“It will be business at usual” soon at Redfin Seafood Grill’s North Bethany location, according to the restaurant’s original designer, Bryony Zeigler of SoDel Concepts.
While the last year and a half of tribulations may not yet be water under the bridge for co-founder Matt Haley and his group of the Redfin’s former staffers, the interruption is “just a blip in the road,” according to Zeigler.
That’s after Haley – with a bid of $3.8 million – won Saturday’s auction of the 3.11 acre waterfront property upon which the restaurant sits. The auction was part of the court-ordered dissolution of the partnership between Haley and Greg Talcott, who jointly owned the land and building as Matt & Greg Real Estate.
Once again, the two soon-to-be-former partners battled Saturday, this time over the sole legal ownership of the property. And this time, it was in the venue of an auction, rather than verbally or through the legal system.
Haley told the Coastal Point this week that he planned to bid on the property he and Zeigler had originally spotted as a likely location for what became Redfin. Confirming he planned to keep the location a restaurant, Haley said he would bid in a smart, businesslike manner, taking the property’s real value into account rather than any emotional value it might have for him.
Indeed, Haley seemed relaxed before the bidding started and remained quietly standing on the building’s walkway as it began.
In the end, from his seat on the side of his pickup truck in the restaurant’s parking lot, Talcott showed his hand first, taking up the auctioneer’s invitation to bid at $1.5 million. (The property was appraised at $1.8 million, with estimates it could be sold for $3 million or more, due to its value both as a restaurant location and as a potential spot for residential development.)
Talcott frequently called out for other bidders, joking that he didn’t want to be the only one. And eventually, he got one. Talcott battled it out with the other bidder (one who was eyeing the property for development) until the two reached the $2.4 million mark.
With the auctioneer closing the bidding and ready to announce his final call, Haley finally jumped in. From there, it was a renewed battle – now a three-way one – with Haley reserving himself to jump in only when the other two bidders hit “going twice.”
The three-way battle began, with brief periods of back-and-forth between two of the men while the third waited things out. Finally, it came down to Haley, who consistently raised the bid and waited to see if either of his competitors would up the ante.
In the end, Talcott made his final bid, and it was one Haley was willing to top. At $3.8 million, the final price well exceeded the property’s appraised value and even came in above the top estimate it was expected to bring with interest from developers.
But the price was obviously worth it to Haley, and the emotion he said he wouldn’t use in making his bid was apparent as the bidding closed, with Haley and his SoDel crew sharing rounds of hugs and shedding a few tears.
Present were some of Redfin’s original principals: Zeigler, Nino Mancari (now head chef at SoDel’s Lewes restaurant, FishOn!), Matt Cunningham (now manager at FishOn!), and Erin Daley (manager at the coming Ocean View restaurant NorthEast Seafood Kitchen).
Each had left the North Bethany restaurant to follow Haley in his embattled departure from Redfin, and each has remained fervently loyal to him.
Daley acknowledged the auction win – and return to Redfin – would help heal some of the wounds inflicted on those peripherally involved in the battles over the restaurant business (formally named Delaware Seafood Inc.). “We deserve it,” she said.
Those battles started some 17 months ago. That was when, according to court documents, Haley pressed Talcott to live up to an agreement he says they had made to formally split ownership of the restaurant business after its initial establishment. (Previously, Talcott had been the sole shareholder, with Haley taking as part of his salary for work at Redfin an annual “bonus” of 50 percent of the business’ profits.)
Haley alleges Talcott fired him after their discussion of the restaurant partnership, accepting a resignation Haley said was never tendered. (Litigation over the employment arrangement is still pending.)
While the ownership of the parcel of land and the restaurant building are all but settled, there will naturally be some shifts involved in the running of the restaurant itself. (Talcott signed his own copy of the contract, but as the backup bidder.)
Haley was required to immediately tender notice to Redfin/Delaware Seafood Inc. if he was terminating its month-to-month lease. The restaurant, as such, will have to vacate within 30 days of that notice, with the settlement on the property to take place within 45 days of the auction.
The restaurant’s furnishings and restaurant equipment did not convey with the sale, and it’s unlikely they – or Talcott – will have a place in the long-term future of the restaurant Haley will run on the property. (The restaurant’s business license and liquor license also did not transfer and will have to be worked out in the usual manner.)
How many of the remaining staffers at Redfin will still have a job after the changeover is also yet to be determined. Haley had previously noted that many of the restaurant’s employees had left when he did or shortly there after, and in some cases, he said, that had imposed a hardship on those employees.
While the new establishments in Lewes and Ocean View have given a number of those former employees a job they enjoy, it’s likely at least some of the old guard will be returning to Redfin under Haley. “It will be the same old faces,” Zeigler said, noting that she was very much looking forward to seeing the restaurant’s loyal customers again for the first time in a year and a half.
But before those diners fret over losing the look and feel of the restaurant with the furnishings not coming with the deed, Zeigler had some reassurances. “This is the place we designed,” she said, predicting the exact same furnishings would be repurchased, leaving the restaurant’s resulting appearance essentially unchanged. It is, after all, just that blip on the road she mentioned.
The Redfin name will also likely remain, though Haley’s grip on that may be a bit more tentative than the one on the physical property. He and Zeigler asserted it had been documented as their creation and was theirs by right. The legalities could be a bit more complex, but whether the courts have to get involved in deciding the matter will remain to be seen.
And, of course, there is the food. With one-time Redfin chefs Mancari and Jason Deittrick (who is NorthEast Seafood Kitchen’s new head chef) still part of SoDel, the culinary success the restaurant built in its early days will likely continue.
Mancari and Haley have worked together to develop menus for each of SoDel’s new kitchens and have planned for that collaboration to continue as new restaurants are founded across the area.
Haley admitted last week that he had a lot going on and wouldn’t be too upset if he lost the auction, with so much other work to do. But now that he’s won it, the re-establishment of a Haley-run Redfin is just one of the projects he’ll be overseeing.
NorthEast Seafood Kitchen is set to open April 15. FishOn! is undergoing expansion. And at least three additional restaurants are in the offing for SoDel, as it spreads its successful design and food combination across southern Delaware.
Redfin, though, holds a special place in the hearts of those originally involved in its founding. Zeigler likened the feeling of walking through the doors for the first time in so many months to that of coming home. “Things are kind of automatic,” she said.
So, for those diners who have come to expect upscale casual dining in North Bethany, the beat goes on, just – as for the SoDel crew – with a slight bump in the road.