Jack’s on Main Is a Charming New Eatery in Clayton’s Old Town Hall

Photos by Joe Del Tufo

Matthew Schafenberg opened Jack’s on Main in Clayton, where he serves upscale American fare in a casual and intimate setting.

A resident of the Smyrna-Clayton area since 1999, Matthew Schafenberg has had plenty of opportunity to admire the historic red-brick building on Clayton’s Main Street. It’s four blocks from his home. “I thought that maybe one day, if it’s up for lease, I’ll rent it,” the chef recalls.

He got the chance late last year after a particularly frustrating day at work. Suddenly, there was a For Rent sign in the window. “I hit the brakes, and within three days, I signed the lease and quit my job,” Schafenberg says. In November 2022, he opened Jack’s on Main, named for his four children: Jamesy, Anthony, Cole and Kealy.

The restaurant resides on a block with farmhouse-style homes sporting picturesque front porches and peaked roofs. Indeed, time hasn’t done much to change “downtown” Clayton, a former railroad hub. The street looks like a set from Mayberry R.F.D. or The Gilmour Girls.

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Against that backdrop, Jack’s on Main is the “Hallmark restaurant,” its owner says.

Jack’s on Main dish
Jack’s on Main offers the same menu for lunch and dinner. Guests can choose from salads, sandwiches and entrees. Including salmon that glistens with a barbecue glaze. Presentations reveal Matthew Schafenberg’s experience in fine dining.

Kent County Born

Schafenberg is well-known in the area. “I’m a Kent County boy,” he says proudly. He was 5 when his father, an Air Force flight engineer, moved the family to the state capital, and since his mother worked as a teacher, Schafenberg taught himself to cook. His first dish was linguini with clam sauce.

At 15, he began working at Dairy Queen. A job making pizzas at a Blue Hen Mall restaurant followed. “I still make pizzas at home,” he confides. In 1995, he boosted his restaurant skills at Pancake House and The Blue Coat Inn, Kent County’s special-occasion restaurant since 1967.

The budding chef was in his fourth year of Delaware State University’s television production program when he realized that hospitality paid better than a fledgling TV job. “I jumped out of my degree and went to culinary school in Baltimore,” he recalls. “I never looked back.”

Schafenberg worked at the Chesapeake Inn and Schaefer’s Canal House before returning to Dover to open 865 in 2003. “I oversaw everything—the layout, artwork, servers’ uniforms,” he says. Unfortunately, competing against the Route 13 chains was challenging, especially with limited parking.

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In 2005, Schafenberg merged 865 with Atwood’s, which had taken over The Blue Coat Inn space. The marriage was brief. The building came down in 2008 to make way for new projects, and the chef returned to the Chesapeake Inn.

He then worked with a wholesale food distributor but kept his culinary chops by cooking for parties in customer homes. “It’s an intimate atmosphere—very casual,” he says of the experience.

Co-Existing With History

Intimate is an adjective that applies to Jack’s, which is just 800 square feet and only occupies a portion of the first floor. The area in the back is an apartment, and more rental units are upstairs. However, there is outdoor seating in warm weather.

Officially, the building was constructed in 1889, but Schafenberg thinks it was built in the mid-19th century. Over the years, it has housed a post office, jail and town hall. A safe still stands near an exposed brick wall. “There’s no way to get it out of here,” Schafenberg says of the hulking relic next to a woodstove.

Jack’s on Main

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The restaurant makes the best possible use of the slim space. For instance, counter shelves that once belonged to the previous tenant, a coffee shop, are filled with dinnerware, and soup warmers containing Maryland crab, mushroom bisque and the soup du jour are tucked beneath a window.

Appetizing aromas greet patrons as soon as they open the door, and it’s easy to see why.

Schafenberg is on display in a totally open kitchen that’s small enough for an RV. “I can’t gain any weight,” he says, extending his fingers slightly to touch the counters on each side.

Like a bridge on a ship, his tiny kitchen is command central. From here, he can see every table, including choice seats near a picture window that lets in an abundance of light. On a Tuesday, the lunch business is brisk.

Familiar Favorites

Certain menu items speak to Schafenberg’s experience with comfort food. Take, for instance, the prominently featured crab cake with remoulade—also available as a sandwich—and the equally emphasized prime rib with au jus and horseradish cream.

There is a requisite salmon dish, which wears a shiny barbecue glaze. On that Tuesday, the menu included locally caught rockfish, offered with beurre blanc, lemon and sweet red pepper, or as a sandwich.

Jack’s on Main cooking
At 800 square feet, Jack’s on Main is an intimate café in Clayton—the tiny open kitchen could fit into an RV. But Matthew Schafenberg manages to produce big flavors in a small space.

Since the menu is the same at lunch and dinner, there is a respectable number of sandwich options, including ham and gouda on a croissant and a turkey club. Schafenberg is adept at finding several uses for ingredients.

Consider shrimp—there is shrimp and grits, shrimp salad and shrimp cocktail. You can order crab dip, crab cakes, a Caesar with a crab cake and crab imperial. Schafenberg uses prime rib for his French dip.

There is nothing wild or fancy, and that’s fine by area customers, most of whom are repeat visitors, Schafenberg says. One Facebook fan has been there three times since the opening and twice in one week. “Never been disappointed in anything I’ve had that Matt has prepared,” she wrote. “I’ve been following since his first restaurant in Dover.”

Schafenberg is invested in the area, he says. He lives in Clayton, and his children go to school here. He’s determined to succeed, even in a town that many consider off the beaten track, albeit not by much.

“I always tell people I’ll never leave the island,” he quips. “My heart is here.”

314 Main Street, Clayton; 223-6596

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