Scott Kammerer had a bike and $17 in his pocket when he took the Cape May Ferry to Lewes for a summer at the beach.
Last month, Kammerer’s company announced plans to open their tenth restaurant.
“I like to say we’re an overnight success 25 years in the making,” said Kammerer, president and CEO of SoDel Concepts. In addition to restaurants, the company includes Plate Catering, Matt’s Homemade Soda Co., the food truck Big Thunder Roadside Kitchen, the hospitality consulting firm Haley/Kammerer, Highwater Management, a hospitality management company and SoDel Films.
Kammerer’s path to success hasn’t been easy, but it has been laser-focused since that summer when he arrived and took a job washing dishes at The Royal Treat.
“It was like I got hit by a lightning bolt,” he said. ““It made me feel very comfortable to be in the restaurant. At 20 I made a conscious decision that I would learn all I could about the restaurant business so I could be good at it.”
He worked in more than a dozen restaurants, taking jobs waiting tables, cooking, pretty much every job he could, and all the while soaking in everything he learned. Eventually he worked his way up to general manager at one of the area’s more popular restaurants at the time. I short time later, he met Matt Haley.
“The first thing out of his mouth was ‘do you want to build a restaurant empire with me,’” Kammerer said.
They started Haley/Kammerer Restaurant Consulting Co. and worked with clients including Atlantic Sands hotel, Bayside and even the Cape May Ferry. Their management company runs the concessions at Sports at the Beach, among other places, and they help plan, design and run similar facilities.
The first restaurant was Bluecoast Seafood Grill and Raw Bar in North Bethany Beach. Then came Fish On in Lewes, Northeast Seafoood Kitchen in Ocean View, Catch 54 in Fenwick, Lupo Italian Kitchen in Rehoboth, Matt's Fish Camp Bethany, Papa Grande's Coastal Taqueria Fenwick, Papa Grande's Coastal Taqueria Rehoboth and Matt's Fish Camp Lewes. The newest, Bluecoast Rehoboth, was just announced last month and will be completed next spring.
Alan Levin, Chief Advisor for SoDel Concepts, said each restaurant has its own distinct personality.
“They are unique to the area they are serving,” he said.
Levin, who previously served as Cabinet Secretary of the Delaware Economic Development Office under Gov. Jack Markell, began his career as Deputy Attorney General in the Delaware Department of Justice before becoming executive assistant and counsel to then-U.S. Senator William V. Roth Jr. Levin is rare in the company in the sense that he didn’t come up through the ranks working in restaurants, as Kammerer said most of the management team has.
“Almost everyone started at the lowest level and worked their way up,” Kammerer said. “It gives us a marked advantage.”
It also creates a team environment where everyone works together.
“We want everyone to be successful,” Kammerer said. And while the restaurant business isn’t typically known for stability, SoDel Concepts goes against that perception.
“People in this company are buying houses,” Kammerer said. “They’re getting married and having kids.”
Part of that has to do with changing demographics. Whereas the beaches draw visitors throughout the summer, the winter months historically have been a slower time. But that is less the case these days as more people move in to the area.
“The off-season has gotten shorter,” Kammerer said. “Four years ago restaurants closed a couple weeks in the off-season. Three years ago they closed a couple nights. Now all the restaurants are open all year. October and June are as busy as each other.”
Nelia Dolan, marketing director for SoDel Concepts, said the company employs more than 200 people full-time and in the summer about 650, including the high schoolers at the Sports at the Beach concessions.
For Kammerer, having a positive work experience, learning the responsibilities that come along with a job, and being part of a successful business can all shape a youngster’s impression of work.
“We can set the tone for the rest of their life,” he said. “That’s a large responsibility that we don’t take lightly.”
Another responsibility they don’t take lightly, Levin said, is their role in giving back to the community.
“They give back as much as they get,” he said.
Kammerer founded a charitable non-profit, SoDel Cares, in September 2015. The charity has given several grants to organizations that help children, the elderly and at risk youth and adults. This year, SoDel Cares received a Best of Award from Coastal Style Magazine and Kammerer received an award for Businessman of the Year in the same readers’ poll.
Levin said the philanthropic efforts are a reflection of the people who work at the businesses that make up SoDel Concepts.
“We have a lot of unselfish people in this company,” he said.