What’s left to do once you have landed two local televised food shows, contribute your knowledge of cuisine to columns in local newspapers and magazines, and establish three well-known restaurants along the Delaware shore? If you’re restaurateur Matt Haley, you keep expanding, of course.
By the end of April, Haley plans to debut Catch 54 in Fenwick Island, a seafood restaurant that will replace the venerable Shark’s Cove Restaurant and Marina, which was itself started in 1990.
Ed O’Malley, former owner of Shark’s Cove, said he couldn’t be more pleased with the property’s change of hands and would never have sold the business to just anybody.
“Matt is building an empire,” said O’Malley, “and I’m glad to be helping him out. I saw this as a business opportunity for both of us. I’m sure Matt will bring the same atmosphere that we had offered.”
O’Malley added that he will remain landlord of the property, and the selling of the business that once resided there had opened the option for him to purchase the real estate in the future.
Catch 54 will be the latest addition to SoDel Concepts, a company Haley started a few years back to develop his three seafood restaurants — Fish On in Lewes, Bluecoast Seafood Market and Grill in North Bethany, and NorthEast Seafood Kitchen in Ocean View.
“We aspire to be a cutting-edge, aggressive restaurant group,” Haley said. “We want to be known for bringing great food, service and value.”
Haley’s wasted no time with his business since his move to coastal Delaware eight years ago. The new Fenwick restaurant will be his fourth in only three years. He added that SoDel Concepts may be taking a peek at the Rehoboth/Dewey area by next year, as well.
While each of his restaurants brings a different flavor of seafood to the area, Haley said that there are a few things uniform throughout.
“We believe in quality and value,” he said. “I like to keep things pretty simple. When people come to the beach, there are certain things they want. We’re not trying to serve food that you can find in New York City or D.C. People aren’t going to want macadamia-nut encrusted opah with ginger and yuzu reduction. They want crab cakes. What’s better than a stuffed rockfish with lemon and butter and french fries?”
The restaurant will continue to provide the marina service that Shark’s Cove offered for 17 years, with boat and personal watercraft rentals, as well as plenty of parking for boaters wishing to grab an afternoon bite or an evening meal.
The restaurant will likely be open four or five days a week, noted Haley, as they ease into the season. By the middle to end of May, he plans to be open year-round, seven day a week.
“We’re just trying to do what we do,” he said. “We create an expectation and fulfill it. Our goal is to have people walk away from our restaurants knowing they got more than they paid for.”
Haley stressed the importance of customer care without overdoing it.
“One of the main things we’ve done is made ourselves approachable, on top of affordable,” he said. “Our restaurants don’t intimidate anybody. No matter who you are, you can come in and feel good. We keep the service as unpretentious as possible.”
Customers, he said, will be able to come in three or four times a week and experience something new each time.
“You can come in to the bar, out on the deck, with your family, by yourself. You can come for appetizers and drinks as the sun’s going down. It doesn’t always have to be ‘come in for dinner and leave.’”
He prefers to stay closely knit to the community with which he is becoming more and more involved. SoDel Concepts works closely with Lower Delaware Autism Foundation (LDAF) and Juvenile Diabetes Foundation (JDF). Haley also takes time to consider concerns of his employees.
“A lot of our staff members will come with ideas of where they want to put our company’s money,” he said. “We’re spending $50,000 to $75,000 a year donating money to people. Our staff is working hard, so we want them to decide where the money goes.”
Haley will be seeking some new employees and bringing some over from his other restaurants, but at the same time, will also be bringing back employees from Shark’s Cove.
“People will still be able to see familiar faces,” he said. “I won’t buy a business and put people out on the street. Everyone will have an opportunity.”
Once Haley obtained the property, only a few months back, interior touch-ups began immediately in preparation for the quick turnaround. “We’re just giving it a makeover right now,” he said.
Fresh charcoal-grey carpet, cherry hardwood and earthy yellow tiles will make their way to the floors. The bar will see a new maple top, as well as new fans and lights around the dining area. Some of his favorite additions, though, will be the porthole-style mirrors along the walls and corrugated roofing material around some of the exterior, designed to convey a nautical feel. “We’re really going to light this place up,” he said.
When not tied down with his handful of restaurants, Haley juggles an occasional “Culinary Delights” column in Coastal Point newspaper, articles for Rehoboth’s The Bystander magazine, as well as his Comcast television show, “Food Chat with Matt Haley” and his new show, “Beach Eats,” which will be aired on Sea Colony’s closed-circuit cable station, SCTV 37, starting this summer.
Haley noted that he is always seeking advice and input from the public. Customers are encouraged to submit recipes for the new restaurant, as well.
“We’re looking for people to suggest old, family, beach recipes,” said Haley, “and we’ll end up putting one of them on the menu and name it after them if it’s our favorite.”
The focus of the new restaurant’s menu is to include some of the area’s traditional recipes, taken from the old-time seafood restaurants that many who have visited or lived in the area for decades may remember but haven’t tasted in years. That makes Haley’s request for input all the more tempting for those who fancy the cuisine of the Delaware shore.
For an employment application, or to offer suggestions for Catch 54, visit the restaurant’s Web site at www.catch54.com.