ college days. It was too small for H.A. Winston but just right for the Ashbys, who purchased it in 1983. McGlynns Pub & Restaurant was born.

Growing the Brand

He tested new waters in 1986 when he opened Ashby’s Oyster House, which is located off Main Street in Newark. At that time, seafood restaurants were few and far between. The price point and the menu items called for cocktails, but Newark only allowed beer and wine licenses. There were other issues. In the 1980s, Main Street was deserted when the students weren’t in town. The restaurant closed in 1990.

Ashby had more luck with his original concept, McGlynns, which he duplicated in 1999 in Peoples Plaza and in 2008 in Dover. All three are neighborhood restaurants. The Dover restaurant, however, was built from the ground up and has the look of an upscale Victorian public house, complete with woodwork from a pub-centric specialty shop in the United Kingdom.

In 2001, the Ashbys purchased the Deer Park Tavern. Using a vintage postcard as a guide, they elected to renovate it to its glory days. It was a bold move. A landmark since 1851, the three-story structure was the object of fond memories for generations of UD students—including the Ashbys. Many did not appreciate the newly gentrified façade, which includes a two-story porch with ornate spindles all capped by a corner cupola. But the majority embraced the change. Alumni now feel comfortable taking their children and grandchildren to the Deer Park for nachos or a burger.

In 2011, the Historic Houses of Odessa wanted to put a working restaurant in a circa-1822 tavern, once known as The Brick Hotel. When the first operator backed out, Ashby picked up the project and opened Cantwell’s Tavern in the space.

Though both the Deer Park and Cantwell’s are in historical sites, they couldn’t be more different. There was no retail traffic in the historic complex. “You couldn’t spend a dollar in Odessa before Cantwell’s opened,” Ashby says, jokingly. Fortunately, area residents embraced the restaurant, and Cantwell’s has become the locals’ choice for lunch, dinner and special occasions, including weddings.

The Hospitality Guru

By now, Ashby knows the secret to a restaurant’s survival. “You have to constantly be aware that your customer is the only reason you’re there. It’s like throwing a party at your house: Every time you open the doors, you have to have everything ready, and their experience has to be a good experience.” If customers aren’t happy, his managers are told to do whatever it takes to make the customer want to come back.

That approach, plus fresh ingredients, he says, will help the casual full-service segment compete against the fast-casual restaurant, such as Panera Bread, which appeals to those who want a kale Caesar salad with grilled chicken in five minutes or less.

Ashby is generous when it comes to sharing the lessons he’s learned. Merry Catanuto, a former chef at the Deer Park, turned to Ashby for advice when she and husband Bill Hoffman decided to open The House of William & Merry in Hockessin. (The couple met while working at McGlynns.)

“He was very honest about the restaurant business and its highs and lows,” she says. “He let us know that we could lose our investment. He was a great resource. He is one of the first people I go to, and he’s always helpful.”

She’s not the only one who seeks his counsel. “He’s one of those people I will call to say: ‘What do you think about this?’” says Teixido, the past president of the National Restaurant Association. Carrie Leishman, director of the Delaware Restaurant Association, would agree. “He was always my go-to guy,” she says. “He always has a way of cutting through the chaos to think clearly about all the decisions he makes, and I really respect him for that. He’s been an institution on our board.”

Brian Ashby says his father—an avid reader—always had a word of encouragement when his children needed it. “When I would ask him for advice because I was feeling overwhelmed, his reply was: ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.’”

Brian was 14 or 15 when he started working in the family business, scraping gum off the bars and scrubbing tobacco stains off the wall. He cooked, washed dishes, bussed tables, served and bartended. But Ashby never told his children they had to work at the restaurants. “We were very lucky to have such supportive parents,” Brian says. “They just wanted us to be successful at whatever it was we chose to pursue.”

The well-traveled Brian, who wanted to explore the cuisines he experienced while abroad, opened 8th & Union Kitchen in 2015. In addition to their other son, Marc, the Ashbys’ daughter Lauren works for Ashby Management, overseeing the company’s charitable giving.

It will be interesting to see how Bob Ashby handles retirement. Says Brian: “I know he plans to take full advantage of spending time with my mother and being on the water—two of his greatest joys.”

But decades of habits are hard to break, and the hospitality business is a lifestyle, not just a job, Teixido says. It’s challenging to detach from the industry. As of February, Ashby was still going into the office a few days a week, and he serves on various boards. “I’m still trying to figure it out,” he says about retirement. No doubt, he will do just that.

Pet Therapy

Dogs help children to heal at A.I. duPont Hospital

As our group chatted in the bright atrium of the Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, it was clear who in our circle drew the most attention. She sat stately in head-to-toe black and white, a stylish pink accent flower around her neck. Many visitors stopped to say hello, admire her, or give her a warm hug and a pat.

So, who is this commanding presence? She’s Trixie, a gorgeous, gentle giant of a Great Dane, who at 4 years old and 155 pounds, is the largest of the furry friends in the hospital’s Pet Therapy Program. And judging by her popularity in the atrium, she’s perfect for the job.

The Pet Therapy program has been part of duPont Hospital for Children’s Child Life, Creative Arts Therapy and School Programs since 2007, says Melissa Nicely, the hospital’s Child Life Program manager. Nicely describes her department as helping kids and parents “make sense” of their situation and the stressors that often accompany a child’s long-term hospital stay. And the Pet Therapy program is a tremendous asset in that effort.

Patients enjoy almost daily interaction with the pet therapy teams, as well as biweekly visits from the Brandywine Zoo and even the occasional special visit of miniature ponies in the outside courtyard.
Currently, there are 15 teams of certified dogs and their handlers, all hospital volunteers. The dogs that participate in the inpatient program range in diversity from Trixie’s majestic stature to a Wheaten Terrier, some Shelties, a pair of Tibetan Spaniels and many mixed breeds. Typically, there is at least one therapy dog in the building each weekday, and the dog teams are assigned to different units to work with patients and their families.

“It’s incredibly important that children have something to help make this a more healing place to be,” Nicely says. “It’s a special kind of healing that our dogs provide. They help patients to be less afraid of their circumstances and give them a positive association with a hospital visit. Kids can return home and say, ‘Look at the cool thing I got to do in the hospital!'”

Nicely says patients aren’t the only ones who benefit from the visits. Parents, siblings, and even staff love the dogs’ visits as well. “Taking a minute to pet a dog can help bring a smile to anyone’s face,” she says.

The dogs and their handlers come to the program through many organizations, such as Therapy Dogs International and, more locally, Faithful Friends Animal Society. The dogs must be at least one year old and have passed obedience training or the “Canine Good Citizen” * test. Once dogs are certified, their owners reach out to the hospital to begin the volunteer process for the Pet Therapy team. Initially, all will do a “meet & greet” at the hospital, testing them in different situations with wheelchairs and hospital equipment and seeing how they engage with children and groups.

Chris Colket, of Drexel Hill, Pa., is Trixie’s owner. Colket has been involved with pet therapy for 10 years, with past dogs like his boy Dudley (also a Great Dane), and he also has worked in Alzheimer’s care facilities. Colket was at a dog show some years ago with one of his pups, and someone mentioned to him that his dog, with its calm demeanor, would be well suited to therapy.

After being certified through Comfort Caring Canines, he and Trixie began their service at duPont Hospital for Children nearly a year ago. “It’s so nice to volunteer like this; it really makes me feel great,” Colket says. “And they [the dogs] seem to enjoy it themselves. When I pull out Trixie’s collar and leash (which she only wears for her hospital duties), she gets excited because she knows she’s going to ‘work.'”

He and Trixie come to the hospital about once a week, visiting different units each time. On this particular day, they saw 10 patients, which is a lot for her, Colket notes. Her average is about five to seven per visit – they like to focus on quality versus quantity.

Trixie’s very gentle, says Colket, and she doesn’t mind if kids tug on her tail or play with her ears. Nicely says that big dogs like Trixie are the perfect height for children in wheelchairs or those restricted to a bed because they can’t reach very far.

Colket recalls that the previous week, Trixie climbed onto a patient’s bed and hung out for 25 minutes. That was great for both dog and child. “You learn to pay attention to cues from the family,” Colket says. “You’ll know when it’s time to move on or check back in. It’s about what works for each individual child.” Colket also takes notes about each visit.

As we wrap up our chat, a small visitor shyly approaches to ask if he can pet Trixie. She calmly obliges, and his smile broadens as he gingerly pets her head and she relaxes into it.
It truly seems this dog has found her purpose.

*Started in 1989, the Canine Good Citizen Program is designed to reward dogs who have good manners at home and in the community. It’s a two-part program that stresses responsible pet ownership for owners and basic good manners for dogs. All dogs who pass the 10-step test may receive a certificate from the American Kennel Club.

 

Serving Up Sustainability

Bison, Boraxo and biodegradable coasters: Are green restaurants the wave of the future? Some local eateries are giving it a try.

On a blustery fall morning, members of the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce gathered at Ted’s Montana Grill in the Christiana Fashion Center for the restaurant’s grand opening ceremonies. It was only 10 a.m., but that didn’t stop servers from passing copper mugs filled with “Hendrick’s Mules” and diminutive burgers speared with tiny American flags. The crowd gathered to watch Ted’s CEO, George McKerrow Jr., and chamber President Mark Kleinschmidt cut into a steak so large that it easily dwarfed a cheesecake.

Just another restaurant opening near the mall? Not quite. The ceremonial steak and sliders are bison, which is the star attraction at Ted’s Montana Grill. Sodas, which come with wax-coated paper straws, are placed on 100-percent biodegradable coasters. Want yours to go? Takeout cups are made with cornstarch. In the bathroom, soap dispensers contain biodegradable Boraxo.

McKerrow and his partner, the media mogul Ted Turner, are dedicated to sustainability in the restaurant industry. “We started the conversation,” says McKerrow. In 2008, they spearheaded “The Green Restaurant Revolution” tour.

But they’re not the only ones making an effort. Several Delaware-based establishments are also stepping up to the plate. It’s not easy. Most restaurants lack the resources of Ted’s Montana Grill, which is fueled by Turner’s convictions, McKerrow’s 40-plus years of industry experience—he also founded LongHorn Steakhouse—and some serious buying power; Ted’s is now in 16 states.

But even Ted’s bows to some consumer preferences, practical considerations, and an industry that has yet to catch up.

Blackened blue catfish from NorthEast Seafood Kitchen in Ocean View, one of nine restaurants owned by Rehoboth Beach-based SoDel Concepts. All nine feature the fish, which is threatening the ecosystem in the Chesapeake Bay. Photo Pam George
Blackened blue catfish from NorthEast Seafood Kitchen in Ocean View, one of nine restaurants owned by Rehoboth Beach-based SoDel Concepts. All nine feature the fish, which is threatening the ecosystem in the Chesapeake Bay. Photo Pam George

On the Plate

Turner—who is an avid outdoorsman—and McKerrow decided to feature bison to help increase the threatened animal’s herds. The population, which numbered up to 30 million at one time, dwindled due to habitat loss and overhunting in the 19th century.

As more consumers become aware of the health benefits of bison (it’s higher in nutrients and lower in calories than most meat), they will increase the demand—or so the theory goes. Ranchers, as a result, will grow their herds, which can be good for the environment. Able to withstand harsh weather conditions, bison are natural foragers that thrive on grass outdoors; there’s no need for feed and artificial shelter. They calve without human interference, and their natural heartiness requires fewer vet visits than cattle.

Their grass diet results in meat that is slightly sweeter than regular beef and much leaner. The taste and the health benefits have whetted the public’s appetite, which is evident by the number of bison burgers in many local restaurants, including Buckley’s Tavern in Centreville. Of course, both Buckley’s and Ted’s also offer standard beef burgers and steaks.

Supporting the growth of an endangered species is one way that restaurants can be sustainable. Another is to create dishes with creatures that are causing an imbalance. Take, for instance, the wild blue catfish, which was introduced into the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries in the 1970s for anglers. The fish, however, has few predators other than man, and it exhibited a voracious appetite for just about anything on the bay’s bottom.

“It’s a pesky fish, but it is delicious,” says William Hoffman, who with his wife, Merry Catanuto, owns The House of William & Merry in Hockessin. “We try to serve it as much as we can to try and help balance the ecosystem in the bay.”

Farm-raised fish have been getting a bad rap for the fish’s unhealthy habitat. Disease not only can affect the farm-raised fish but it can also drift into the wild fish population.

But not all aquaculture practices are detrimental to the ocean. Brian Ashby, the owner of 8th & Union Kitchen in Wilmington’s Little Italy, features Verlasso salmon, which is raised on Patagonian farms that follow sustainability standards established by the World Wildlife Fund. He also sells specials with cobia that’s raised in open-water farms.

These new methods encourage containment in the deep ocean, where the currents can flush the pens. The containment mimics a natural habitat as much as possible, right down to including species such as mussels, which consume waste.

Hoffman offers alternatives to overfished species like swordfish, tuna and salmon. “There are so many species out there that aren’t overfished, but that people don’t know about,” Hoffman says.

In the House of William & Merry, diners expect to find new ingredients prepared in innovative ways.

Buckley’s Tavern, known for its comfort food, recently offered parrotfish, which are threatening coral reefs. But at the Big Fish Grill restaurants, customers stick to the familiar, says Eric Sugrue, the managing partner. “It’s challenging because obviously, we want to do the right thing, but we also want to put items on the menu that people like and can afford to eat,” he says.

The price point is also a factor for the restaurant’s cost, Sugrue adds. Joe Van Horn, owner of Chelsea Tavern, might agree. “We use reputable vendors, and purchase the most sustainable [ingredients that] we can, while continuing to offer the price point that we do,” he says.

What’s more, many restaurants won’t take a risk on an item not selling because diners refuse to try it. Sugrue says there’s been no noticeable uptick in customer concern for sustainable fish or new species, even in the market adjacent to the original Big Fish location in Rehoboth Beach.

Recycle & Reuse

Sourcing sustainable food is not the only way that restaurants can benefit the environment. The reclaimed wood that makes 8th & Union Kitchen’s décor so distinctive likely came from a tobacco factory, says Ashby, who noticed the aroma when the workers were cutting the wood.

Van Horn says that his restaurants recycle paper, cardboard, plastic. glass, metal and fryer grease.

(Using services that manage and recycle kitchen oil has become a common practice.)

Along with reclaimed wood for the dining rooms, using services that manage and recycle kitchen oil has become a common practice.

Brian Ashby, owner of 8th & Union Kitchen, says the restaurant's reclaimed wood decor likely came from a tobacco factory. Photo David Norbut
Brian Ashby, owner of 8th & Union Kitchen, says the restaurant’s reclaimed wood decor likely came from a tobacco factory. (Photo by David Norbut)

Reducing food waste is also a practical priority. Home Grown Café in Newark orders small quantities to make sure that everything is used, says owner Sasha Aber, who also buys as much of her seasonal food as possible from local vendors.

Restaurants like Home Grown and 8th & Union Kitchen that make items from scratch can be resourceful. “There is very little that goes to waste in this kitchen,” Ashby says. “Nearly every vegetable scrap is used in our mushroom pho. Meat scraps are almost always incorporated into other dishes. There is always a veg scrap bin in the walk-in.”

Some Delaware restaurants once participated in a composting program with the Wilmington Organic Recycling Center. But that business was ordered to cease operations in 2014 due to neighbors’ complaints about the smell.

At Harry’s Savoy Grill, the leftover prime rib is donated to Emmanuel Dining Room and other charities. Oyster shells are sprinkled in garden beds. From plastic to glass bottles, everything that can be recycled is recycled at The House of William & Merry.

Ted's Montana Grill at the Christiana Fashion Center. (Photo by Joe del Tufo)
Ted’s Montana Grill at the Christiana Fashion Center. (Photo by Joe del Tufo)

Materials Matter

With their plastic straws, coffee stirrers and takeout containers, restaurants can generate a lot of waste that collects in landfills—and stays there. When McKerrow and Turner decided to open Ted’s Montana Gill, they wanted to do something about that problem. In 2001, McKerrow researched paper straws online and found a company in New Jersey that invented the product in 1833. He called and talked to the third-generation owner.

“He said: ‘George, we haven’t made a paper straw since 1970,’” McKerrow recalls. It was possible, however, that the machine was still around. The owner called back to say the engineers had indeed found the machine and could make it work. With packaging in hand, the straws arrived at the first Ted’s in Columbus, Ohio, in trash bags. Unfortunately, they quickly turned to limp noodles in the soda.
The motivated company found a biodegradable polymer to make the straw and stirrer last an hour.

Today, the company also sells the products to cruise lines under the name Aardvark Straws. Being responsible does not come cheap. Regular straws cost less than a penny when purchased in bulk. A package of 24 paper straws is $4.99 online.

Ted’s originally used all biodegradable takeout containers. Without clear plastic lids, though, servers mixed up the orders. Plus, some foods quickly soak through cardboard. The restaurant conceded that aluminum with a clear lid was better for some items.

As for building materials, low-flow toilets, no-water urinals, and high-pressure/low-volume water sprayers deliver a return on investment and help promote sustainability. These are additions that customers, who can press restaurants to do more, cannot see. But for those committed to sustainability, there is too much that they do notice.

Yasmine Bowman, for one, is watching. The realtor and Wilmington resident says she is dedicated to being a responsible consumer. On her Facebook page, she writes, “‘Sustainability’ will be my personal word and cause for 2017.”

“I tend to stay away from restaurants that do not recycle. I prefer to frequent establishments that are in line with my value systems. I also do not go to fast food restaurants that put hot food in plastic containers. The health dangers of BPA leaching into the food are a huge health threat. I would also like to see more restaurants offer organic, cruelty-free and gluten-free options. This is the future. Those who find a way to accommodate this sooner will thrive; those who don’t will slowly fail.”

100 Reasons to be a Happy Camper

Things to be optimistic about

It’s February. The trees are bare, the temperatures hover near freezing, it’s dark by six in the evening, football season is over, and baseball is two months away. What’s more, we are coming off a year that was disquieting, to say the least. It was fraught with social and political upheaval, the passing of an extraordinary number of beloved celebrities, many at a relatively young age, continued violent crime in our city and our nation, along with unrest, war and terrorism throughout the world.

Yet there is always reason—make that reasons—for hope. In fact, when the staff of Out & About began putting together our list of things to be optimistic about, we found it relatively easy to come up with 100. And while 100 is a nice, round number, these are by no means the only reasons to be optimistic about 2017. Feel free to send us your list.

1 In 2015, approximately 700,000 volunteer hours were documented by Delaware’s Office of Volunteerism. The value of this continuing service is estimated at more than $15 million.

2 Through Meals On Wheels Delaware last year, 738,807 meals were delivered to approximately 4,000 seniors by more than 1,000 volunteers. That’s an 11 percent increase from 2015.

3 In 2016, 420 volunteers contributed 3,685 hours at The Delaware Center for Horticulture, helping the nonprofit continue its statewide mission of cultivating greener communities.

4 After years of fundraising, the folks behind Preston’s Playground are getting closer to achieving their goal of $500,000. The 8,400-square-foot space at the base of the Newark Reservoir will be outfitted with a rubberized base and handicap-accessible entrances and exits for kids of all abilities and disabilities. You can help them get there by donating at prestonsplayground.com.

5 The Delaware River is the longest undammed river east of the Mississippi, and it’s not just an important habitat for wildlife—it’s a major economic engine for our region, too. A recent study shows that the basin contributes $25 billion annually in economic activity and supports 600,000 jobs in our region.Brown cardboard moving box on white with a fragile sticker

6 Amazon announced last month that it will hire 100,000 new employees over the course of the next year and a half. That’s a 56 percent increase in its U.S. workforce (180,000 at the end of 2016). The New York Times reported that “Amazon fulfillment centers across the country stand to be among the biggest beneficiaries.”

7 Trying to stem high turnover in store jobs, nonprofit groups and chains such as Wal-Mart, Home Depot and the Home Shopping Network are launching a program to help people develop the skills to land entry-level jobs and advance in a retail career. More than 20 major retailers, including Neiman Marcus and Ashley Stewart, have pledged general support for the Rise Up program that was launched Jan. 15.

8 After looking at options in neighboring states, Chemours—the DuPont Co. chemical spin-off—announced it would remain in Delaware. Not only does this keep the long-standing DuPont family name in business in the First State, it also saves the jobs of some 1,000 workers who may have been otherwise laid off or forced to relocate.

9 About a year after DuPont laid off 200 Experimental Station employees (that’s the bad news), it announced last month that it would be investing $200 million into the facility (that’s the good news). Enhancements in the lab space won’t just benefit DuPont and Dow, which are merging to create three new companies, two of which will be based in Delaware. It also will be a boon for third-party science companies looking for business incubation space.

10 The Delaware Restaurant Association’s ProStart Program continues to teach life skills and create career opportunities for Delaware’s youth. It is currently in 18 high schools, reaches more than 3,000 students, and offers more than $100,000 in scholarship money.

11 There are upwards of 1,000 co-working spaces in the United States—and at least four in Wilmington: The Mill, coIN Loft, 1313 Innovation and Artist Ave. Station—fostering creative collaborations and community.

12 At the University of Delaware, the last three years have seen the most diverse entering undergraduate class in the institution’s history, with more than 25 percent coming from historically underrepresented and underserved communities.

13 Vice President Joe Biden returns home to Delaware for some well-deserved R&R. But he won’t be sitting still long. He plans to collaborate with the University of Delaware on economic and domestic policy, an effort that hopefully will spell great things ahead for both the country and the First State.

14 Delaware’s graduation rate is rising, according to the U.S. Department of Education. During the 2014-2015 schoolyear, the upward trend in Delaware graduation success (85 percent) mirrored the recently-released graduation data from the Department that showed the nation hitting a record high (83 percent) for high school graduation. The rise has been steady since 2010.

15 Community gardens are becoming more prominent. The Delaware Center for Horticulture currently supports approximately 20 throughout New Castle County.

16 Delaware is reducing food waste. Last year, Food Bank of Delaware redirected more than 2 million pounds of food destined for landfills to the tables of those in need. It expects to exceed that total in 2017.

17 Last year, the Food Bank of Delaware received almost 9 million pounds of donated food.

18 Local farmers’ markets have surpassed $3 million in sales annually over the past couple of years and area family farmers are finding new markets by selling to local supermarkets, who recognize their value.

19 Every Delaware public school district buys directly from local farmers.

20 On Jan. 13, Panera Bread announced that it had removed artificial ingredients from its food menu and Panera at Home products in the United States. The company has said that by year end it would remove artificial flavors and colors, preservatives and sweeteners from the food served at its 2,000 restaurants.

21 You might recycle, drive an environmentally-friendly car—good. Next step? Composting for your garden. The state offers workshops, classes and demonstrations on composting throughout the year.

22 Delaware now diverts nearly 43 percent of recyclables from landfills to recycling operations. That’s nearly 8 billion pounds of trash.

23 Delaware’s municipal solid waste recycling rate has been steadily improving for the past decade. The rate is currently 42.6 percent, up from 23.2 percent in 2006. The state goal is 60 percent by 2020.

24 The U.S. Department of Energy has tapped the University of Delaware to be a key player in the new Rapid Advancement in Process Intensification Deployment (RAPID) Manufacturing Institute led by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE). RAPID’s role will be to develop breakthrough technologies and processes to boost energy productivity and efficiency and decrease environmental impacts, especially related to chemical manufacturing.

25 The United States continues to lead the world in number of patents filed, with 109,353 in the first half of 2016. It isn’t even close. Second-place Japan had 24,200. Proof that America has a lot of people with a lot of ideas.

26 More hybrid and electric vehicles are on the road. It seems the auto manufacturers are finally getting the hint that consumers not only want to save on gasoline, but also want to save the planet. Hybrids aren’t going anywhere and now it seems EVs (Electric Vehicles) are here to stay. There are now more than 20 plug-in models offered from more than a dozen brands.

27 The Chevy Bolt has been named top car in North America, an important milestone for a car General Motors hopes will finally get Americans hooked on electric vehicles. The honor was announced Jan. 9 in Detroit at the North American International Auto Show.

28 The first self-sufficient boat powered only by emission-free energy will start a six-year trip around the world in the spring. Energy Observer, a former multi-hull race boat converted into a green vessel equipped with solar panels, wind turbines and a hydrogen fuel cell system, will be powered by wind, the sun, and self-generated hydrogen. The boat, which is currently in a shipyard in Saint-Malo (western France), will set sail from the Brittany port.

29 Wind and solar are crushing fossil fuels. Clean energy investment now outpaces gas and coal 2 to 1. As renewable energy is becoming ever cheaper to produce, installations are booming. Recent trends show that wealthier countries are slowly phasing out coal out entirely.

30 In 2015, REI—outdoor outfitters Recreational Equipment Inc.—gave more than 72 percent of its profit to community projects (and generous employee bonuses). This generosity has a direct, positive impact on Delaware parks (see story, pg. 21).

31 While 2016’s stats aren’t released yet, DNREC’s Division of Parks & Recreation saw a 19 percent jump in camping throughout state parks between 2014 and 2015. Keep getting outdoors!

32 Families have only so many options at the beach when the weather turns bad: the outlets, the movies, and that’s pretty much it. But now there is Lefty’s Alley & Eats in Lewes, which opened in January. The joint offers bowling, laser tag, and an arcade, as well as a 110-seat restaurant and bar.

33 Beach-goers will now have a new, large concert venue come this summer, thanks to Highway One (Rusty Rudder, Bottle & Cork) opening a 4,000-capacity, amphitheater-style venue at Hudson Fields in Milton. The first concert— country music band Old Dominion—is set to christen the place on June 1.

34 Suicide Sunday, the Running of the Bull, an Orange (or Grapefruit) Crush, Kristen and the Noise; these terms are synon
ymous with summers in Dewey, and all dwell under the same roof. Yes, The Starboard Opening Weekend begins March 16, coinciding with the first day of spring (March 20).

35 Anyone can hit the outlets year-round, but getting a good deal in town can be a little harder to find. Your best bet for beach discounts is to hit the annual sidewalk sales in Rehoboth. There are two dates this year: the spring event the weekend of May 19-20 and the fall event from Oct. 6-8.

36 Firefly, perhaps the best Delaware music event ever, returns to The Woodlands in Dover June 15-18. Regardless of age, you owe yourself the experience.

37 The Wilmington Grand Prix has been named to USA Cycling’s national calendar for the 10th straight year and will bring an international cycling field to Downtown Wilmington May 19-20. The event has generated more than $3 million in economic impact since 2012.

38 Each year, the St. Anthony’s Italian Festival celebrates the culture of a particular region of the home country, and in 2017, Sicily is the focus. That means lots of dishes with eggplant and sardines, pignolata and almond cookies, and plenty of refreshing ice granita.

39 After hitting the $1 million mark in tickets sales last season for the first time in its 38-year history, Delaware Theatre Company continues to build its regional reputation by presenting two new plays in 2017 that will then move on to New York City: White Guy on the Bus and Hetty Feather.

40 Who says we don’t like opera? In 2016, 20,184 people attended a performance by OperaDelaware, the state’s only professional opera company and the 11th oldest opera company in the nation.

41 The Light Up The Queen Foundation continues its fundraising ways with its sixth anniversary show on March 4, this one titled Shine A Light on ‘77. Some of the best local musicians will gather at World Cafe Live to pay tribute to the year 1977, which saw the likes of Rod Stewart and Stevie Wonder topping the charts.

42 Wilmington’s arthouse cinema destination Theatre N reopened last fall under new leadership with fresh momentum. You go, local arts scene!

43 On the heels of setting the record for total number of Emmy awards (38, besting Frasier by one), Game of Thrones returns to HBO this summer. Date to be announced.

44 Netflix’s instant cult classic that premiered last August, Stranger Things, is returning for season two to drag us all—happily—back to the Upside Down.

45 Veep, nominated once again for Best Television Series—Musical or Comedy, returns in the spring. All hail Julia Louis-Dreyfus!

46 Aubrey Plaza, Delaware’s favorite funny girl, gets a shot at starring in Marvel Comics’ Legion this spring on FX. Plaza plays “Lenny,” the chatty, psychiatric ward counterpart to David Haller (Dan Stevens), whose schizophrenic nature forces him to question whether he’s human, mutant, or both.

47 Ladybug, Wilmington’s own little version of Lilith Fair, will be rocking Lower Market Street (LOMA) once again this summer. The female-driven music festival takes place July 20-21, and offers advantages over Firefly Music Festival: it’s a heck of a lot closer and a heck of a lot cheaper—in fact, it’s free!

48 It’s quite a scheduling accomplishment for The Grand Opera House as it brings one of the world’s greatest humorists, Dave Sedaris, back to Wilmington almost every year. Do yourself a favor and read one of Sedaris’ many best-selling books, then go see him on April 12.

49 Fueled by laugh-out-loud skits, a talented and diverse cast and a powerhouse line-up of hosts and guests, Saturday Night Live is enjoying a resurgence. Its 42nd season kicked off with its best premiere ratings in eight years.

50 The Trump administration will provide endless fodder for late night talk shows and especially Saturday Night Live, where Alec Baldwin will be assured of continued employment.

51 Trump will inspire progressives to be vigilant and vocal in opposition to attempts to roll back gains related to the environment, women’s health, marriage equality, religious liberty, civil rights, etc.

52 Per No. 51, there was the Jan. 21 Women’s March on Washington.

53 Donald Trump’s strategy of publicly shaming corporations for exporting jobs may prove effective in job creation and bringing U.S. companies back to America.

54 Facebook has taken steps to address its role in spreading fake news, such as enlisting the help of third-party fact-checkers, according to Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg. The social network was widely criticized for allowing false stories to circulate in the run-up to the U.S. presidential election.

55 Contrary to newsroom sensationalism, violent crime in the U.S. continues to decline and has been on a steady downward trend since 1991.

56 The employment report showed solid gains in December despite the narrowing supply of unemployed workers in the labor market.

57 Democrat Mike Purzycki won the election for Mayor of Wilmington in November, and already citizens of “A Place to be Somebody” are excited for their future. Purzycki chose a solid transition team, which included Out & About’s own Jerry duPhily as Cultural Affairs chair. Purzycki’s website (mikeformayor2016.com) includes an “ideas” button for citizens to submit suggestions on how to improve the city.

58 It takes a village. Two newly-elected leaders, New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer and Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki, have promised an unprecedented spirit of cooperation in addressing the county’s major challenges.

59 Dr. LaVerne Harmon will become the first black female college president in Delaware history when she assumes the reins at Wilmington University after Dr. Jack Varsalona retires on June 30.

60 From July 2015 to July 2016, Delawareans checked out more than 360,000 STEM-related (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) books. That’s a lot of educational material being read—and shows that libraries are still relevant and thriving.

61 Some recent studies have shown that being optimistic can decrease your risk of heart attacks and strokes and increase longevity.

62 After decades of increasing, the national childhood obesity rate has leveled off and the rise in obesity among adults is beginning to slow, according to the Center for Disease Control. Obesity remains one of the biggest threats to the health of our children and our country, putting millions of Americans at increased risk for a range of chronic diseases and contributing to more than $147 billion dollars in preventable healthcare spending. At least its progress.

63 Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States, accounting for more than 480,000 deaths every year, or one of every five deaths. But according to the CDC, smoking has declined from nearly 21 of every 100 adults (20.9 percent) in 2005 to about 15 of every 100 adults (15.1 percent) in 2015.

64 According to a recently published article in the journal Pediatrics, the use of physical discipline is decreasing and enthusiasm for alternative forms of discipline is increasing among mothers of all socioeconomic backgrounds. (Delaware is good at being first: In 2012, we became the first state to pass a law that effectively outlawed the corporal discipline of children by their parents.)

65 Drug advances to look for in 2017 include: a vaccine for HIV beginning Phase II trials, the use of the dissociative anesthetic ketamine to target treatment-resistant depression, new drugs and therapies based on the microbiome and even a new female libido booster that’s up for approval.

66 Expect further improvements in robotic surgery. In addition to the currently available da Vinci Surgical System, look for competition from the new surgical robot system developed by the partnership of Google and Johnson & Johnson. These systems will allow for minimally invasive surgeries on the most delicate elements of human anatomy.

67 In 2016, according to the journal Science, the discovery of gravitational waves launched a new branch of science. Think black holes, dark matter, seeing further back in time…some pretty intense stuff.

68 Space exploration is back in vogue. Last March, Commander Scott Kelly completed his one-year mission in space, providing tons of data on what it’s like to live in the weightless environment. NASA’s Juno satellite arrived at Jupiter in July and continues to provide the most precise data that the agency has ever collected on the giant planet. And in August, an international team of astronomers confirmed the discovery of another Earth-like planet in a habitable zone four light years away from us.

69 Twenty percent of all international tourists—that’s 200 million people—are millennials, according to a United Nations study, and that’s now the fastest-growing age segment in terms of the money spent on travel. What does this translate to? Increased open-mindedness, understanding of different cultures, and new perspectives for the world’s future leaders.

70 People are interested in visiting us. More than a half-million people visited VisitWilmingtonDe.com, the official tourism website for New Castle County, in 2016.

71 Be sure to thank your visiting in-laws. Thanks to tourism, each Delaware household will pay approximately $1,360 less in taxes this year.

72 For the first time in years, Wilmington will see at least four major ground-up new construction sites in Downtown and Riverfront Wilmington.

73 While it’s still years away from breaking ground, a direct rail line from Wilmington to the Philadelphia Airport has inched closer to approval. Federal officials gave their stamp of approval on a proposal for upgrades to the Northeast Corridor, but it would need financial backing from state or local government. Fingers crossed, commuters.

74 The Brandywine YMCA is scheduled to start a 16,000-square-foot expansion this spring. It will include adding adaptive fitness equipment for patrons with limited mobility and renovated preschool classrooms.

75 In 2017 there will be 450 more new apartments in the Downtown and Riverfront Wilmington districts than existed only three years ago.

76 Main Street Wilmington opened 2017 in conversation with 15 businesses looking to locate Downtown.

77 Downtown Wilmington will see at least six new food and beverage destinations open this year.


78
You can now get a cup of coffee in Downtown Wilmington on Sunday. In fact, it’s a Starbucks, located on Market Street.

79 DiFonzo Bakery, a Wilmington institution since 1945, is returning to Little Italy after a 13-year absence.

80 Delaware’s restaurant industry, the largest small business employer in Delaware at 11 percent of the total workforce, expects to add 1,000 jobs each year for the next 10 years. The majority will be at the managerial level.

81 Cajun Kate’s New Orleans Market has been a staple at the Booths Corner Farmers Market for about a decade, but a trip to Pennsylvania during the limited hours of operation wasn’t exactly ideal for Delawareans. Now we can all get our Cajun and Creole fix from Kate and company a little closer to home, thanks to the second location that recently opened in Bellefonte. The dine-in area seats 30.

82 Most sushi lovers were sad to see Kooma leave the Wilmington Riverfront in 2016, but all foodies are excited to see Del Pez reinvigorate the old space. The Newark-based Mexican gastropub got its second location at 400 Justison St. in December, and so far, reviews are positive.

83 Although a location hasn’t been selected or approved yet, we have on very good authority that Grain, one of Newark’s best and brightest new
restaurant stars, will have a sister restaurant in the next year. A second Grain (perhaps in the Wilmington area?) would be something special for fans of great pub fare and a polished craft beer selection.

84 Craft beer lovers can rejoice as they have more choices than ever. The number of breweries has been steadily increasing since Prohibition (when there were none), and as of the end of November 2016 there were 5,005. Ninety-nine percent of them are small and independent craft breweries.


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Iron Hill locations started canning their beers a few years ago, and now the regional chain’s resolution for 2017 includes canned beer available at all times at every location. That includes appearances by the Ore House IPA and seasonals like the Rising Sun IPA, with Sorachi Ace hops.

86 Amid the new restaurant, expansion, and canning program, let’s not forget why Dogfish Head put Delaware on the craft beer map: the beer! This year, there will be three new brews, including Saison du BUFF, a collaboration with Stone Brewing Co. and Victory Brewing Co.

87 Odds are you’ve passed the old Bull’s Eye more than a hundred times over the 23 years it’s been open for business. But after a change in ownership, the place is getting a makeover. Craft beer options, carefully prepared comfort food, a refurbished interior and a sparkling new red-and-white sign make this somewhat forgotten stopover a new neighborhood destination.


88
Delaware’s growing fleet of food trucks will get another member this spring when Wheely’s Café starts roaming the streets of Old New Castle. A “carbon-neutral mobile café,” Wheely’s will serve locally roasted, fair trade, organic coffee, cappuccino, espresso and tea. Follow them on Facebook for a list of locations where they’ll be setting up shop.

89 On July 22, the Newark Food & Brew Festival will celebrate its 14th anniversary. The Food & Brew, now a rite of summer in Newark, is one of the state’s first craft beer-focused festivals.

90 Delaware’s biggest costume party, the Halloween Loop, returns for its 38th year on Saturday, Oct. 28. How many Donald Trump look-alikes do you think we’ll see?

91 Sounds like it will be a good year for local music. This month will see new albums from Davey Dickens Jr. and The Troubadours and Ringleader, plus a video of the new single from Gozer. Look for Gozer to follow up with a full release, “Sick of Waking Up,” on cassette this spring. Over the summer, count on The Joe Trainor Trio to deliver Three, followed by albums from both The Cocks and Grace Vonderkuhn in the fall.

92 There are rumors of a 2017 Phish Europe tour—or a “baker’s dozen” run at Madison Square Garden.


93
According to BuzzAngle Music’s first-ever yearly report, vinyl album sales in 2016 were up more than 25 percent from 2015, despite the fact that physical album sales were down 11.7 percent and subscription streams (a competing format) rose nearly 125 percent. This is good news for independent record stores such as Rainbow and Jupiter Records. The numbers also give credence to the notion that vinyl is still alive and growing, and that the format offers up-and-coming bands the opportunity to make more money than via streaming options, which—although popular—generally pay peanuts.

94 Chris Berman is retiring from most of his duties at ESPN. It was time. One more “back-back-back-back-back” at the MLB home run competition would have been one too many.

95 Phillies pitchers and catchers report to spring training Feb. 13—the first precursor of spring.

96 Carson Wentz will be in his second year as the quarterback (and the future) of the Eagles, and Coach Doug Pederson also will be in his second year. No more rookie mistakes?

97 Blue Hens football admits it laid an egg with the licensing fee for season ticket holders and ends the policy for the 2017 season. For good measure, new University of Delaware Athletics Director Chrissy Rawak has brought in a new head coach, Danny Rocco, who led Richmond to playoff appearances in each of the past three seasons.


98
The Flyers are moving in the right direction. As they celebrate 50 years this season, a young team proves they have deep talent and could squeak into the postseason (Hopefully that doesn’t change by the time this is published).

99 Joel Embid is the real deal. Ben Simmons will be on the court soon. The 76ers are returning to relevance.

100 Print media: It’s still here!

Putting Community First

The Friends of White Clay Creek State Park have received a grant for a campground from REI, “a purpose-driven company.” The project will be finished this autumn.

When nationwide outdoor and recreation outfitter REI— Recreational Equipment Inc.—opened a new location at the Christiana Fashion Center in the fall of 2015, it wasn’t just another addition to what is now 149 stores throughout the country. Instead, it was an example of the altruistic premise under which the 79-year-old company operates: business strategy should align with positive social and environmental impact.

As a consumer co-op rather than a standard publicly-traded company, REI has the means and vision to serve each community in which its stores are located. Simply put, it aims to help. And it does so in a big way. In 2015, REI gave away more than 72 percent of its profits, most of which went to an employee bonus program and local communities.

Under its Stewardship program, location managers and employees around the country develop relationships with local nonprofit organizations to target the needs of each community. As part of the initiative, REI provides grants to select organizations that have a good partnership with that local REI staff. The 2016 report is not out yet, but in 2015 REI invested $8.5 million in more than 300 nonprofits working to steward and increase access to more than 1,000 “inspiring” outdoor places.

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Hikers on a trail in White Clay Creek State Park. Photo Joe del Tufo

Over the years, REI has made grants to bordering states, including the Pineland Preservation Alliance from REI’s Marlton, N.J., branch, and, in Pennsylvania, to the Valley Forge State Park from the Conshohocken location.

“After that, then it’s about a grant itself,” says Christiana REI Manager Adam Orenstein. “Creating access is one thing we really look for in our grants, as well as stewardship, trail maintenance, getting more trail use and more access to the outdoors. Once a place submits a grant, the folks at headquarters review and see what aligns best with our mission.”

Recently, Delaware made the cut for a grant project: White Clay Creek State Park will now have its first-ever campground.

The 3,300-acre meld of forests, meadows, streams, historical sites, and 37 miles of trail surrounding Newark is the soon-to-be location of primitive campsites. That’s thanks to the Friends of White Clay Creek State Park. The nonprofit, run by volunteers who support the park, applied for the $12,500 REI grant.

The money will go toward labor, plus equipment such as picnic tables, fire pits, grates, water spigots, etc.
As of now, there are two to three TBA location possibilities for the campground, and the total project should be complete this fall. Considerations like environmental impact and habitat are being taken into account, Orenstein notes, so nobody wants to rush the venture.

“Now the community at large will have opportunities to go camping in their backyard, and this will encourage more hiking, and create onramps to give people better access to parks,” says Orenstein. “Hopefully it can help some of our local scout groups and clubs. People will teach overnight backpacking and survival classes.”

If the state park or the Friends group need volunteer assistance, REI employees are happy to help. Otherwise, the project is totally in the hands of The Friends of White Clay.

This isn’t the first REI grant to the Friends group; in 2015, REI donated a sum to install a handful of bike stations, pumps and tools.

Since REI established a Delaware branch, the state parks system has been a major supporter of the company’s initiatives, like its unprecedented #OptOutside campaign, says Orenstein. “They believe, like we do, that a life outdoors is a life well-lived.”

#OptOutside started in 2015 when REI closed all locations on Black Friday, processed no online sales, and encouraged customers and employees to spend time outdoors rather than joining hordes of shoppers. REI repeated the campaign again on Black Friday in 2016, and six million people, including 12,287 employees and 275 national organizations, participated.

“We’ve got a lot of visions,” says Orenstein. “We want our local REI to continue to engage and have activations long-term. We’ve only been open for a little longer than a year, so we know we haven’t fully tapped into the outdoor community as a whole.”

Delaware Children in Nature, Clean Water Delaware and Trail Spinners are three other local organizations, aside from White Clay, that REI is forming relationships with.

“We are driven by our values,” says Orenstein. “We’re a purpose-driven company rather than a profit-driven company.”

Guides on the Path to Physical Fitness

Personal trainers deliver results (not miracles), but it takes commitment from both parties

Some of their clients are workout warriors and some are couch potatoes. Some want to bulk up or stretch out and some just want to lose a few pounds so those new pants fit in time for the class reunion. Some know what to expect from the process and some are clueless. And some are willing to put in the work while others expect miracles, and they expect them now.

“All sorts of people come through that door, but all of them have at least one thing in common—they’re looking for help,” says Scott McCarthy, a personal trainer at Balance Fitness on Fourth Street in Wilmington.

That’s where he and other personal trainers come in. According to the U.S. Department of Labor statistics, there were 279,100 personal trainers in the United States in 2015, a number that’s expected to increase to 338,000 by 2018 because of population growth and the increasing interest in health and fitness. In Delaware in 2015, there were 1,060 personal trainers and fitness instructors, all of them willing and able to help turn soft tissue into firm muscle—assuming their clients are willing to pay the price.

“Training and working out are two different things,” McCarthy says. “We’re not just out there counting reps for people. We’re like guides who help them find their way to personal fitness. Some people already know their way and don’t need a guide, but there are lots of people who need somebody to help and encourage them. And that’s our job—helping people who need help.”

Of course, there are some misconceptions about personal trainers. For one thing, they don’t tape ankles and cut up orange slices at halftime—those are athletic trainers. And not all their clients end up looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger in his greased-up, body-building prime.

A personal trainer at the YMCA coaches a client on the treadmill. (Photo courtesy of the YMCA)
A personal trainer at the YMCA coaches a client on the treadmill. (Photo courtesy of the YMCA)

A Marathon, Not a Sprint

“I’ve been doing this for 18 years and I’ve seen and heard it all,” says Nic DeCaire, who runs Fusion Fitness Center on Main Street in Newark. “A lot of people think we just sit around all day in sweat pants and watch you lift weights or run laps. They don’t realize that we offer a complete regimen for physical and mental well-being and that we’re with them every step of the way. It’s a commitment on both ends, from the trainer and the client.”

One thing all trainers emphasize is that a training regimen is a marathon, not a sprint. Not all clients grasp that basic concept and that’s why it’s one of the first messages a personal trainer delivers —expect results, but not miracles.

“If the commitment from the client isn’t there then there isn’t much we can do to help them,” says Charlotte Maher, a personal trainer at Fit Studio on Rockland Road in Wilmington. “But those cases are pretty rare, because most people we deal with are here for a reason. They want to lose weight or tone up and it’s probably something that’s been in their minds for a while. So, when they finally take the step to hire a personal trainer. they’re serious about it. And we make sure they understand that it takes a commitment and a lot of work to reach their goals, but it’s worth it.”

Those goals vary from person to person, and personal trainers must be willing and able to customize their regimen according to those goals. Most fitness centers deal with clients on a one-on-one basis and in group settings, but no matter the regimen or the setting, it all starts with talk, not action.

“The first step when they walk through the door is a consultation, where we discuss their goals and learn about their medical and fitness history,” says Matt DiStefano of Core Ten Fitness on Orange Street in Wilmington. “A lot of people haven’t been part of a fitness program for a long time and they need to ease into things, and sometimes we have to convince them of that. They want immediate results and it just doesn’t work that way. For those people, patience is a big key, because this is not like ordering something at a restaurant.”

That’s why it’s helpful if prospective clients know what they’re looking for from a personal trainer. If they don’t know for sure, then the trainer must lead them in the right direction. And it doesn’t matter if the client is male or female; the regimen is basically the same, depending on why they hired a personal trainer in the first place, although Maher has noticed that men tend to focus more on their upper bodies.

Clients and members work out at Core 10. (Photo by Jim Coarse)
Clients and members work out at Core 10.
(Photo by Jim Coarse)

“This is not a one-size-fits-all kind of business,” Maher says. “That’s the reason the first thing we do is sit down and talk to them and find out what their goals are. If they have really big goals, then we have to put a time slot to that—it’s not something you can accomplish in six weeks or by just coming to the gym once a week.

“That’s why it’s so important that our clients are honest with us about their medical and workout history, and also the goals they have going forward. We have to decide whether those goals are realistic ones, and if they’re not, we make sure they realize that without discouraging them. Sometimes it can be a real reality check for them. And sometimes they can be stubborn about it, but the majority of our clients understand that we’re professionals who know what we’re doing and they trust us.”

Once those goals are identified, the training process can begin, and all personal trainers agree that it’s important to start slowly and build the training regimen from there. That means basic stretching and cardio-vascular exercises to begin with, then more extensive weight and conditioning training after that. But it always depends on the conditioning and health of the clients when they begin the program.

“We’re really about general well-being, and everybody has different goals and needs,” says Mark Myers, who oversees the personal training program at the Central YMCA in Wilmington. “And one thing we all emphasize is the need for balance. If you want to build up your biceps, that means building up your triceps as well. You never focus solely on one muscle group or one activity. Even if your main goal is to bulk up and add muscle, we also emphasize flexibility, which helps you avoid injuries. It’s really a total package and sometimes people have to be convinced about that because they’re focused on one particular thing.”

You Are What You Eat

Diet is a big part of a fitness program and that’s something trainers constantly preach to their clients, even the ones whose primary goal isn’t to lose weight. Trainers stress the old you-are-what-eat philosophy as part of a balanced approach to fitness.

“We’re not nutritionists and we don’t pretend to be experts in that area,” Maher says. “But we do refer clients to a dietician if they have a serious weight problem that can’t be fixed just by working out. We’ll set up a consultation with [the dietician] and that will become part of the overall fitness program, especially if losing weight is one of their main goals.”

But, DiStefano says, that doesn’t mean his clients can’t have a slice of pizza or a couple of cold beers on occasion.

“It’s like anything in life—moderation is the key,” he says. “If you work hard and eat right five days a week you can enjoy yourself on the weekend and that’s something I tell my people all the time. You don’t want to deprive yourself of the little pleasures of life just because you’re in a training program. It’s all about that balance.”

There is one group of clients who come to personal trainers with specific goals in mind—competitive athletes who are looking for an edge, including teen-agers who hope to excel in their sports enough to earn a roster spot and maybe even a college scholarship.

“It’s different than it was when I was growing up and we played all the sports, depending on the season,” says Stephen LeViere of LeViere’s Fitness, which operates the training program at Kirkwood Fitness on Naamans Road. “Most kids nowadays really specialize in a specific sport and that’s their only focus. If you’re a baseball player or basketball player, that’s what you do, all year round. It’s either your [high school] season or you’re playing in an AAU tournament or getting ready to play in an AAU tournament.

So, their training is geared toward something very specific, something that will give them an advantage and make them better than the guy next to them. If they don’t, they know they might not get that scholarship or even make the team.

“For example, I get a lot of football players in my May program before training camp opens in August, so they can be in better shape than anybody else in camp and they can stand out right away, instead of having to play themselves into shape or, worse, having to battle injuries.”

LeViere says he sits down with these eager athletes and determines exactly what he or she is hoping to achieve, just like he does with all his clients. Of course, the kind of sport, the position they play, and the size of the athletes help determine that, as does their present health and conditioning.

Weight training is an essential part of most fitness regimens. (Photo by Jim Coarse)
Weight training is an essential part of most fitness regimens. (Photo by Jim Coarse)

Gauging the Body’s Response

“But no matter who it is or what sport it is, you have to start with the foundation, and that is how well they can handle the stress and rigors of the game they play,” LeViere says. “You can’t play and you certainly can’t dominate if you’re injured. So, we start with simple presses and compound movements and simple squats with not much weight. And we don’t do jumping or running until we see how their body responds.

“Once we determine that, then we can start ramping up and focusing on the specific muscles they need for their sport, whether it’s speed or agility or strength or power.”

Another challenge for personal trainers is convincing clients to stay with their training regimen after they reach their goals. Many clients get what they want (the pants fit!) and then slip back into the unhealthy lifestyles that made them seek out a personal trainer in the first place.
“It happens frequently and you hate to see that,” DeCaire says. “But most of our clients stick with it because they feel so good about themselves because they’re physically and mentally fit, maybe for the first time in 20 years. That doesn’t mean they have to stay at the same level or maintain the same training schedule. If you’re training to run a marathon you can scale back some after you run your race. But most of them love their new selves and they want to keep those endorphins coming and they make this a life-time commitment.”

“That’s what makes this job so rewarding, when you see that total transformation in a person,” he adds. “When they start their training program they usually do it because they’re not happy with themselves, they’re not happy with the way they look or the way they feel. We help them regain the self-esteem they’ve lost and it’s a great feeling to know that you helped somebody turn their life around in a positive and healthy way.”