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Fins buys Just Hooked, starts new concept

Katie Tabeling
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Fins Hospitality Group has bought a new location in Fenwick Island, and plans to open a southern coastal cuisine concept. | PHOTO COURTESY OF FINS HOSPITALTY GROUP.

Fins Hospitality Group has bought a new location in Fenwick Island, and plans to open a southern coastal cuisine concept. | PHOTO COURTESY OF FINS HOSPITALTY GROUP.

FENWICK ISLAND — Fins Hospitality Group is gearing up to open a new venue after acquiring Just Hooked earlier this year, with plans to offer Southern cuisine at Delaware’s beaches.

J.R.’s Seafood Shack is planned to open in April, with executive chef Max Sopinskyy at the helm. Early looks at the menu include Louisiana-style home cooking favorites like biscuits and gravy, collard greens, as well as Fins’ trademark seafood dishes. The restaurant will create at least 50 jobs.

“The whole concept behind Fins is to offer the freshest food, local or non-local. This is a little different. It’s classic Southern dishes, but how do we make it upscale?” Sopinskyy said. “It sounds simple, but that’s the challenge in front of us.”

Just Hooked, an 11-year-old restaurant on Coastal Highway, closed in late February. Its former owner, Common Ground Hospitality, also owns Off the Hook, Bethany Beach, Hooked Up Ale House & Raw Bar in Millville and Tailchasers Restaurant & Dock Bar and Hooked in Ocean City, Md. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. 

“The opportunity to sell could not have come at a better time,” Common Ground Hospitality owner Steve Hagen said in a statement. “It’s always important to diversify and grow our brand. We have new concepts in the works that we have been looking forward to bringing to Delmarva for a long time, this deal gives us the leverage to refocus our efforts.” 

The news comes weeks after Fins Hospitality announced it would bring Big Oyster Brewery to Milford, after a developer bought the shuttered Rookery Golf Course and plans to reopen it. Jeff Hamer, the owner of Fins, has been attempting to break into the Milford market for some time.

He told Delaware Business Times that a cold call to Common Ground led him to buy the Fenwick Restaurant.

“I’m really excited, because the Fenwick community has really seemed to welcome us into the fold,” Hamer told DBT in February. “Max has been with us for years. He’s an exceptional partner, and this is a perfect opportunity for him to shine.”

Sopinskyy has been with Fins Hospitality Group for 18 years, first starting as a J-1 visa student from Ukraine. He started as a dishwasher at the Fins Ale House on Rehoboth Avenue in the summer of 2005, and it was one of many jobs he tried out.

“I had no idea what I was going to do in the future at the time. I almost fell into being a chef, and it looked like that’s what I was good at,” Sopinskyy said.

By 2012, Sopinskyy did become a chef and the second Fins location opened off Route 1. From there, he kept overseeing kitchen operations and grew a partnership with Hamer. Today, Sopinskyy and his wife, Fins Controller Daria Danilenko, raise their children in southern Delaware.

Back when the COVID-19 pandemic upended the hospitality industry, Sopinskyy went to Delaware Technical Community College — something Hamer backed.

“I just kept going. Jeff has a lot of projects, and I was there for the good and the bad. In Ukraine, we have a saying: it’s better to have 100 friends than $100,” he said. “Opening a kitchen is a no-brainer to me, the rest is different. But I welcome the challenge.”

Finding the right talent and building a cost-effective, yet creative, menu are the biggest challenges Sopinskyy predicts he will face.

“If you have great service and a great drink, but a bad dish, you’re not coming back,” he said. “And something Anthony Bourdain said stays with me: ‘You can have a great chef, but if they don’t produce a dish the way you need it and consistently, it’s a huge problem.’”

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