September-October 2013 | GRANDE TRADITION




SoDel Concepts founder Matt Haley celebrates his love for the Latino culture through his latest culinary creation — Fenwick’s Papa Grande’s

Written By: Nick Brandi | Photographer: Grant L. Gursky

For all the enrichment and interest he has brought to the state, entrepreneur/philanthropist extraordinaire Matt Haley should be canonized as the patron saint of Delaware. His latest endowment is called Papa Grande’s, right across from another of his triumphs, Catch 54, on Madison Ave. in Fenwick Island.

Unlike his previous seven ventures under the SoDel Concepts umbrella, Papa Grande’s purveys a decidedly Latino, coastal-taqueria motif. He comes by his Hispanophilia quite organically, having not only traveled extensively throughout Central and South America, Cuba, Puerto Rico and Mexico but also because he was practically raised by a Latina who was like a second mother to him. Haley actually bought the building and lot about five years ago but sat on it while the Greek tragedy known as the Great Recession of 2008 played itself out.

Open for business as of late May, Papa Grande’s sits in an 80-year-old wood-frame barn and former oyster warehouse that is a work of art in itself — one that cost Haley twice as much to rehab as it would have to raze and rebuild. But that’s not Matt Haley, who views the atmospheric 4,000 sq. ft. edifice as a kind of cultural and historical landmark that Delawareans deserve to enjoy. Obviously, he’d like them and the rest of us to enjoy the food at least as much, a feat well within the grasp of this Midaslike restaurateur.

To ensure this, Haley put chef-partner Doug Ruley in charge of the operation. Ruley is known for liking to work with local farmers, which he does on a regular basis, as well as give his patronage to local Latino markets so that there is no question when it comes to quality and authenticity.

The two-level open-air environment is both casual and understated yet steeped in both local and Latino influences. And with up to 20 different taco choices, four to six quesadillas and as many ceviches — to say nothing of the most complete rum-and-tequila bar you’re likely to find anywhere on the Eastern Shore — you’ll need all that ambient space just to make up your mind about what to sample first. For the unintroduced, Haley strongly encourages folks to try the Mexican rice bowls, especially the Pork Belly & Egg and the Shrimp & Plantain, as well as the tortas, which are so entrenched in the culture that they are even mentioned in the Spanish translation of the Bible. 

Whatever else you do when you’re there, don’t sidestep the bar, which features tequilas that are infused onsite with fruits that range from apple and peach to papaya and mango, much of which is acquired fresh daily from local farms. Papa Grande’s even has its own sugarcane crusher (trust me, you’ll taste the difference) and makes its own sea salt from key sites in Bethany and Fenwick. Maybe best of all, 25% of Papa Grande’s net profit goes directly to the Latino community, to provide scholarship funds for underprivileged children.


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