Matt’s Fish Camp hires a chef and turns the page after the death of the founder

Maurice Catlett entered the SoDel Concepts headquarters. The trendy office space is nestled quietly above the Bake Shoppe on Rehoboth Avenue. Its white walls feature bright eclectic artwork and several antique mirrors. Vases with fresh flowers and whimsical furniture are strewn about.

Catlett walked over to the long white wooden table in the center of the space. His gray t-shirt, with the company logo embroidered on the breast pocket, hung freely from his sturdy 5-foot-10 frame.

He sat down at the table and opened a bottle of Matt’s Homemade Soda Root Beer, slowly sipping the drink.

The SoDel logo was also embroidered on his dark gray baseball cap. He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms, his dark eyes peering under the brim of the hat.

“Yes, there is a lot of pressure, but our team is ready,” he said quietly. “I’m ready.”

Hanging on the wall behind Catlett was a framed photo of the company’s late founder, Matt Haley.

Just months after receiving three of the culinary world’s highest accolades, Haley died in a motorbike accident in August 2014. His sudden death temporarily threw the business into uncertainty and turmoil. But it’s been almost two years since, and things are more than secure.

READ MORE: Learn about Matt Haley’s life as a restaurateur and philanthropist

The eight SoDel Concepts restaurants in Ocean View, Bethany Beach, Fenwick Island, Rehoboth Beach and Lewes that operated during Haley’s lifetime are thriving. The same goes for the company’s catering business, the Big Thunder Roadside Kitchen food truck, and its consulting and hotel management divisions.

In June, a ninth restaurant will open in Lewes. It’s the first expansion without Haley, and Catlett has been chosen to oversee the new restaurant’s kitchen, serving as executive chef.

“It’s a huge honor,” he said, pointing to Haley’s photo. “I just want to make Matt proud.”

From dishwasher to executive chef

Catlett has worked at SoDel Concepts for seven years. Her story is full of redemption and courage, perseverance and second chances. Over the years, he rose through the ranks of the industry, rising from dishwashing to executive chef.

He grew up in Dover, where money was scarce, but love and big family meals were plentiful. His parents were happily married, he said, which was rare among almost all of his friends.

“My parents were supportive of everything I did and they taught me what love looks like,” he said. “I never grew up wondering if I mattered.”

Somewhere along the way, however, Catlett fell into the wrong crowd. He went back and forth in prison and eventually dropped out of high school. Throughout his 20s, he lived from paycheck to paycheck, doing odd jobs to get by.

Things changed when her daughter was born.

“I wanted to do more for her,” he said. “I knew I had to do more for her.”

Catlett moved to the beach area of ​​Delaware in 2000 and got a job at the Italian restaurant Adriatico washing dishes and preparing salads. Six months later, he was in charge of the kitchen.

“It was a disaster,” he said. “I was in over my head.”

That Christmas, the restaurant closed and Haley bought the business. Almost everyone was fired, but Haley had a soft spot for the inexperienced head chef.

“He was the first person in a very long time to believe in me,” Catlett said. “He saw my potential. He wanted to see me succeed.”

Catlett was aware of what Haley was trying to accomplish with SoDel Concepts and wanted to be a part of it. He took a job and went back to doing the dishes. During those early months, however, tensions were often high between the two. Catlett and Haley both came from troubled pasts and were a lot alike, in more ways than one.

“This month of July, I couldn’t take it anymore,” he said. “I got out. I still had a criminal mind. I couldn’t pay my bills. I just didn’t see the point in it.”

But Haley and Scott Kammerer, who is now president of SoDel Concepts, didn’t let him go.

“It was the first time I really met Scott and he was cheering me on, he was in my corner and he barely knew me,” he said. “They offered me a salary, asked me not to leave and to have faith. Honestly, I don’t know where I would be if they let me go. I will never forget what they did for me.”

Catlett then worked at Fish On in Lewes under Chef Jen Meyers and was promoted to Executive Chef in 2012. Already during his short career he has had many prestigious culinary opportunities, including the chance to cook at the James Beard House, twice .

When Kammerer was looking for an executive chef for the company’s new restaurant, the choice was immediately obvious.

“I’ve really enjoyed watching Maurice grow into one of the best chefs on the Delaware coast,” he said. “The best is ahead of him and for the group.”

A rendering of the second Matt's Fish Camp, due to open in Lewes in early summer.

What to expect

The new SoDel Concepts restaurant, a second Matt’s Fish Camp, will open in Lewes in June.

The seafood restaurant, located in the Tenley Court Mall on Route 1, will have similar features to the original Matt’s Fish Camp in Bethany Beach, but it will have its own attitude, Catlett said.

Covering 3,200 square feet, the new restaurant will seat 90 people in the dining room and will include a 12-seat full-service bar, as well as a freshly stocked raw bar.

Learn more about the new Matt’s Fish Camp

The menu will include fan favorites such as Lobster Deviled Eggs, Hot Bacon Crab Dip, Fresh Catch Options and Matt’s Fish Camp Stew, as well as new selections like Homemade Chicken Pot Pie, BLT Pasta with prawns and the country-style fried steak.

“Matt’s Fish Camp is all about cooking simple, delicious, local seafood in a friendly restaurant where everyone feels welcome,” he said. “And making people feel welcome is what I intend to do at every meal.”

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