Only the strong survive
Frequent visitors to this page know how I like to keep tabs on the revolving door of Rehoboth Beach eateries. Resort restauranting is certainly not for the faint of heart, and the here-today-gone-tomorrow phenomenon is not just a Rehoboth thing. I’ll never forget a comment from multi-restaurateur Matt Haley during a February 2011 interview: “If you make it to President’s Day with the lights still on, then you’ve made it.”
The corner of First Street and Rehoboth Avenue seems to have its own brand of drama. You never quite know what’s going to pop in (or pop out) at First Street Station, and the little space next door at 62A Rehoboth Ave. is no exception. Presently occupied by Modern Mixture restaurant, it looks like that spot might have finally found a perfect match. But that wasn’t the case for the ill-fated Tornado Fries that opened - and closed - in 2011.
My downtown spies, moles and operatives text and email me about everything, and a favorite subject is the breakfast, lunch and dinner goodies at The Gallery Espresso in the lower level of First Street Station. “Now how does that tie in to Modern Mixture?” you might ask. (Please ask, or the column ends here.)
When Creative Impressions art gallery moved out of the tiny 62A to its new location one block west, upstate New York transplant Judy Rioux (pronounced “Rio”) and her sister set up a coffee shop, paying homage to the former tenant with the name The Gallery Espresso. Food is difficult to do in that narrow space (though Modern Mixture’s Leo Cabrera appears to have figured it out), and when BrewHaHa! vacated First Street Station, Judy jumped at the chance.
The suddenly roomy coffee shop needed more bodies to keep it running, and Judy’s husband, John, contributed his Ocean City food and beverage experience to the cause. This wasn’t Judy’s first rodeo either, as she had operated an ice cream parlor/video rental store in upstate New York. John explains: “In the summer, people loved the ice cream and the outdoors. In the winter, people rented movies and stayed warm at home. It worked.”
But the name Gallery Espresso is more than just a nod to tenants past. Both John and Judy are talented artists in their own right. She works primarily in oil, creating representational works with a romantic theme. John’s specialty is repeat designs in fabric. His works are drawn by hand and then gently manipulated in the digital realm, resulting in colorful and texturally captivating designs.
About two-and-a-half years ago, the Rioux family expanded laterally into the shop next door, and The Gallery Espresso became both an art gallery and a breakfast/lunch/dinner/coffee joint.
While some customers sip lattes and nosh on breakfast paninis, gourmet pizzas, bagels and Nutella Heath Bar cheesecake, others browse Judy's and John’s artwork alongside other handmade pieces that benefit local artists and the Rioux’ favorite charitable causes.
That space under First Street Station has been a coffee shop for almost 10 years, so brand recognition isn’t a problem. But the Rioux family, including their son Nick, have kicked The Gallery Espresso up a few notches with an extensive menu (“We don’t do small here,” boasts John) and original works employing an eclectic mix of media - from three-dimensional oils to one-of-a-kind handbags, from authentic Peruvian artwork to handmade jewelry.
Pets are welcome on the outside patio, and the children’s menu features kid magnets like grilled peanut butter and banana sandwiches and grilled cheese on wheatberry bread. Perhaps the First Street and Rehoboth Avenue revolving door has stopped for a while as small businesses like The Gallery Espresso and Modern Mixture keep The Business of Eating alive on that busy corner.