The restaurant scene and promise of a more relaxed lifestyle lured chef Jay Caputo from Philadelphia’s frantic kitchens to the Delaware coast. “It was also a good opportunity to own my own business,” he says of his purchase of Espuma in 2004.
But Caputo is hardly lolling around on the beach, even in the off-season. He opened Cabo Modern Mexican Tequila Bar in Rehoboth Beach and Rose & Crown in Lewes last year. Many restaurants stay open, vying for customers. “It’s a little more competitive,” he says. And more restaurants open each season. “The talent level here is better than it’s ever been.”
It has to be. Today’s beach diners are savvier about food. After eating popcorn and taffy all day, they want a culinary experience. That experience includes shaking hands with the chef. “You have to put on a show,” says the Dover native. It can be difficult for chefs who’d rather be secreted away in the kitchen.
Making the rounds is particularly important in small, year-round resorts like Lewes. Opening the Rose & Crown in the historic town has been a departure for Caputo. “It’s much quieter,” he says. “But there’s a group who absolutely love Lewes to death, and they are wildly supportive.”
Caputo, who lives just outside the Rehoboth city limits, says driving between the two towns has grown challenging in the summer. As for his restaurants in Rehoboth, he’s concerned about the negative impressions some tourists have about parking fees. “The city has to take a hard look at it and how you can help the community thrive,” he says.