Big Fish buys two iconic Lewes restaurants, opening new sites in Wilmington and South Bethany Beach
Big Fish Restaurant Group has acquired 2nd Street Tavern and Striper Bites, two of Lewes' best known restaurants.
The group also plans in May to open a Tex-Mex restaurant on the Wilmington Riverfront in the building that once housed Joe's Crab Shack. And, this spring, it is bringing a Rosenfeld's Deli and Big Fish Market to South Bethany Beach.
2nd Street Tavern, known for years as the Buttery, is one of Lewes' most iconic landmarks. The restaurant is located in a restored, yellow and green Victorian mansion at the prime corner of Second Street and Savannah Road.
Over the years, it has been open year-round, but it is now closed.
Big Fish owner Eric Sugrue said his restaurant organization bought the building in an undisclosed deal that came together in three days.
"We don’t plan on opening a concept there," he said. "That was a real estate deal."
Sugrue said he is now looking for a tenant to lease the historic building that's also known as the Trader mansion.
It might no longer be a restaurant, he said.
"From a real estate perspective, it's a prized piece of property," Sugrue said. "It’s one of the best properties in Lewes. It has a long history and a lot of great things. Once we start marketing it, I don't know if it's going to be a restaurant. In six months, if we can't find someone, we might take it over."
The 2nd Street Tavern, formerly the Buttery, has been a part of Lewes since 1994 when longtime owners John Donato and Twain Gonzales created the thriving business, featuring fine French cuisine, at the former New Devon Inn, now the Hotel Rodney.
In 1999, The Buttery moved from its original home to a historic Victorian gingerbread built about 1894 that's off Second Street, one of main thoroughfares in the historic district of Lewes. Featured in magazines such as Bon Appetit and the now-defunct Gourmet, the restaurant eventually outgrew its site.
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Earlier, that Victorian mansion had been a private home of a sea pilot and the longtime home of the Trader family, who own a jewelry store in town. It also had been a boarding house and home to an antique shop.
The property was acquired by the Gates family, who first ran it as the Buttery and then changed the name to 2nd Street Tavern.
In 2017, the family appeared on an episode of the Food Network TV show, "Guy's Grocery Games.''
In 2016, Realtor.com had the price of the 6,660-square-foot property listed at $1.23 million.
Meanwhile, Sugrue said Striper Bites, a 20-year-old cozy "nautical bistro" at 107 E. Savannah Road featuring seafood dishes, is now under contract. The restaurant is located a block away from 2nd Street Tavern and is next to Dogfish Inn and the Lewes drawbridge.
Sugrue said he and Striper Bites owner Matt DiSabatino have been talking about Big Fish acquiring the site "for a while."
He said the sale was done quietly, "behind closed doors." The price was not disclosed.
"It wasn't listed. It was a very friendly transaction. I've known Matt and his family for a long time," Sugrue said.
There are no plans to change the name, look, menu or staff. "We're going to be transitioning this entire month," Sugrue said. "Nothing's changing."
Striper Bites has been in operation since 2001. It has been open daily for lunch and dinner during the summer and fall seasons and features seafood along with chicken, steak, and salads.
Big Fish Restaurant Group, which now has about 17 restaurants, had been growing steadily over the years with establishments in Rehoboth Beach and Wilmington. But Sugrue said the coronavirus pandemic this past year took its toll and has devastated the nation's restaurant industry.
"2020 sucked across the board. It was not a good year; it was a horrible year," he said.
He said some of Big Fish's restaurants, which include the Summerhouse in Rehoboth Beach and Washington Street Ale House in Wilmington, "were really hurt."
But Sugrue said as coronavirus restrictions begin to ease "we are finally seeing the light in 2021."
Taco Grande is a new Tex-Mex restaurant planned on the Wilmington Riverfront in the site of the former Joe's Crab Shack, which closed in April 2020. Big Fish has leased the 7,500-square-foot space off Justison Street from the Pettinaro Company.
The building is undergoing major construction. "We have a lot of work to do," said Sugrue, adding the site has seating for 250 people inside and 150 seats outside.
He said restaurant will have a large outdoor bar and yard with cornhole games and tables. A porch will feature garage doors and offer views of the Christina River.
Big Fish also purchased land across from the former Joe's Crab Shack and is the beginning stages of design plans for apartments, two restaurants and a grocery store.
The group's Bar Roja in Trolley Square is reopening this month as is the Washington Street Ale House.
Sugrue said the Torbert Street Social restaurant in Wilmington, next to the Ale House, should be reopening April 10.
Last December, Sugrue said Big Fish purchased the former McCabe's Gourmet Market space in the York Beach Mall off Del. 1 in South Bethany Beach. The site will reopen in May as a Rosenfeld's Jewish Deli and Big Fish Market.
The location, Sugrue said, will still offer many of the gourmet foods that were sold at McCabe's, a business that had been in operation for more than 30 years.