Dagsboro council OKs preliminary plans for The Rogue Hen

Dagsboro town council Monday night approved Matthew and Karen Kern’s change of use request and preliminary plans for a restaurant at the former Heathman Jeweler property on Main Street.

DAGSBORO – February 2019 is the target opening date for The Rogue Hen, which has created a lot of anticipated buzz in Dagsboro.

That’s the hope of Matthew and Karen Kern, who plan to transform the former Heathman Jeweler property into a restaurant/bar on Main Street.

“It’s a farm-to-table restaurant but within blue collar standpoints,” said Mr. Kern during Monday night’s town council meeting. “Right now, I am a chef at a high-end, slightly fancier farm-to-table restaurant. We’d like to create something that uses only local produce, local livestock and local seafood, but make it affordable for blue-collar workers, such as my wife and myself.”

To augment the food with a local flavor, Mr. Kern said they hope to obtain a license to serve legal beverages: beer, wine and cocktails.

Dagsboro council members William Chandler, Patrick Miller and Mayor Brian Baull by a 3-0 vote approved the change of use application recommended by the town’s planning and zoning commission.

Council members also unanimously approved preliminary site plans for the Kern’s restaurant proposal, which borders the historic Clayton Theatre on Main Street. “We love that the movie theatre next to us,” said Mr. Kern.

The restaurant proposal drew a stream of support from residents and fellow business owners during a public comment period Monday evening.

Dave Jayne, owner of Jayne’s Reliables, went on record casting support for the restaurant. “We feel like it’s going to a benefit to the town,” he said.

“I feel like changing it will change the face of Dagsboro,” said resident/business owner Dana Miller. “We have an empty dilapidated building right now and this will provide some people coming into our town a little different experience.”

Terry Ober, owner of the Shipwrecked property, said this type of restaurant will “give us another flavor,” and secondly it will get rid of a building that has not been taken care of. “We welcome a new property owner and a new business,” he said.

Audrey Miller with the popular family-owned Dagsboro Days coffee shop on Main Street said “as both a resident and a business owner I’d like to show my support to you guys. I think it is really great to visualize coming into Dagsboro and seeing something cool, and new and nice right away.”

“I’m in favor of having another restaurant business in town,” said Al Townsend. “If you go back and look at the minutes when we created the town center, that was supposed to be for restaurants, businesses. They even sold it to the residents … if you want to sit down at a bar and have a glass of wine. So why are we fighting the liquor? Everything we try to bring into this town gets a big fight, a big push-back. We’re either going to let the town grow and control it or we’re going to be gone.”

“Commerce is what we need here,” said Brad Connor, planning and zoning chairman.

Ann Tate, whose New Street property borders the back of the proposed restaurant property, voiced several concerns, including exhaust fans, visual buffers, noise and the prospect of employee gatherings at the rear of the business.

Mr. Kern offered assurances that there would not be any problems.

“Everything will be enclosed. There will be a fence around everything,” Mr. Kern said. “We only want to have a positive effect on the town.”

“Well, welcome to town,” said Ms. Tate, adding she is 100 percent for this if it is done right.

Mr. Kern, currently the head chef at the upscale Heirloom restaurant in Lewes, said tentative plans are for The Rouge Hen to be open Tuesday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. with possible Sunday brunch hours. The Rogue Hen would be closed Mondays.

The restaurant would have about 20 employees, Mr. Kern said.

The project will entail construction of an addition extending from the rear of the current building, which is bordered to the south by the Clayton Theatre and to the north by the Bodie’s Dairy Market property.

A large open space in back might be used for a small herb garden, Mr. Kern said. That space cannot be utilized for parking due to insufficient access space on either side of the existing building.

Ms. Kern said they have received permission to utilize a nearby lot for parking along with DelDOT’s approval for on-street parking.

Final plans for the project will come back before town council for approval.

Mr. Chandler posed the question on the lips of many regarding the projected opening: “When?”

“Our goal is February,” said Ms. Kern.

“With opening a restaurant there are so many bugs to work out. Our hope is to open when it is the slowest. That way we have a few month’s cushion that we can figure out all of these things and bugs … making sure we get our staffing correct,” said Mr. Kern. “You can look at a business model of a diner and it is very easy to open a diner. You serve a certain type of menu. It never changes. You can hire just about anybody off the street to create that work force to serve that food.”

“The vision we have for our place is a little bit more involved. We are trying to really give every customer the sense of home, a sense of comfort. Hopefully, it’s a place where you can sit down and put the phones away,” Mr. Kern said. “We decided years ago that if we were going to do this we were going to do it right. We very much would like to be a part of this community for a long time.”


News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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