30 years comes around once in a Blue Moon
It seemed like a good idea. Back Porch Café co-owner Victor Pisapia and New York caterer (and part-time Back Porch hostess) Joyce Felton had been keeping an eye on a restored Victorian beach house on Baltimore Avenue. They thought that it might make a nice restaurant – and who knows, maybe even a quiet little bar. So when the building came up for auction, they sold Victor’s car, maxed out their credit cards - and shouted out the winning bid. Their combined fine-dining talents eventually gave birth to the Blue Moon. And it all happened 30 years ago on this very weekend.
The founders have moved on, but in 2008, a former server, two loyal regulars and a talented chef pooled their resources to buy the landmark restaurant and bar. And this weekend they’re celebrating three decades of fine dining, late-night cocktails and (good, bad or indifferent), more than their share of drama.
Tim Ragan and Randy Haney never missed a chance to visit the Blue Moon when they were in Rehoboth Beach. Their printing company in Salisbury supplied Joyce with menus and advertising materials, so they were always up on what was happening. During that time, she and Victor opened several other Rehoboth restaurants, including Tijuana Taxi, West Side Cafe, Surfside Grill and the still titillatingly notorious Strand night club.
As a teacher and increasingly visible haute cuisine chef, Victor began to develop a taste for the international. When he finally resolved to spread his wings, Joyce obliged and bought out his part in the business. In the early 2000s, local entrepreneur Rob Dick stepped in as a partner. Around that same time, in response to the closing of the Renegade, he co-owned the short-lived AM Night Club where the Ames department store had been out on the highway. Now that’s a whole ‘nother story, mind you, but during that ordeal he was also instrumental in helping Joyce through some health problems. Not without ordeals of his own, Rob eventually moved on in 2003.
In the spring of ‘02, a young Meghan Gardner took a job busing tables. Soon she was serving, helping out in the office, and managing both The Moon’s renowned wine list and the dining room operations. As luck would have it, Tim and Randy had just sold their business to move to Rehoboth full time, and Meghan urged Tim to approach Joyce about a job in his favorite bar.
A businessman in his own right, Ragan felt that the Blue Moon had potential as an entertainment venue. The days of the “meat market” bars were giving way to the internet, and he felt that a modern bar needed more than dark corners, video games and matchbooks for scribbling phone numbers. “I was a typical customer, and I knew what I wanted to see.” But he faced two hurdles: The first was convincing Joyce to let him book acts, and the second was convincing those acts that they would be well received in this tiny resort town. To that end, Randy called in his construction connections to make the bar more entertainment-friendly.
As Joyce continued to address personal issues in her life, long-time executive chef Pete McMahon expressed his desire to move on. After a bit of a rough time in the kitchen, veteran chef Lion Gardner was brought in to cook. His experience included the original Eden Café (and Taste that replaced it), the new Eden on Baltimore Avenue, Fins and S.O.B.’s. He and Meghan married in 2004, and in 2007 Joyce appointed him executive chef. Lion was pleased. “We needed this change to bring the Blue Moon back to what it had always been.”
It was a chaotic time. Felton was distracted from the day-to-day operations, and Meghan, Lion, Tim and Randy decided to break away and open their own concept. When they revealed the plan to their longtime boss, she sensed how much they loved what she had created. Her reaction? “Make me an offer.” The four partners scrambled to do what she and Pisapia had done so many years before: they liquidated everything and closed the deal in just 30 days. And the accolades kept rolling in, the most recent including the 2010 OpenTable.com Diners’ Choice Award.
Joyce is happily settled in Lewes with her partner, Susannah Griffin. In fact, Susannah was instrumental in convincing Joyce to sell. Her legacy is clearly in good hands as Meghan, Tim, Lion and Randy work every day to keep The Moon cooking, serving, pouring, catering and entertaining. Meghan explains, “We each get to do what we like to do. We love being here and being here together.”
After our interview, Tim recounted to me an experience he’d never forget: On one busy weekend night this summer, as bar patrons packed the room and moved as one to the live entertainment, a customer texted Tim’s cellphone from across the room. The screen glowed, “Thanks for creating one of the happiest places on Earth.”
Happy 30th, Blue Moon! Rehoboth Beach wouldn’t be the same without you.