Grotto Pizza buys Dolle’s block in Rehoboth for $6M
REHOBOTH BEACH — The iconic Dolle’s Candyland property at the corner of Rehoboth Avenue and the boardwalk has been bought by fellow beach business titan Grotto Pizza, along with neighboring beachfront boardwalk properties on the block.
Grotto Pizza and their partner investor Onix Group, of Kennett Square, Pa., bought the storefronts that stretch from Kohr Brothers Frozen Custard to Zelky’s Beach Arcade for $6 million on Jan. 29, according to county land records. Grotto Pizza currently owns property on the corner of Baltimore Avenue and the boardwalk, just north of Dolle’s. The purchase means that the restaurant chain now owns the frontage of one of the most visited stretches of the city’s boardwalk.
Grotto Pizza will eventually move the restaurant on Baltimore Avenue, one block south to the corner of Rehoboth Avenue, into the former Dolle’s Candyland storefront.
“We are excited to be able to acquire this property. Grotto Pizza has not yet developed specific plans for the property [at this time],” Grotto Pizza founder Dominick Pulieri said. “We’re thankful for the opportunity to relocate our business to a location that’s so memorable to all who live, visit or work in Rehoboth Beach.”
Jeff Gosnear, vice president of Grotto Pizza, described the deal as a whirlwind, once-of-a-lifetime offer made when Signe Murray, the property owner and the granddaughter of Dolle’s founder Thomas Pachides, was considering selling the property in order to retire.
“Because we were the neighbors, we were the first one she called. Right place, right time,” Gosnear told the Delaware Business Times. “It’s just a better location, with a lot more foot traffic and it’s the most iconic corner in Delaware. We had been so focused on getting the deal done, we haven’t really considered the possibilities outside of moving Grotto’s.”
For now, Grotto Pizza will honor current leases and the Dolle’s storefront will be available for the lease in the short-term. Tom Ibach plans to move the candy store to Ibach’s By the Sea, which is right next door to Dolle’s and 50 feet from the boardwalk.
After 60 years in business, Grotto Pizza has 22 locations in the region, and is on target to open a 23rd location in Millsboro in the spring. Pulieri first opened a pizza restaurant in 1960 as a way to fund his college tuition. Three years later, Grotto Pizza opened a second location on the boardwalk as a seasonal operation. In 1974, he opened the restaurant year-round to meet the demand.
But Dolle’s storied legacy stretches even further back, as it opened first in neighboring Ocean City, Md., in 1910 and moved to Rehoboth Beach in 1927. After Pachides dissolved his partnership, his family continued the family business.
Ibach, his grandson, took over in 1984 and also opened his own store next door. A candy manufacturing plant is also scheduled for construction off Route 1.
As for the landmark Dolle’s sign that overlooks the boardwalk and the row of shops on Rehoboth Avenue, its future is unclear for the time being. The sign was built after the Storm of 1962 destroyed the storefront and was grandfathered in current city zoning regulations.
“It does seem strange not to have the Dolle’s sign, but [Ibach] said it wouldn’t make sense to leave it there, and we agree it would be confusing for people,” Gosnear said. “We do want to support him, and we’re hopeful there’s a solution for everyone.”