Shore Foods continues a family tradition a half-century in the making
In a resort community where the majority of the business is concentrated in four to five months each year, finding success that will last for decades can be tricky. Maintaining a steady and successful “mom-and-pop” operation for a half-century, amid surging competition, could be daunting. But that’s precisely what Kathy Dryden has been doing, carrying on the family tradition at Shore Foods in Bethany Beach since 1962.
In 1955, Alfred James “Tut” Lawson, Dryden’s father, was looking to expand his Sav-A-Stop grocery store from Crisfield, along Maryland’s eastern shore.
“A grocery chain was moving in on him,” explained Dryden, “and he was afraid he wasn’t going to be able to feed his family. One of his sales reps had told him about a vacant store in Bethany Beach.”
He kept his Crisfield location but brought the Sav-A-Stop name to Delaware’s beach towns, too, introducing the very first grocery store to Bethany Beach, in the location where Baja Beach Grill stands today. Five years later, he added a store in Fenwick Island, along Coastal Highway, where today a Candy Kitchen store operates.
The competition wasn’t far behind him, though, and Lawson found himself doing what he could to stay a step above the rest.
“Lewes Dairy moved into downtown Bethany,” recalled Dryden, “and my father was afraid that he be run out, again.”
And as if competition wasn’t enough of a bother, Mother Nature paid the Delaware coast a visit, too. The Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962 was closing in, fast, and Lawson had his family prepare for the worst.
“Our entire family – our father and mother and all the kids – put everything we had on milk crates and palates,” said Dryden, “and got all the refrigeration and equipment off the ground.”
Established businesses in Bethany Beach were few and far between, at the time, but the nor’easter that devastated the Mid-Atlantic shore in 1962 thinned them out even more.
“Other businesses didn’t prepare like we did,” Dryden noted. “Lewes Dairy lost everything and asked dad if he wanted to bzuy the downtown location, so he took it over.”
With the business now located on Garfield Parkway, Lawson had a larger store to work with and changed the name to Shore Foods. Again, Lawson’s store was the place to go in Bethany Beach for your groceries.
“At the time,” Dryden recalled, “there were really only two stores in Bethany – ours and a little clothing shop. When we were children, helping out in the stores, we stayed in the stock room. We had rollaway cots to sleep on, and that would be our home in the summertime. There weren’t too many other kids to play with. It wasn’t like it is now.”
But business was steady. The family also took over the bakery situated beside the shop. Solid grocery sales at Shore Foods paved the way for another expansion and, one year later, Lawson found a spot along Coastal Highway in Bethany Beach, near Middlesex Beach, where a second Shore Foods still stands today.
But Lawson’s health was deteriorating and, in 1966, he passed away.
“He ended up leasing the Fenwick Island Sav-A-Stop,” recalled Dryden, “and for two years, he rented the Bethany stores, but he wanted to make sure his wife and children were taken care of.” One of his last wishes on his deathbed, Dryden said, was to keep the Shore Foods name with the family, and his wish was honored.
His eldest sons, Alfred James “A.J.” Lawson III and Kim, maintained the Bethany Beach Shore Foods.
“I got married in 1970,” said Dryden, “and I stepped away from the family business, but I came back and helped my youngest brother, Keith, run the bakery.”
Dryden continued to run the bakery for 14 years, until 2001. Years later, in 2006, A.J. passed away, and two year later Keith died. With her mother growing older and unable to maintain the stores herself, Kathy Dryden vowed to return and keep them running.
“This September, Mother turns 92,” said Dryden. “She was worried about the stores, but I told her I’d come back and keep the family business going,” she recalled.
And she has done just that, with the help of sons Derrick and Darin and her husband, Larry. In addition to the two Shore Foods locations in Bethany Beach, the family owns Sandy Toz, a beach-supply shop located beside Five Guys, just a few doors down from Shore Foods, on Garfield Parkway.
“The most rewarding thing is working together as a family,” said Kathy Dryden. “We’ve always worked together growing up, and now we’re still doing it. Even my granddaughter is a big help around the stores.”
Today, the bakery location next to the store is leased to Ruthie’s Bethany Beach Bakery, keeping the downtown bakery tradition in Bethany Beach, and Dryden has even started up her own business, Sandy Pawz, a pet gift shop, also in downtown Bethany Beach.
Business has been rather good for Dryden and her family. Customers come in to Shore Foods year after year for grocery essentials, but keeping the head of a “mom-and-pop” shop above water is always a task in itself – one fraught with challenges, and opportunities.
“The big chains are still moving in,” said Dryden, “and that makes it hard. The drug stores around here are even starting to bring in groceries.”
To keep up with demand for supplies needed by beachgoers, four years ago she converted an adjacent real estate office into a beach shop, providing customers with beach towels, chairs, toys and other beach essentials.
But Shore Foods still boasts of their fresh produce and fresh-cut meat.
“We’re very proud of the produce and meat that we carry,” said Kathy Dryden. “We definitely wanted to offer something like that right on the beach.”
“Sometimes,” added Darin Dryden, “local restaurants will even stop by to grab some produce when they’re running low. They know we carry quality products.”
Shore Foods is located in downtown Bethany Beach, on Garfield Parkway, just north of Pennsylvania Avenue and across the street from Rhodes’ 5 &10, with that second Shore Foods store still located along Route 1 in Middlesex. For more information, call (302) 539-6252 or (302) 539-6334.