Pilot to restaurateur — not exactly what one might consider a logical progression, but it’s worked for Baja Beach House Grill’s Rick Hundley.
Originally from Fairfax, Va., Hundley studied aeronautical science (business minor) in Daytona Beach and flew turbo-prop charter planes for a living before jumping into the restaurant business.
Actually, according to Hundley, there were parallels. He had a flight attendant for the 34-passenger Saab 340, but when he took up the twin-prop Beech 1900, it was a strictly do-it-yourself proposition.
Hundley was responsible for the greet and seat, checking to make sure everyone was buckled in and comfortable — and, by the bye, getting them up and back in one piece.
“Especially at a small airline, you talk to a lot of customers and learn a lot about customer service,” Hundley noted.
He still owns a little home-built experimental plane, parked on a local grass strip, and you might catch him buzzing around the neighborhood from time to time.
After a few years, however, Hundley tired of the airline business and decided he wanted to try something new. He considered an Alexandria-area venture with Mike “Mango Mike” Anderson, but after a bit of a look around, they decided to go for Bethany Beach instead.
Along with Anderson and Dick Heidenberger, Hundley went in on the Mango Mike’s venture in 1998, and managed that operation for four years.
He launched his own Baja Beach House Grill venture in 2002, bringing along chef Miguel Lopez as a partner.
According to Hundley, Lopez was notoriously publicity-shy, but deserved credit for jazzing up the salsas, and turning out a fresh, consistently good menu.
The salsa roja (made with habaneros) has a kick to it, but Hundley stressed there wasn’t a lot of excessive heat on the menu. “It’s not about spicy — it’s about flavor and freshness,” he pointed out.
They also make a salsa verde with fresh tomatillos (a tomato relative with hints of lemon) fire-roasted salsa (char-grilled tomatoes, onions and jalapeños) and pico de gallo (a fresh-chopped variation on the standard).
Right on the main drag in downtown Bethany, they offer the Mexican cuisine plus an Americanized kids menu, and burgers, with a quickness.
He said he’d seen a need for that kind of restaurant service, in what he considered a family beach resort. “We get a lot of large parties, multiple families coming in together as a group,” he pointed out.
And patrons shouldn’t have to settle for sub-par just because they’re on the move — “There’s no reason why you can’t prepare high quality fresh food, fast,” Hundley emphasized.
Chris VanRoijen, one of the original patrons, said he’d gotten to know Hundley back in his days at Mango’s, and now made a point to stop by the Baja Beach House Grill for his tacos and burritos. “He has some great happy hour specials, too,” VanRoijen noted.
Hundley offers $2 beers, wines and margaritas from 3 to 6 p.m., alongside an extensive half-priced menu selection (all summer long). They have Corona, Tecate or Modelo (among other imports and domestics), and some unique Margaritas, like the “Bajarita,” with lime and passion fruit.
However, as Hundley noted, “It’s not like you have to come in at 3 p.m. and have a drink at the bar — we refer to it as happy hour, but it’s really more like early bird.”
Actually, there is no bar, per se, other than the help-yourself-to-the-salsas bar. Baja Beach House Grill has plenty of seats in a quiet patio just off the street, and inside, more of a coffeehouse atmosphere, with plenty of glass, warm natural wood tones and the clean look of stainless steel.
Hundley has added an espresso machine and fresh-brewed “Seattle’s Best” roasts to complete the package.
After this weekend, they’ll be open everyday at 8 a.m. for the caffeine-deprived. They offer a half American, half Mexican-influenced breakfast menu, too, with choices ranging from breakfast burritos with bacon, sausage or chorizo (mildly spicy Mexican sausage) to pancakes or cream chipped beef.
Moving through the day, they sport a very reasonably-priced menu, with flautas and fajitas and six burger variations coming in under $10 – in fact, even the jumbo lump crabcake sandwich maxes out at only $10.50.
Hundley said they had a few treats in mind for the Taste of Coastal Delaware event, June 5, Marketplace at Sea Colony — they’ll be serving house specialty fish tacos, plus shrimp tacos and frozen Margaritas that day (1 to 4 p.m.).
He’s no stranger to the Taste event, having been involved with Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce activities ever since he came to Delaware (the chamber organizes the event). In fact, Hundley chaired the first-ever Taste.
To learn more about the annual event, now in its sixth year, visit the chamber Web site, www.bethany-fenwick.org, and scroll down the calendar of events.
To check out the entire Baja Beach House Grill menu, visit www.bajabeachhouse.com, and for more information, or to place an order, call 537-9993 or stop by 109 Garfield Parkway, downtown Bethany.