For the past four years, Brian DeLuca has captured the essence of Philadelphia’s eats and has been supplying the shore with thousands of cheesesteaks and subs with Philly’s Finest. This past weekend, he introduced his latest establishment, High Stakes Bar and Grill, right next door to his shop just outside Fenwick Island on Route 54.
With the expansion, DeLuca and his staff — the originals and some new hires — hope to bring the beaches some things they’ve been missing, all wrapped up in one package, from sports, entertainment and, of course, delicious Philadelphia-style cooking.
“We always thought we’d maybe have an opportunity for a bar/restaurant,” said DeLuca. “I knew I wanted to eventually go beyond the steak shop.”
Over this past winter, High Stakes was fashioned out of the now-vacant former real estate office directly beside Philly’s Finest, and now, the two establishments are up and running, side by side, in full swing.
“Luckily, we got the chance to do this right next door,” said DeLuca, “and you can’t ask for a better spot than that. You don’t have to relocate. We got permission to go, and we just went with it.”
Roughly 90 percent of the new work that went into High Stakes was done by DuLuca and some helping hands.
“We built the bar, the shelves, the wainscoting, and we painted ceiling tiles,” he said. “We initially rented the place. Even if we didn’t have a plan to do something with it, we wanted it there, in case. Luckily, we did, and everything came together well.”
From the installation of four new TV’s to the wood paneling around the pub, and arcade games, the establishment is a far cry from the business it formerly held.
“I have confidence in this place,” said DeLuca. “It’s working out real well so far.”
He’s added five dining tables and three high-top tables, allowing for more of a restaurant environment.
“It’s a great spot for people swinging by to get a drink, and it’s ideal for families, too,” he said. “We want to cater to everyone.
“It’s been a local spot already,” DeLuca said, “and we’re seeing a lot of familiar faces, as well as new ones. We’re learning their names, and making sure they feel welcomed here. The age range is very wide, and it seems to be working out for everyone. They’re all having a good time.”
Customers may be taken aback when they step from the older deli-style side of the business into the wood-laden ambiance of High Stakes, but DeLuca has an upcoming project for that aspect of his shop, too.
“I’d like to eventually redo the Philly’s Finest area to look like the bar,” he said. “Some people still don’t think it’s one (business). They think it’s an ownership change. The food and everything is still the same.”
His kitchen staff, primarily the same crew who has been putting out sandwiches for years, is back to turning tickets, and there are even some more additions to ease the hunger pangs. In addition to the build-your-own hoagies, sandwiches and cheesesteaks, patrons can indulge themselves at the bar with an array of new munchies, from mushroom caps and broccoli bites to an assortment of salads, soups, platters and desserts.
“When you look at our menu here,” said DeLuca, “we added a lot more finger food. Our wings are already becoming a hit. Everything is still on there, and we’ll still make anything for you, however you want it. We’re doing our best to get everything for everyone. It’s going to be a nice, local spot.”
To help relieve some of the stresses that come with managing a restaurant, DeLuca decided to bring in some assistance. He hired a kitchen manager, bringing in long-time friend Tony Joceville for the position.
“He’s doing an excellent job,” DeLuca stated. “He fits in very well, and he knows what he’s doing. It helps everyone, and the food comes out on time.”
The Philly’s Finest kitchen is responsible for all orders that come back, from either location, as well as all pick-up orders that are placed.
“It really helps me out,” DeLuca said. “I can give them a hand in the back or behind the bar, or go out there and talk to the customers.”
Joceville, who relocated from Philadelphia to the Delaware shore, also brings with him some knowledge of the trade.
“I was doing the same type of thing, working in a deli at home” he said. “A lot of it’s the same stuff. I’m making sure orders get out, and keeping people in line. I have known Brian for many years, and it’s great to be working with him now.”
DeLuca also brought in a new bar manager to help organize things at High Stakes. Declan McNamee, who has had is foot in the pub and restaurant scene for years, now brings his expertise and experience to the newly opened bar and grill.
“Declan has been in the business for a while,” said DeLuca, “and he has a good grasp on what he expects from the area. People know him and enjoy his company.”
Although also a Philadelphian, Declan met DeLuca at the start of the sub-and-steak shop, when he was checking the area for the best cheesesteak.
“I had stopped in there before, and he knew what I wanted when I ordered a ‘wizwit,’” said McNamee. (That’s a particular style of cheesesteak, well-known in the Philadelphia region, involving Cheese Whiz and onions). “He’s got a good taste in the food he prepares and, well, he’s from Philly.”
Making the move from bartender to bar manager was just what McNamee, a first-time father-to-be, was looking for.
“I’ve always wanted more responsibility,” he said, “and I was ready for it. My family’s been in the bar business for years, and I’ve learned a lot.”
And now, he and his wife, Jamie, will have a family of their own, with daughter Mckayla due this week.
“It’s like going from a boy to a man overnight. It’s a great feeling, and a huge step in my life,” he said.
An avid sports fan himself, McNamee assured sports fans that everyone is welcome at the bar, regardless of their chosen team.
“We’re nondenominational,” he said with a laugh. “The best thing is, all the bartenders have their teams. We have a Dallas fan, Ravens fans, a couple of Eagles fans, and even Redskins and Steelers. Everyone will have their jerseys when the season starts up, and anyone who comes in can have a good time.”
High Stakes’ location is expected to help the business prosper.
“We’re the first bar coming from Ocean City, and the last cutoff on the way out of West Fenwick Island,” explained McNamee. He and DeLuca may even be planning an expansion in a few more years, but they don’t want to get too big.
“People like the feeling of the hometown pub,” said McNamee, “and that’s what we’re giving them. I’ve worked at a lot of bars and I see what works. I’ve taken the best from all of them and put them together to make what should be the best bar here at the beach. I foresee this place being a really big success.” He’s even contributed some of his own recipes to High Stakes’ specialized martini lineup.
Throughout the week, DeLuca brings in DJs and bands for musical enjoyment, and they can be sure that if there’s a game on (especially a Philly franchise), fans will be stopping in to root for their favorites.
“We’re just trying to keep everyone entertained,” he said. “We’re getting in new music all the time, and people have been coming in to watch the sports. You don’t want the same things over and over.”
The Aaron Howell Band will be putting on their debut show at High Stakes Bar and Grill during happy hour on Memorial Day.
Although High Stakes is only a week old, DeLuca said he couldn’t be more thrilled with the turnout so far.
“We’ve had nothing but compliments,” he said. “People love the food, the atmosphere and our staff. A lot of customers have said they see this becoming the next big thing at the beach, and I think it will definitely happen.”
For more information, including specials, entertainment schedules and menus, stop in to High Stakes Bar and Grill, open seven days a week, from 11 a.m. until 1 a.m. They are located right off Coastal Highway on Route 54, beside Happy Harry’s in Fenwick Island.
Calls for information or orders can be placed by dialing (302) 537-6971. Additional information is available online at www.myspace.com/phillysfinestde.