Tag: Food & Agriculture

Innovative Chef Maurice Catlett Thrives In Delaware

If you have a passion and you follow it, great things will come your way. For Maurice Catlett, a chef at SoDel Concepts, he may not have realized what exactly would make his life so great, but now living and working in Delaware, he is glad he can say his passion has led him to happiness. Catlett’s love of cooking stems from when he was younger—his father was African American and his mother was Korean, so meals were always an interesting blend of cultures. “Food always brought us together,” says Catlett. Because he loved watching his mother cook, Catlett always knew being a chef was what he wanted, so he worked his way up from being a dishwasher to eventually working on the line at SoDel.

SoDel Concepts is a Rehoboth-based restaurant that owes its success to passionate and innovative chefs. Since his start at SoDel, Catlett has watched them grow from a mere five restaurants to a total of twelve across the state of Delaware. The restaurant has become more than just a place to eat: it’s somewhere to enjoy good food cooked by chefs who really care. In addition, the nonprofit organization SoDel Cares was started to assist the community by providing grants, with the goal of helping children, at-risk adolescents and adults, and the elderly.

A Passion for Cooking

“My name’s Maurice Catlett. I’m a corporate chef with SoDel Concepts. You know, growing up my passion’s always been cooking. Started off at the bottom, dish-, you know, dish-washer slash prep, jumped into that and loved it, you know, and grew rapidly, pretty fast with this company.

When I started we had, what, one, two, three, I think we had five restaurants at the time. You know, now we’re at 12 restaurants. It’s amazing. Food is everything, you know? We didn’t have a lot growing up. Food always brought us together.

I have a background of soul food and Asian food. My father was African American, my mother was Korean. Thanksgiving would be turkey, we’d have ribs, collard greens, and then we’d have kimchi. But those were the times, like, I would always remember, like, the best times of, you know, growing up, and family barbecues. And my mother’s a great cook.

I learned a lot just from watching her, and that’s where I got a lot of my passion from. I love the beach area. That’s why I’m here. I’m raising my children here. I love being by the water. I love the people here, the community. I moved down here one summer and never left.”

An Exceptional Place to Live

Not only does chef Maurice Catlett feel passionate about where he works and the food he makes, but he also extends this love to the state of Delaware itself. After moving to Delaware one summer, Catlett knew this is where he wanted to stay, as he loves the beach, and he proudly raises his family in this community he has come to love and admire.

As SoDel restaurants appear across the state, it goes to show that Delaware houses top-rated places to eat. There is something for everyone, as enjoyment can be found in the state’s food or other attractions. Delaware is full of people like Catlett who care about what they do, and they all contribute to making Delaware an exceptional place to live and visit.

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Young Professionals Choose Delaware

Not many people are lucky enough to say that where they live has all the ideal factors, but when it comes to the citizens of Delaware, they can proudly boast about a place that is perfect for all aspects of life. Delaware has been experiencing an influx of young professionals who choose to live somewhere they know will provide them with job opportunities along with a welcoming community.

Over the years, while the size of the state has remained the same, the business and residential communities have grown. Residents of Delaware feel connected to each other, and this allows them to make meaningful connections. As interviewee Jason James points out, more people seek out diversity when it comes to their work and home lives. The younger workforce wants to become involved with people unlike themselves—they want to engage with others so that they can learn and become more in tune with their communities.

Because of these reasons, young professionals choose Delaware as it is a state whose diversity is growing each and every year. The range of diversity allows people to pursue a variety of interests, showing that Delaware is truly a place where anyone can come and thrive.

Kyle Gay: Delaware is a place to live, work, and play, for millennials and for people of all ages.

Kyle Barkins: Really easy to meet people here. I think it’s very easy to establish strong relationships. And it’s easy to get things done.

Charles Vincent: If you can’t get ahold of the person, you have somebody who can, and you’re able to just get things done faster. Instead of talking out stuff, we’re able to do stuff.

Nicole Magnusson: I love the community in Delaware. It’s small enough to know your neighbors, but also big enough to explore and learn new things, and find new places to eat, and shop, and have fun.

Jason James: This generation that’s coming up is really interested in living and working in diverse spaces. Research studies support that over and over again, when millennials are asked, what attracts them to being in a certain place, it is diversity. It’s multiple people, multiple people with different backgrounds, and multiple things to get involved in. So this is really an opportune area for millennials to really move into and work in.

Daniel Walker: We’re flexible as a small state, so we’re able to find what interests a person, and really capitalize on that. And I think that’s what makes the networking so great.

Kyle Gay: We chose Wilmington because we knew that this was a great opportunity for us; both in our careers and finance, and in law, and for the family that we wanted to have, and we finally do have now. It’s a great place to raise children. A great opportunity for people and families to be ingrained into the community.

Jennifer Saienni: And you don’t have to wait years to see the difference of what your work is doing. You are able to come to Wilmington, come to Delaware, and make an impact!

Young Professionals Living the Good Life in Delaware

Young professionals like these agree that Delaware is an ideal location for work and life. You can find great fulfillment and success in your career through the ever-growing job market. More businesses are discovering that Delaware is a great state to locate in, and this allows for job opportunities of all kinds.

And work isn’t the only positive Delaware has to boast. From restaurants to shops to parks to beaches, Delaware has everything that makes a home state worthwhile. Residents of the state take advantage of its many amenities while also making meaningful connections with their fellow neighbors. The community of Delaware, in both the business and residential life sense, provides endless support for all those looking to make the First State their home.

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Sussex County Cheers On Karen and Tony Sposato

Karen and Tony Sposato wanted to take their business to the next level. They started with Sposato Landscaping in 1992, which has served as an award-winning company for Sussex County over the last 30 years. With a dedication to their customers, Sposato Landscaping serves any type of outdoor need. Even with this great success, Karen and Tony sat down in 2021 and wondered what more they could do. Coming from an Italian family with a legacy of wine-making, Tony suggested starting their own vineyard, and so Sposato Family Vineyards was born. The company works from 66 hectares down in Argentina, producing a variety of wines, including a malbec, which is made with the signature grape of Argentina. The prices range so that anybody can find a wine they enjoy.

Karen: “Sposato Landscape has definitely grown in the last 30 years. We’ve been in business for 28 years, and, from there, we sort of spring-boarded, looking for something outside the box besides landscaping.”

Tony: “Grew up Italian, grew up around wine. Just one thing led to another, and we’re like, “Well, you know, what about vineyards.” So, we put out focus down on Argentina. And that was in 2012. And today we have 66 hectares in production.”

Karen: “We have both white and red. We have the classic malbec, which is the signature grape of Argentina. We have sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and a fresh blend. So, great wines to choose from at every price point for everybody’s taste and liking. Milton is, just, it’s really changed in the last 30 years that I’ve been here. I think the community here has really embraced us. We all want the best for each other.”

Tony: “It’s helped our business. It’s helping our wine. And I think people that are moving here in Sussex County, they do appreciate fine wines. They appreciate the outstanding restaurants we have here. And chefs also appreciate good wines, too.”

Karen: “I think that’s the other thing that’s great about this area is that people really support each other. They want people to come down and enjoy this area and realize and recognize what a special place it is. I think that’s what’s great about the area. We’re all cheering each other on.”

Finding Success and Support in Sussex County

Sposato Landscaping is located in Milton, Delaware since its inception. Tony and Karen thank the community for their continued success over the past 30 years, and they also credit the community with helping their wines flourish. Tony thanks the restaurants—their patrons and the chefs—for having a strong appreciation for good wine.

They have these other businesses to support their endeavors. Not only do they attribute success to residents both old and new enjoying fine wines, but Karen also says, “We all want the best for each other.” Sussex County, where Milton is situated, is an area where individuals and businesses support one another.

Not only do they want to see success for their own companies, but they know how great of a place Delaware is and all the different things it has to offer: from restaurants to beaches to wine to community. Because of this sense of pride and joy in the area, the community of Sussex—and really all of Delaware state—champions growing businesses so that growth can happen. The support comes full circle, with restaurants helping Sposato Vineyards get their name out while also being able to provide customers with a wine they can trust. Every county in Delaware is filled with organizations looking to uplift one another and create success for themselves and the community at large.

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Sposato Family Vineyards

Sposato Family Vineyards

Sposato Family Vineyards loves Delaware

From the Andes Mountains to Delaware’s Culinary Coast

Sposato Family Vineyards Brings International Cheer to Sussex County and Beyond

Business partners Karen and Tony Sposato could teach a business class on diversifying. For one, they are former educators. For another, the Milton, Delaware, residents don’t allow boundaries – or even a pandemic – to limit their aspirations.

Since 1992, the Sposato name has been linked to Sposato Landscape Co. But in restaurants and wine stores, it’s better associated with Sposato Family Vineyards, which Tony and Karen built from the ground up. “We created it,” she says.

It’s a good story, and one that Karen, who spearheads company marketing, tells well at wine dinners, in-store tastings and on social media. And although their vineyard is located in Argentina, the business is a distinctly Delaware endeavor buoyed by small-town support and linked to the coastal quality of life.

It all started with the lawn-mowing company that Tony began after graduating from Salisbury State University. He needed to make extra cash while looking for a full-time job. But the physical education and health teacher soon found his calling outside the gym.

His Milton-based business snowballed so fast that he left teaching and expanded services to include irrigation, landscape and design. By 2008, the entrepreneur was restless.

“He’d always talked about owning a piece of property or a farm,” Karen recalls. “We could start a nursery and build greenhouses.”

Or, he said, “We could grow grapes.”

It was not a stretch. An Italian American, Tony had grown up with wine on the dinner table. And from a professional point of view, he was well-versed in agriculture.

Given the Sposatos’ landscaping background, they knew that soil and climate influence grapes. They began looking for the perfect property. In 2012, they narrowed their choice to Mendoza Argentina, where 250 acres – and water rights – were still available. The land was “virgin ground,” so they installed a new irrigation system, electric and other improvements.

The property, managed by their Argentine employees, rests in the arid foothills of the Andes Mountains, about 3,000 feet above sea level. “We can almost grow any grape successfully,” Tony says.

Current varietals include malbec, bonarda, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, pinot noir, rosé, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and the Fresh Blend (chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and torrontés). Their wines fall into three categories: Classic, Reserve, Grand Reserve and Sabia Savia, an icon wine, which is the highest tier.

Finding a Footing in Delaware

Making wine is one thing. Selling it is another. When the wine was ready for release, the Sposatos initially promoted it at the beach.

“People know our name here because of the landscaping company – and we have 5,000 clients,” Karen notes. “They’ve seen the name, the trucks, and they know we do incredible work. We know soil. People understand the story of why we started a winery and how we did it.”

The original business offers another advantage: Sposato Landscaping is a regular attendee at industry conferences and tradeshows that offer networking opportunities.

The beach area was an excellent starting point due to its reputation. There are so many acclaimed restaurants in the resorts that the Delaware beaches are known as the “Culinary Coast.” Since so many are relocating here, the dining scene is year-round.

The owners spent hours at wine dinners. If Karen wasn’t doing tastings along the Delaware beaches, she was in her hometown in Harford County, Maryland, which is heavily populated with her family members.

Growing a Business

Sposato Family Vineyards experienced steady growth from 2015 to 2020, Tony says, and the winery has become a tourist attraction as well as a direct sales site. In the United States, the wines are available in Delaware, Maryland, D.C., Florida and upstate New York, where the company has contacts with distributors. The wines also are available in Argentina and Peru and soon will be in Brazil and Columbia.

Karen returned from Argentina last year shortly before businesses shut down to stop the spread of COVID-19. “Thank goodness we had the Fiesta Nacional de la Vendimia, which is the harvest celebration,” she says.

Back home, organizers canceled wine dinners. But that didn’t stop Karen’s marketing efforts. The avid runner and former elementary school teacher radiates optimism and a can-do attitude that attracts prospective customers. Behind the broad smile is a steely determination to succeed. So she increased her social media presence, urging consumers to support local restaurants.

“We all needed to come together,” she explains. “We needed to continue to talk about food and wine and how it can keep your spirits high.”

With wine and cocktails available for carryout, she patronized restaurants that carry Sposato and posed for photos. She also become adept at using Zoom for virtual events and organized outdoor wine tastings.

No matter where or when she is marketing Sposato wines, Karen relishes uniting Delaware and Argentina.

“I think it’s fantastic to be able to celebrate two cultures,” she says. “Mendoza and Milton are both tourist destinations.”

When the Sposatos brought their Argentine team to participate in the 2019 Taste of Sposato 5K Run, which benefits Delaware Technical Community College, the visitors also participated in special wine events. One of these introduced Sposato’s rosé, and all of them allowed Karen to show off her hometown.

“You can’t beat the life here – a beautiful state park, amazing wildlife, the sunsets,” she says. “It’s a place where you want to raise your kids. It’s a centrally located, glorious place with a wealth of treasures.”

One of which, of course, is wine by Sposato Family Vineyards.

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Sam Calagione

Founder, Dogfish Head

Sam Calagione loves Delaware

Sam Calagione

After 25 years, Delaware’s Dogfish Head Craft Brewery has built something of an empire out of their off-centered beers and spirits. From their humble beginnings continuously hopping beer on a makeshift device called ‘Sir-Hops-A-Lot,’ to their recent merger with Boston Brewing — the Dogfish story reads like a comic book adventure.

Founder Sam Calagione is the writer and illustrator of that story.

“25 years… whoa!” Calagione pauses, surrounded by their large Milton brewery replete with a massive playground of silos, Dogfish-green lettered walls and their iconic steampunk treehouse. “Time flies when you are having fun!”

Calagione grew up in Western Massachusetts, on the Vermont border. “In a nutshell, I’m in Delaware because of the love of a good woman.”

“My wife Mariah was born and bred in Milford, Delaware. We ended up in the same high school in Massachusetts, and started dating at 16.” They went to separate colleges but would spend their summers in Rehoboth Beach renting houses with friends and working summer jobs. Sam worked as a waiter at the Front Page, a renowned music venue, and Mariah was a waitress at Camel’s Hump right down the road.

“So we got to know the area. And I fell in love with the beauty of coastal Delaware from those summers.”

Those beaches would connect the dots from Calagione’s childhood passion for writing and comic books to his later passion for beer. “Right after college, I just started home brewing and thought — maybe I can focus on using my love of creative writing to write recipes for beers, and stories about beers and create our own ads, instead of writing comic books,” Calagione explains.

“So I applied my love of art and writing to our work of building the brand, and the story of our brand, at Dogfish.”

“We could get in a car and be in Philly in two hours, be in Baltimore or D.C. in two hours, and in less than three and a half hours, be in Manhattan.”

Calagione wanted to open a brewery in a state that didn’t have one yet. “All the New England states close to where I grew up already had craft breweries — and Delaware was the closest one that didn’t. And I loved the beaches. So I decided, let’s open Dogfish Head in Coastal Delaware.”

And thus began a 25-year journey that would have Sam and Mariah guide Dogfish into one of the largest and most-renowned craft breweries in the country. Calagione believes that Delaware’s location unexpectedly proved to be an asset. “It sounds crazy to say something on the coast is central. But when you think of where we are right now — we could get in a car and be in Philly in two hours, be in Baltimore or D.C. in two hours, and in less than three and a

half hours, be in Manhattan. So it’s actually a great hub to distribute a high-end product from because you have the proximity to all these awesome cities,” Calagione says.

“That and you get to live at the beach in a low-stress, beautiful, natural environment.”

One of the highlights for Calagione is that Dogfish was the first brewery to focus on using culinary ingredients in beer, instead of just focusing on traditional styles. “Now you see thousands of craft breweries making beers with fruits and herbs and spices commercially. We’re really proud to have pioneered that on a commercial level nationally. It’s proven to be a sustainable and growing niche within our industry.”

One early beer that used culinary ingredients was Festina Peche, a collaboration with Fifer Orchards in Camden, Delaware. “We used these overly ripe peaches that we got from Fifer’s and it was just something else. And that was over 20 years ago.” Dogfish recently collaborated again with Fifer Orchards and Dewey Beer Company on a beer called Have a Donut. “We tried to put Fifer’s famous apple cider donuts into liquid form. It was a beer/cider hybrid that added Tanzanian cinnamon and real vanilla.”

Staying off-centered, Dogfish has forced itself to continually innovate. “I believe we were among the first brews in the country to bottle and distribute sour beers, back when people thought we were crazy. And now sour beers are one of the fastest-growing beer styles in America.” Dogfish Head is currently the number one sour-producing brewery in America. They recently collaborated with Rodenbach, Europe’s biggest and most well-known sour brewery, on a beer called Vibrant P’Ocean that is currently distributed throughout the Delmarva area.

Calagione shares that scaling to a national brand has always been the biggest challenge, addressing their 2019 merger with Boston Beer Company (famous for their Samual Adams beers). As a brand, Dogfish used to have about one-tenth of one percent market share in America. With the merger, they are about two percent market share. “We’re still tiny and we’re still up against the same Goliath we always were,” Calagione says.

“There are four international conglomerates that control over 80 percent of America’s beer market. And over eight thousand of us indie craft breweries that collectively share under 15 percent market share. So we kind of all have each other’s back. And it’s a very collaborative community.”

More big changes are on the way for Dogfish in 2020. They are currently installing a new canning line into their Rehoboth facilities to do limited release, specialty batches from their beach location. “These will be special beers that you have to go directly to Dogfish Rehoboth to buy — releases of throwback favorites like Shelter Pale Ale, crowd favorites that were developed at the brewpub, and we even have one coming out for the launching of the USS Delaware, the nuclear sub. To celebrate that cool moment in Delaware.”

Calagione is also doing a major expansion of the distillery in Milton. It’s a three million dollar project that will put Dogfish spirits in a more prominent light. “This will allow us to roll out more cocktails and packaged cocktails and regular spirits like our award-winning whiskey in further geographies. Right now, our beers are distributed in 47 states. Spirits are only in five states. So now we’ll be able to grow our distillery as well.”

Calagione has always made sure to balance family and fun while guiding a successful brand. “We have a place up off of Boothbay Harbor, Maine, where we spend most of our vacations. When you’re on a paddle board going by a seal on a rock, you know, you’re in a really special place.” His favorite activities always involve being outdoors — bicycling in the morning or paddleboarding towards Rehoboth on the canal, which he does year-round. “Being out in nature on a bike or paddle board in either coastal Delaware or coastal Maine are my favorite things in the world to do.”

When asked about the key to having a successful marriage and family while still managing a constantly-evolving company, he says “I would say Mariah and I recognize each other’s complementary strengths and give each other the latitude to lead where we’re strong, and support where the other of us is stronger.”

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Gyanendra Gupta

Chef and Co-owner, Raas Restaurant

Gyanendra Gupta loves Delaware

Gyanendra Gupta – Celebrating the Flavors of India

Raas enhances ethnic cuisine at the Delaware Beaches.

In the past, Delaware beach restaurants primarily served family-friendly fare. Think burgers and captain’s platters (a fried or broiled seafood medley with a side of slaw). Those days are long gone. Today, the resorts boast so many offerings that the area is collectively known as the Culinary Coast.

Credit chefs like Gyanendra “GG” Gupta, who with his partners brought Indian-inspired cuisine to downtown Lewes.

Since opening in 2019, the restaurant has developed a loyal fan base. In part, that is because Indian cuisine had been missing from the healthy roster of area ethnic options, which include Thai, Mexican, Japanese and Chinese restaurants.

And then there is GG, the friendly face of the restaurant, who regularly makes the rounds in the dining room to greet guests and suggest dishes. He is soft-spoken and gracious. He also has an impressive resume: GG has worked in five-star hotels in his native India and in the Caribbean.

The Journey to Lewes

One of five children, GG grew up watching his mother prepare the family meal. “I was a mama’s boy, you know, I love that,” he says fondly. He was 8 when he began questioning her actions while she cooked. Why was she adding this? Why was she stirring that?

He began accompanying her to the market. “Not only did she pass me the cooking skills, but also the purchasing skills,” he says. “Everything had to be fresh. When we were young, I don’t think we had a refrigerator in the house.”

GG’s father wanted him to be a doctor, but the passion for cooking was too strong. After earning a bachelor’s degree, he enrolled in a three-year hotel management program.

The luxurious Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai, a 650-room hotel, hired him as a management trainee, and for five years, he worked as a chef in the hotel. “I’m a real five-star hotel guy,” says GG, who’s opened numerous restaurants for high-end hotel groups. He worked at properties in Trinidad, Tobago, Grenada and St. Lucia.

Today, the resorts boast so many offerings that the area is collectively known as the Culinary Coast.

While in Grenada, he met Lewes native Vinay Hosmane, who was in medical school. (Hosmane’s father, Ramachandra, began working at Beebe Hospital in 1978.) They became friends.

Back in India, GG rejoined Taj to open The Vivanta brand in Goa, a world-famous coastal resort. The area made an impression on GG and his family, who returned to Goa after working in Jaipur.

GG and Hosmane, who became a cardiologist, kept in touch and visited each other. In 2015, GG was a guest chef at the MidAtlantic Wine + Food Festival, which held events throughout Delaware.

While touring the state, Hosmane suggested opening a restaurant at the beach, and GG agreed.

Switching Gears

Hosmane and some associates had been looking for an investment property in the resort community. Meanwhile, Hosmane’s father knew investors interested in the hospitality industry. With GG’s help, the two groups pooled their resources to create Raas, which means “celebration.”

The location, a circa-1899 Queen Anne Victorian on Savannah Road, might seem an odd choice for an ethnic eatery. But Hosmane knew it well. As a child, he rode his bicycle past the house and admired the sweeping front porch and turret. Hosmane felt that it defined the coastal lifestyle. What’s more, the classic architecture speaks to the British Raj that has influenced Indian cuisine.

Built by Capt. W. “Diver” Johnston and William H. Virden, the home is best known as a former residence of Mayor Otis Smith, who oversaw the menhaden fisheries in Lewes. (At one time, the small town was the leading producer of menhaden in the country.)

As a spa, the structure’s exterior was a garish can’t-miss purple paint. The new owners returned it to a soothing blue. Inside, there’s a pop of saffron along with turquoise. White linens cover tables. The atmosphere is decidedly more upscale than an Indian restaurant in strip malls.

Between the massive renovations on Raas, the summer 2019 opening and the pandemic, GG has had little time to rest. When restaurant dining rooms were closed in spring, he forwarded takeout orders to his cell phone, so he did not miss a call. Once dining rooms reopened, he carved out more alfresco seating for the increasing number of people who want to eat outside.

Lewes-area residents and visitors have embraced the flavors of India. “They call me back to say they never had a dish before, and it was phenomenal,” says GG, who appreciates the sense of civility and culture in the area. “People want us to be successful as much as we do.”

The network of support characterizes Delaware, he notes. If he’s standing on the covered porch, it’s not unusual for a driver to honk and call out: “Hey, Chef GG!”

Many visitors are so pleased with the cuisine that they want him to replicate the concept. But while Indian food is “in my blood,” he says, a second restaurant may showcase a different ethnic cuisine. After all, he’s opened numerous Italian, Thai and other restaurants in hotels.

For now, he’s satisfied with making his mark in downtown Lewes. Says GG, “If my guests are happy, then I can sleep at night.”

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