Big Easy to bid adieu this weekend

They’ve had a good run at the Big Easy Seafood and Steakhouse, but owner Jerry Richard recently announced he’d pass the torch after this weekend: Friday, Dec. 9, and Saturday, Dec. 10.
This weekend will be patrons’ last chance to enjoy the Big Easy as it’s been, he advised.

Richard said he planned to situate himself in the kitchen Friday and Saturday, and hinted he’d be cooking up a few extra specials for the Big Easy’s final nights.

The regulars will have these last couple nights to enjoy the Big Easy as it’s been, he said, but he spoke well of incoming owner Ken Heaps and his crew.

“Really nice people,” Richard said. “They have a chef who’s affiliated with Morton’s steakhouses, so they’re certainly bringing some high quality to the table.” (He expected Chef Steve Coldwell would serve as both executive chef and general manager.)

Richard admitted it was a little tough to leave the Big Easy behind. Although he’s involved in a number of other local restaurant ventures, he said the Bethany-area restaurant was the one his children had grown up with.

The new owners will stay open under the Big Easy name for a month or two, he noted, but will likely start transitioning toward their own unique menu. However, he said he planned to start serving some of the more popular Cajun and Creole recipes at sister restaurant Outrigger’s Seafood Grill & Market (west of Fenwick Island, on Route 54).

Richard opened the Big Easy in 1998 (at that time, called the Big Easy Cajun Café).

“At that time, the main focus, probably about 95 percent, was on authentic Cajun and Creole cuisine,” he recalled. “Just awesome flavors — food that’s really different.”

No one in the area had tried Cajun and Creole before, Richard recalled, and many people at the beach were happy to see something different.

“But it’s not for everybody,” he admitted. “The flavors are intense, when it’s done right. It’s not for people who want ‘calm’ food.”

By the Big Easy’s first winter at the beach, Richard said he’d realized they would need to branch out a little and he started adding steak and seafood entrées.

“But we never lost our focus, and sticking to our roots had definitely proven to be the path of success for us,” he said.

Richard expanded from 2000 to 2001, making the kitchen larger and spilling additional seating into what had been a separate bar area. Then he launched some major renovations at what is now Outrigger’s, with Chef Walter Wong, in the spring of 2004.

More recently, Richard opened the Whistle Stop restaurant in Dagsboro with partner Mike Oxbrough, and he’s had his own business simmering on the side for some time as well — a home security outfit, also located in Dagsboro.

And construction continues apace on the restaurant that Richard has pegged to become “Rick’s 26,” right on Route 26 in Millville, in partnership with Ocean View resident Rick Kirincich.

Richard said he’d managed to nab Chef Steve Hagan, lately of popular Rehoboth-area restaurant Big Fish Grill, and Hagan is putting a team together for Rick’s 26.

Until then, Hagan’s taken a hand at the Whistle Stop, adding some entrées — seafood in particular — while keeping things as country as possible, Richard noted.

“People are really getting a treat out there right now,” he said, applauding Hagan’s abilities — and prices are still in the pre-teens.

So that’s somewhere between two and three restaurants — and Richard said he is toying with the idea of a venture back into Cajun and Creole, after Rick’s 26 gets rolling.

“I wouldn’t close the door on the idea that people might see another restaurant in this style in a couple years,” he said.

However, from this weekend until then, it’s au revoire to the old-style Big Easy. Richard expressed no regrets.

“This sale opens the door to success in the other things we’re doing,” he noted. “Sometimes you have to move on, from one thing to another.

“It’s been an amazing journey,” he reflected. “We’ve met and developed friendships in the business community, and in our personal lives, with some awesome people.”

Heaps and Coldwell will keep things rolling at the Big Easy, taking over operations by next Friday, he said. But at least for this weekend, it’s still his.

And Richard plans to go out with some perks for the patrons, with half-off dinner entrées and quarter-off select bottles of wine.

The Big Easy Seafood and Steakhouse is located in the Marketplace at Sea Colony, just south of Bethany Beach on Route 1. For more information, call (302) 539-7482.