There was much to do when Bill and Linda Guckin took over the restaurant space formally known as Charlie’s Bayside in Fenwick Island. There were renovations to get under way, color schemes to choose, a brand new menu to create and literal walls to come down, to optimize the space’s scenic waterfront views.
Oh, yeah — and they also had to move their collective allotment of worldly possessions and basically their entire lives from the next state over, from Philadelphia, Pa.
But after a complete redesign of both the restaurant’s atmosphere and its offerings, as well as an eagerly-endorsed one-way U-Haul rental receipt, Fin Alley finally made its debut, just in time for Memorial Day weekend of 2016.
“The one word that I kept on hearing was: ‘Excellent,’” said Linda Guckin of the opening weekend reception. “Not ‘good,’ ‘very good’ or ‘OK,’ but ‘excellent.’ There’s people that have returned three times already. That’s what we want.”
As husband-and-wife entrepreneurs, the Guckins had already embarked on no small number of successful entrepreneurial endeavors in the Philadelphia metropolitan area. But despite that success, city life had begun to take its toll.
That’s when the long-time visitors to the area’s beaches, with a vacation home in Bishopville, Md., began to find it more and more difficult to leave the beach and head back home.
“We were looking around for a business for quite a while, and then this opportunity came about,” explained Bill Guckin. “It’s a good location and great view. We thought, with a good remodel and fixing the place up — maybe improve the menu a bit — we thought people would really enjoy coming here. So we decided to jump on it.”
That was last September.
Now, after spending the winter setting up shop and making some permanent moves, the Guckins have looked back not once since settling down on the shore.
“We fell in love with the area and the people, and started saying, ‘Wow — why are we going back?’” Linda Guckin said, with a laugh. “The quality of life it just so much better here. People are more friendly — they wave. It’s just a better way of life.”
The new digs
With personal logistics out of the way, the Guckins turned their attention to the restaurant and its inevitable serious facelift.
With one of Fenwick Island proper’s only direct water-adjacent establishments — located in the Village of Fenwick just off Route 1, on the bayside — they, of course, wanted to show off their unique and sought-after views.
With a quick remodel of the old bar — opening up the entire restaurant and, subsequently, the exponential odds for possible post-meal sunset shows reflecting off the canal — they were able to pull off just that: showcasing the view.
Then, windows were replaced. Walls were painted in bright new maritime-appropriate shades. New floors were put in. Nautical knickknacks displayed. And pretty much every other conceivable thing concerning feng shui upgraded or replaced, too, to go along with the space’s existing outdoor seating.
“It’s just a fresh, new look,” Linda Guckin explained, “So you know you’re actually at the shore — you can feel it.”
The new menu
While the Guckins were putting their own spin on the space, they brought in head chef Alex Ljuba to do the same with the menu.
Charlie’s Bayside had long offered customers some of the typically expected, and in some cases, demanded, dishes in the world of coastal fare. But in teaming up with sous-chef D.J. Betz, and with an extensive culinary background ranging from mahi mahi to maki-zushi, Ljuba wanted to get creative in regards to what he’s judiciously deemed “culinary classics with a modern twist.”
“That’s kind of what I was going for. I didn’t want to be the same as everybody else. I wanted to do something a little bit different, so that people could try new things around here,” he explained. “I just tried to kind of have fun with it. I tried to take inspiration from all over the world and apply it to the Eastern Shore.”
For example: the Fin Alley Rockfish with Key lime butter sauce, fresh local tomato, fresh local cilantro and a side of house-made hit coconut coleslaw. The Lobster Mac with three-cheese blend and cavatappi noodles. The Seared Jerk Scallops with house jerk sauce, avocado puree, micro greens, roasted corn and black beans. The Chimichurri Churrasco flank steak that can only really be described by the chef who envisioned the dish.
Noteworthy appetizer offerings include the Scallops Florentine with jalapeño bacon, sautéed spinach and garlic confit; fresh daily jumbo-lump crab salsa served with house tortillas; half shell oysters by the half-dozen; Sweet & Spicy Siracha Lime Wings; and an array of fresh salads and soups, such as the Grilled Caesar salad with char-grilled romaine heart and aged parmesan, and Maryland crab soup and lobster bisque.
For the slightly less fearless foodie, there are, of course, some more usual offerings as well, ranging from burgers and crabcakes, to seared tuna and Parm-Encrusted Chicken with Blackened Shrimp.
For dessert, the Char-Grilled Rum Cake has so far stolen the show, and the menu also features options including popcorn shrimp and chicken tenders for kids and some à la carte happy-hour specials during the week, in addition to the restaurant’s newly remodeled bar.
“People come here for the food,” Linda Guckin said. “They brainstormed all winter together and redesigned the whole menu. While we were doing the construction here, they were doing the behind-the-scenes construction.”
Less than a month into the new venture, the Fin Alley team said that seeing people try new things and enjoy them — in addition to their collective vision for both friendly service and modern fare coming to fruition — was a reward in itself.
They’ve also got plans for the future, for when the summer season hits full stride, to utilize the carry-out window on the opposite side of the building for quick and easy access for beachgoers.
Whatever the future holds, however, one thing is for sure. Despite their Philadelphian roots, the Guckins have found a new place to call “home.”
“It was time for a change,” Bill Guckin summed up. “We decided to move down here for the quality of life. We love it here.”
Fin Alley is open seven days a week for dinner, starting at 4 p.m., and for lunch and dinner on Saturday and Sunday, starting at noon, although extended summer hours are subject to change. The restaurant is located at 300 Coastal Highway in the Village of Fenwick, just off Route 1, and north of the state line. For more information, call (302) 539-3526 or check out their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/finalleyfenwick.