La Vida Hospitality has been awarded a bid by the Delaware State Parks to explore the addition of a potential restaurant in the Cape Henlopen State Park located in Lewes, Delaware. We believe this to be an opportunity to create a great amenity to the park that would benefit the public. Learning from our previous experience, we are comfortable that both locals and tourists would enjoy this amenity given we have first hand experience for the past 7 years.
With such an opportunity comes a great responsibility. As many who have opposed the new project for various reasons rightly point out, there are many factors to consider if a hospitality based amenity is to be created in a state park. Listening to those concerns, we hear an immense amount of passion and care for a treasure to the region. La Vida Hospitality shares in that passion for the care & meaning that the Delaware State Parks brings to the residents & visitors.
For those opposed to this opportunity we respect the difference in point of view and have learned by listening to those voices. As we continue our exploration of this project, we are committed to meeting with local groups about the concerns. We are also actively working with all state & environmental agencies to make sure any project located in the State Park is done with integrity & respect to the local environment.
Through our partnership with the Delaware State Parks at our Big Chill Beach Club location in the Delaware Seashore State Park we have learned a lot over the past 7 years. Through our learning we feel we are able to address some of the concerns we have hear which are outline below.
How did this opportunity come about?
In late January 2022, Delaware State Parks created an RFP for the food concessions with an option to suggest a restaurant in the Walk On Beach area of CHSP near the David McBride Bathhouse. It is a public document that went to hundreds of potential vendors for consideration.
La Vida Hospitality, having experience with Delaware State Parks, evaluated the RFP and decided to place a bid for this opportunity. In doing so, we found the RFP on the State Of Delaware’s RFP page where they host all their opportunities for vendors. It is a standard practice.
As we were processing the RFP with a late February due date, the Cape Gazette published a front page article about the potential opportunity on February 11th, 2022. The first of a number of articles about the potential project.
In late February 2022 we submitted our RFP to Delaware State Parks. About 5 weeks later, we heard from the Parks about wanting to meet to learn about the RFP we submitted. In that meeting, Delaware State Parks was very focused on the opportunity we suggested and how it would impact the area.
The bid was awarded a few weeks after with the understanding that there needed to be time for both groups to further evaluate the proposal of a restaurant. La Vida Hospitality immediately took over the food concessions and ran the summer food offerings from Memorial Day to Labor Day this year.
As the bid was executed, both Delaware State Parks and our company were very concerned about getting this project into the public for building awareness with a meeting being held in June in CHSP. It was not well attended, which was surprising to me. Today, working through this process for public comment feels healthy and welcomed.
Why a restaurant in CHSP?
At the heart of the debate is this question. The first perspective that I can share is that of the Delaware State Parks. Through the RFP process, the Parks wanted to improve the Walk On Beach area for better public use. From what we gathered we heard several key components:
- Improved food offerings & quality – They were getting a lot of complaints about food.
- Better access to the beach on the Northern end of the parking lot – ideally, ADA access
- Upgraded facilities: bathrooms and showers.
- Additional amenities such as bathroom and shower facilities at the Northern end of the parking lot and offering beach rentals such as umbrellas & chairs to beachgoers
- Financial – Given the limited funds, looking for a way to make these upgrades without public funding. In addition, a way to create additional revenue for The Parks.
Although I can’t comment beyond what I heard from the Delaware State Parks, La Vida worked towards creating something that fit these needs. Most clearly, what I heard was they would not be able to make these improvements without such an arrangement. The restaurant would allow for the finances to afford these improvements and many more.
We believe this type of partnership, like other private public-partnerships is a win-win-win to solve the issue. The first win is for the Parks to achieve their needed upgrades. The second win is for the general public to have these improvements and have an additional amenity to enjoy the park. And the third is for La Vida Hospitality to be able to make this investment in a financial responsible way.
To the point of whether a restaurant is an amenity to CHSP, we fortunately have 7 years of experience with Big Chill Beach Club at Delaware Seashore State Park. We have learned first hand from that experience and I’ll share 3 big learnings:
- Delaware State Parks takes their stewardship of The Parks very seriously. To every employee at Delaware State Parks, it is very clear that they have the Parks’ mission as the driving force behind their motivations. Every step of the way, they are working to meet that mission. With that mentality, Big Chill Beach Club has become a great amenity to that park experience.
- The public absolutely considers dining at Delaware Seashore a form of public recreation. We have hundreds of comments and thousands of visitors a year saying they come to Delaware Seashore to enjoy the park environment from our rooftop perch. Many comments include things such as “I never came to this beautiful park before”, “this has become our favorite park since we were introduced to it by coming to your restaurant”, and “Big Chill Beach Club is a gem in Delaware Seashore State Park”.
- To the stewardship of the Parks referenced above, we have adapted that same mentality for Big Chill Beach Club. We began collecting beach goers trash when we saw they were leaving it in the bathrooms. We instituted trash pickups in our daily operations around the area at the expense of La Vida Hospitality. We orchestrate beach clean ups in the public area. We collaborate with The Parks on events such as the sandcastle contests and full moon bridge hikes. Simply put, we are an asset to the Parks.
As a result, I believe that a restaurant is an improvement to CHSP. For a park that receives over 1.7 million visitors a year, it is offering a form of public recreation. There are many examples of restaurants in both state and national parks throughout the country. From what I have been able to surmise, they are typically placed in popular parks in previously high volume areas of human activity, as is the case here. From the Shenandoah’s to Yosemite, restaurants are commonplace in the parks’ systems. That is the case with this situation and the area that Delaware State Parks has considered for the location of this project is already a heavily trafficked area for humans.
What about the question raised on The Warner Grant for CHSP?
I believe this is a very relevant question for consideration. I cannot comment on something that is a legal question given my background with regards to the nature of private partnership. I do firmly believe that a restaurant is public recreation, managed in conjunction with an experienced, private entity. That said, I understand the opposition’s view on this.
That said, I do wonder if this were pursued legally if the impact of the defense of the Warner Act has been considered? If it were declared that the Warner Grant should not allow for public private partnerships it would mean a reduction in the amenities within Cape Henlopen. It would eliminate the bait & tackle shop, food concessions, and kayak tours from Cape Henlopen. It would also seem to eliminate The Friends Of Cape Henlopen State Parks bike operations and museum as a functioning private not for profit entity. Is this really helping CHSP?
How will the proposed location affect the environment?
The consideration for a location for a restaurant should be scrutinized. I believe those opposing this proposal are rightfully questioning an ideal location in CHSP.
If a restaurant is to be located in CHSP, I believe the general area being currently considered is optimal. The Walk On Beach area currently entertains hundreds of thousands of people a year already and is surrounded by human activity with Hawkswatch and the Pavilion to the North, the popular beach to the East and the David McBride Bathhouse to the South. With such human activity present, impact on wildlife is minimal.
On the footprint of the location, utilizing the existing parking lot reduces the footprint by 400% in terms of square footage needed. An area of less than a 1/2 acre is needed to erect a building. Having listened to opposition, I concede that this could be less if the bathhouse footprint were reused. I think it would be appropriate to consider this side to even further reduce the footprint to zero square footage of impact on the Dunes. This is something La Vida Hospitality would be willing to consider if Delaware State Parks thought it prudent.
As for the impact of a building at this location, we think it will have minimal impact on different elements given it is already in a heavily human traffic area. Lights and windows can be designed for minimal impact on the surroundings. Existing sound at the current location is similar to what a restaurant would bring. Trash would be an area that could be improved in the area given our learnings at Delaware Seashore State Park.
One area we have learned about is the Migratory patterns around The Delaware Bay. Getting a rudimentary understanding of the challenge, it seems that operating into the late evening is the issue due to lighting. In this case, I believe there is an opportunity to manage this issue. We are open to hearing more to mitigate the issues.
As my response to the environment suggests, we also are concerned about the implications of a restaurant to the area and are opening to alternative solutions. We firmly believe that a solution can be had for both responsible development of a restaurant and protecting the environment.
La Vida Hospitality has received, and will continue to receive, comments, advice, and directives from several departments of DNREC who are tasked with protecting the dunes, the wetlands, the fish and wildlife, and other areas of concern. It’s part of the process we are involved in with The Parks.
Overall, we know that design can be used to manage the impact on the environment.
What are the financial implications in plain terms?
Delaware State Parks has made people aware, they are 65% self-funded. As a result, they need to be resourceful in developing park assets and making improvements. They have a large backlog of over $210 Million in needed improvements statewide with nearly $80 million in CHSP alone. Without additional revenue, this park will continue to face challenges in meeting the growing demand of the park goer. This opportunity is a solution for some of the challenges CHSP is facing. This project would need zero investment dollars from the public. In addition, it would add approximately $200,000 of annual revenue to the budget, not including potential additional entry fees nor the value of the building which would revert to Parks’ ownership upon completion or termination of the lease.
I believe this piece of the debate is essential and not being discussed. It is part of the reality that Delaware State Parks is facing. I don’t hear anything amongst opposition to this project alleviating the financial challenges facing CHSP and find it irresponsible for those to think this isn’t part of the conversation. That said, I have had positive conversations with some individuals who agree that all need to give some thought to how we can better support The Parks financially.
Who Is La Vida Hospitality?
Born & raised in Sussex County, DE, La Vida Hospitality is a small business that operates 3 brands: Big Chill, Crooked Hammock Brewery, and Taco Reho. I am proud to say that we have entrenched ourselves in the local community with our businesses and investment in the community. Since 2015, our financial contributions to community charities and groups have been over $500,000. Organizations such as the Lewes Library, Delaware First Responders, Delaware SPCA, Delaware Artist Collaboration, Center For The Inland Bays, Believe In Tomorrow, Cape Henlopen School District, and the Historic Lewes Farmers Market have partnered with us for community benefit. We have also won awards and recognition for our community efforts and as a top employer within the state of Delaware. I believe being involved in the community is essential to who we are.
La Vida Hospitality also focuses on running its businesses professionally and responsibly. Although never perfect, we strive to do the best to our abilities. Our efforts at Delaware Seashore have given us the experience and know-how to operate responsibly in a park setting. This includes minimizing deliveries and truck traffic, banning the use of disposable plastic, designing to minimize the noise and light pollution, and utilizing permeable surfaces to allow natural water flow and minimize run-off and erosion. Delaware State Parks can attest to our belief in being thoughtful and responsible to The Parks and our surroundings. Nothing we have done to date would suggest that we would treat CHSP any differently than being stewards of the area we would be located in.
All that being said, we are aware that some may not agree with us or believe a restaurant is an asset to CHSP. I can understand if the general public as a majority were against this, but I don’t believe that is the case. A second voice that is being spoken, albeit not in the media, is one of positivity for the project with responsible management. I understand that that second voice needs to be heard along with one of opposition to this project, so I invite you to join us in sharing your thoughts for a project that would absolutely be an asset and provide additional public recreation in Cape Henlopen.