In a move that upset a lot of beach diners, the state has awarded a 10-year restaurant contract at Indian River Marina to Big Fish Restaurant Group, essentially booting Hammerheads Dockside out of a location it’s had for a decade.
The contract, open to all bidders, came under scrutiny at the end of January when Hammerheads went public with an announcement on their Facebook page announcing, “There’s no room for little fish in Delaware anymore.”
A week later it posted a photo of the property in 2013, when it won the bid, and another photo showing built-out spaces Hammerheads had installed. It is owned by George Bendler and Cohen Sade.
Many of the people reacting the Hammerheads’ posts expressed anger and frustration, partly reacting to restaurant groups such as Big Fish and Sodel taking over a number of longtime eateries that were once solo acts.
The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control said in a press release that Hammerheads’ contract expires at the end of February.
What Big Fish gets, must do
Big Fish’s contract will run from March 1, 2023, to Feb. 28, 2033 and include the 1,400-square-foot building with an outside usable deck and pergola area of approximately 1,100 square feet plus a grass area extended from the deck.
It says that Big Fish will operate the marina restaurant “with full waterfront menu fare, including but not limited to, fully prepared seafood dishes (pexcluding off premise raw seafood sales), entrees, appetizers, desserts, alcoholic beverages, non-alcoholic beverages, and any other refreshments necessary to carry on the business for the ublic.”
Big Fish will also be required to provide breakfast and delivery service to the Indian River Marina and to the park’s North Inlet Campground.
“We welcome Big Fish to the Indian River Marina and look forward to watching their progress in meeting the growing needs of our park and marina visitors. Their business has won more than 50 awards for quality of service they offer to the public,” said DNREC Secretary Shawn M. Garvin. “While it is it is never easy to change concessionaires, the state RFP process is fair and Big Fish Restaurant Group submitted the winning proposal this time.”
The process used seven criteria categories, a DNREC statements said, with 80% of the score including quality and diversity of the menu; past performance; the vendor’s action plan; vendor’s financial stability; creativity in planning; and designing and delivering a successful establishment, and revenue paid to the state equating for 20% of the total score.
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Hammerheads said in its Jan. 31 Facebook post that its owners had submitted a proposal to keep its business and staff at Dockside for 25 more years. Their proposal included plans to expand the building to accommodate year-round dining and events.
The Indian River Marina is Delaware’s largest marina. It offers 194 slips in a floating dock system, 154 spots for indoor dry boat storage, maintenance, full-service bait and tackle along with fish cleaning and an on-site fresh seafood market, and two head boats and more than 30 charter boats available for fishing and sightseeing.
The post talked about how shaky business was in 2020 and 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“But we came out of it with a record breaking 2022 season, our best ever,” the post said. “We truly couldn’t have done it without all of you.
“Dockside was a magical place where we all have so many fun and special memories.”
The post said the restaurant owners had sincerely enjoyed the last 10 seasons.
“We hope Big Fish will make our customers as happy as we have for the past 10 years,” it said.
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience, including 15 at The News Journal in Delaware.
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