From La Quetzalteca to Port, it’s all in the family
I’ve always admired entrepreneurship and resourcefulness. That’s probably why I like to write about people who - for better or for worse - take their life into their hands by opening a restaurant. I can tell you from experience that there are few businesses more relentless, unforgiving, stimulating - and perilously habit-forming.
My network of spies, moles and operatives clued me in to Gerson and Cecilia Guox, the owners of La Quetzalteca restaurant.
Eight years ago they opened their first location in that odd yellow building at the corner of Route 9 and Route 30, eventually moving to a larger space on Route 24 in Millsboro. Guox finally had, in his words, “the room to show people parts of the Mexican culture” by displaying authentic paintings and artifacts on the premises.
Gerson’s induction into food service was at the old La La Land in Rehoboth Beach. Brian Goldfarb was chef at that time, and he hired Gerson to wash dishes. (The general manager, Maria Ramirez, now of Café a Go-Go, started her career at that very same spot.)
Guox worked every kitchen post, eventually making the rounds of other eateries as a bus person, waiter and even manager.
Cecilia’s family lives in the port city of Veracruz, and they never missed an opportunity to explore the culinary diversity of the Mexican states. Gerson and Cecilia were particularly impressed by the celebrated Monterrey restaurant, El Rey del Cabrito.
“I was fascinated. It was awesome the way they sent the food to you. I wanted to do that.”
And he did. In fact, last year he and his wife partnered with friends to open the second La Quetzalteca on Route 113 in Georgetown. The burners were barely lit when they were approached by the town of Smyrna to resurrect the 85-year-old Wayside Inn, vacant since last year. They plan to have the new Smyrna location open for Cinco de Mayo.
Guox is deeply involved with Sussex County’s Latino population, working through La Esperanza to help Hispanics integrate into the local community. He also promotes reading and education through Amigos de la Biblioteca.
Speaking of entrepreneurs, you’d think that the recently christened Port restaurant in Dewey Beach would be 22-year-old Zack King’s first foray into food service. But it’s not. Zack was already learning all aspects of the food business at numerous lower Sussex eateries at the tender age of 14. This sort of thing runs in the family, too: His mom worked at Sedona in Bethany, back when Jonathan Spivak was at the helm, and Zack’s Uncle Mitch managed busy Domino’s locations in Newark and Milford.
Inton Mouynivong, sous chef at the long-gone Big Easy in Bethany Beach, recognized Zack’s aptitude for all things food and initiated him into the world of professional kitchens. When Big Easy closed, pretty much the whole crew went over to Dagsboro’s Whistle Stop (also the stuff of history). Even Steve Hagen, now chef and part owner of Off the Hook in Bethany Beach, served time at that strange little place.
Mouynivong’s experience includes the ever-so-cute Patsy’s in Bethany and Mancini’s in Fenwick Island.
Both are particularly good restaurants, so he was well equipped when Mitch King invited him to Scraps in Dewey. That was two years ago. Zack and Uncle Mitch have since thrown out Scraps, renamed it Port, and are now partners.
Chef Inton still rules the kitchen, but the focus is now squarely on more local, fresh fare (happily, his fabled Pad Thai remains on the menu).
Because the restaurant is small and suppliers are nearby, Zack and Mitch can order fresh ingredients in small quantities, ensuring that nothing spends too much time in the walk-in.
Zack loves mingling with the customers, but admits that he’s really hooked on the difficulties and challenges that are part of launching a restaurant. In fact, he’s already dreaming of additional locations. If the early returns from Port’s contented customers are any indication, that dream could come true sooner than he thinks.