[caption id="attachment_211058" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] A render of the under-construction Ocean View Brewing Company | PHOTO COURTESY OF SODEL CONCEPTS[/caption]
REHOBOTH BEACH — Like many restaurants in Delaware and across the country, SoDel Concepts had a hard 2020, but now it looks to accelerate into post-pandemic life by adding two new venues on its menu.The restaurant group bought the former Ropewalk Fenwick Island at 700 Coastal Highway in Fenwick Island for $2.1 million in March, which SoDel will turn into a third Matt's Fish Camp location. Shortly after, SoDel Concepts President Scott Kammerer announced the company would build Ocean View Brewing Company, a 200-seat brewpub off Route 26.“These are both huge investments for us, but ones that we are confident will be well worth it in the long term,” Kammerer told the Delaware Business Times in an email. “We are at the point where we can borrow the money that we need, and we have made the decision to spend what we need in order to do things right the first time.”At the future Matt’s Fish Camp in Fenwick Island, renovations have already started for what will be a complete overhaul to include an “little old school” and classic feel that has become the signature of the previous restaurants in Lewes and Bethany Beach. The concept of Matt’s Fish Camp was created by the late Matt Haley, the former head of SeDel Concepts, who wanted to focus on fresh seafood in a coastal comfort setting. Haley died in 2014.Meanwhile, the Ocean View Brewing Co. will be a completely new build, and will feature a beer garden and a fire pit. The brewpub’s décor will reflect a modern beach house with touches of Americana. The projected opening is 2022.Founded in 2004, SoDel Concepts has grown to an empire of 12 restaurants in Delaware’s beach communities as well as the Baywood Clubhouse event space in Millsboro. The company has been headquartered in downtown Rehoboth, just blocks away from Lupo Italian Kitchen, for roughly six years but soon plans on moving out to Route 1.Kammerer told DBT that SoDel Concepts strategically plans expansions and new concepts as much as 20 years in advance, but keeps them fluid because it’s impossible to predict the future. After the success of Thompson Island Brewing Company which opened in 2019, he said that another brewery was in the works, as was a second or third location of an existing restaurant that was planned for the next two years before the pandemic hit.“Of course, the events of 2020 caused us to reevaluate our immediate plans. We had not yet signed a lease for the brewery in Ocean View and had not identified another location for our other project,” Kammerer said. “The early weeks of the pandemic were hard for us and for everyone in the restaurant business. There was so much uncertainty.”SoDel Concepts, which is one of the top employers in Sussex County with more than 900 employees, was not immune to the financial fallout of the pandemic. In the first days of the pandemic when restaurants were closed, SoDel laid off most of its employees. Kammerer said that they were down that first week between 80% and 90% year over year.
[caption id="attachment_211052" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] L-R: Lou Ortiz (Executive Chef at Thompson Island), Lisa Breedlove (General Manager Thompson Island), Jimmy Valm (Head Brewer), Matt Patton (Director of Operations for SoDel Concepts) | PHOTO COURTESY OF SODEL CONCEPTS[/caption]
“But we were committed to getting people back to work, and at and at each step of the way we just kept at it,” Kammerer said. “We took whatever we could do as a business and made it better and better until our numbers — even before we reopened in May — were good, and we were able to predict a viable budget and operate within the parameters, all the while hiring back our people.”By last summer, SoDel Concepts as a whole decided not to back down from its expansion plans, something Kammerer credited with the support with its bank and financial partners.“We’ve had experience with coming back full force after hard times in 2001 and 2007,” he said. “In both cases we grew our way out of the recession and committing to growing and not backing down worked out for us then, and we believe it will work out for us now.”As more Delawareans get vaccinated, Kammerer bets that they will be more than ready to get out and have a meal with family and friends in a restaurant like they did before. But most importantly, Kammerer looks to his staff as the driving force behind forging SoDel's expansion plans in these unprecedented times.“We have a great company filled with talented, hard-working people. Collectively they did an amazing job getting us through this year,” he said. “As a business, we are fiscally responsible and prioritize keeping unnecessary costs down. It is important to us to add revenue streams and continually reinvest in the people we work with.“We are ready for growth,” Kammerer added. “We were before the pandemic and I think we proved to ourselves this past year that we can weather anything.”