Five Lovable Local Businesses in Rehoboth Beach

Rehoboth Beach boardwalk

View from the boardwalk, Rehoboth Beach

Each summer I spend a month or so visiting my parents in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, and really the only thing I don’t absolutely love about it is the lack of a proper coffee shop. I’ve sampled just about every latte in town and even tried giving them up for the trip, but have finally resigned myself to the chronically understaffed Starbucks on Rehoboth Avenue, which has the longest, slowest lines I have ever encountered.

Recently a friend responded to one of my (admittedly) whiny tweets about the Rehoboth Starbucks, wondering why I hadn’t been able to find a good indie coffee shop. He speculated that maybe it was too hard for small businesses to compete against Starbucks. I didn’t think that was the issue, since Rehoboth Beach is almost all local businesses. His reply: “Take pictures of them, while they’re still there.”

Rehoboth’s small business scene is unique and vibrant, and it’s impossible for me to imagine it without the bookstores and ice cream parlors and pizza places I loved when I was growing up here. But–all the same–I’m taking pictures.

Here are five of my favorite Rehoboth Beach businesses, and what I especially love about each one.

Browseabout Books Rehoboth bookstores

Browseabout Books, Rehoboth Avenue

1. Browseabout Books: This is the absolute best kind of bookstore, packed with tables of thoughtful staff picks, a maze of aisles to get lost in, and a choice selection of cool games and toys. Browseabout completely gets the importance of offline events for building community, and on most summer days you can enjoy a kids’ story time or an author book signing. Giving my kids a few dollars to spend here can keep them happily flip-flopping around, spinning racks of paperbacks and playing with Schleich animal figures, for at least an hour.

Signature touch: Rainbow-hued murals commemorating local best sellers since 1975.

Browseabout Books bookstores Rehoboth Beach bestsellers mural

One of Browseabout’s signature murals

What could be better: Coffee worthy of the Browseabout experience–though they claim the best lattes in town, trust me that there’s plenty of room for improvement.

2. Royal Treat: There are probably dozens of places to get ice cream in Rehoboth, but Royal Treat is by far my favorite. It feels like stepping back in time when you climb the steps of an old beach house and relax on the porch with a hand-dipped milkshake while fancy ceiling fans keep you gently cool. In the mornings the fare shifts to breakfast, with local teenagers serving up platters of french toast and bacon.

Royal Treat rehoboth beach ice cream parlor

Royal Treat, Wilmington Avenue

Rehoboth Beach Royal Treat ice cream parlor

Milkshake on the porch, Royal Treat

Signature touch: A big ceramic crock of ice water that my friend calls….

Royal Treat Rehoboth Beach ice cream parlors

….”the best water in the world.”

What could be better: “Cash only” also feels like stepping back in time.

3. Dogfish Head Brewings and Eats: This outstanding craft brewery founded by the charismatic and visionary Sam Calagione is garnering increasing fame–for good reason–but it all started here, and it remains a decidedly local (if no longer exactly small) business. More than 15 years ago, we took a chance on their recently opened brewpub at the northern tip of Rehoboth Avenue to host our rehearsal dinner, and it turned out to be the ideal spot for a laid-back, memorable gathering. Dogfish Head is one of my gold standards for amazing word-of-mouth marketing (led by my childhood friend Mariah Draper Calagione), and it deserves a post of its own, but this place is the real deal, with a rotating selection of handcrafted brews on tap, live music, and a walk-up window where you can pick up cool t-shirts or a growler of 90-Minute IPA or Festina Peche (my favorite).

Dogfish Head Rehoboth Beach brewpubs

Dogfish Head Brewpub, Rehoboth Avenue (by Bernt Rostad)

Signature touch: Creative, conceptual concoctions like Raison d’Etre and Palo Santo Marron.

Dogfish Head Rehoboth Beach brewpubs beer

Flight of Dogfish Head beers (by Bernt Rostad)

What could be better: I might be spoiled by Georgetown Brewery in Seattle, but the growlers seem on the pricey side compared to the bottled beer.

4. Funland: A trip to Rehoboth Beach without a visit to Funland would be inconceivable. A handful of tickets can score you a ride on the classic bumper cars, the whirling teacups, or the Ferris-wheel-like Paratrooper, which offers a peek at the ocean at the top. A true rite of passage is to strap your tiny ones into the floating toy boats–the very same ones my dad rode when he was small–and take about a hundred pictures as they circle around, pulling on little ropes to ring the bells that crown the bow of each boat. You can squeeze into an old-school photo booth or plunk down some coins for a game of Whac-a-Mole or Skeeball. It’s a happy din of pure, perfect boardwalk magic.

Funland Rehoboth Beach

Funland, Rehoboth Beach boardwalk

Funland Rehoboth Beach boardwalk Paratrooper

Up high on the Paratrooper, Funland

Signature touches: The iconic green tickets, still a bargain.

Rehoboth Beach Funland Toy Boats

Riding the boats, Funland

What could be better: Some of the rides and games could use a (gentle) facelift, though I appreciate that so many of the originals remain intact.

5. Grotto Pizza: Anyone who has visited Delaware knows there’s nothing small about this business, but it certainly started out that way. What began as two brothers from Pennsylvania selling slices out of a tiny window has bloomed into a vast empire of shiny family-friendly pizza factories. I have vivid childhood memories of the original Grotto on Rehoboth Avenue–a dimly lit corridor of vinyl booths–and as a teenager l I took a turn in the kitchen as a “pie writer,” hand-writing each order on a clipboard placed carefully in the cooks’ line of vision so they could crank out pizzas without interruption. Now I love sharing “the legendary taste” with my family in the pleasant open-air side patio.

Grotto Pizza Rehoboth Beach

Grotto Pizza, Rehoboth Avenue (by M.V. Jantsen)

Signature touches: The bright-tasting sauce is applied over the cheese in a distinctive spiral pattern. Also, balloons for the kids.

Grotto Pizza Rehoboth Beach

Sacked out after a satisfying meal (by Dom Pulieri, Grotto Pizza founder)

What could be better: Keeping the ever-sprawling menu in control (breakfast pizza?).

Stay tuned for five more favorites…and in the meantime, I’ll keep dreaming about opening the ultimate Rehoboth Beach coffee shop.

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Brandcrush: Glassybaby Shines

I remember distinctly when the glassybaby sign first appeared on a corner in Madrona, in 2003. I strolled in one day with my infant daughter, expecting cute onesies and maybe Scandinavian toys, and was surprised to find myself in a tiny gallery lined with shelves of colorful glass candleholders. I’ll confess that my first impression wasn’t overwhelmingly positive; I just couldn’t get my head around a store full of fancy $40 candleholders. But this brand has since grown on me like a cozy, flickering fire, and I’ve discovered that there’s quite a bit more to the story.

Image

Here are five reasons why I admire this exquisite brand.

  1. Powerful story: I believe there is nothing like an authentic, memorable founding story to anchor a brand and give it emotional power and richness. Glassybaby’s is one of the best I’ve come across. Its founder, Lee Rhodes, found peace in the colorful vessels as she battled a rare form of lung cancer while raising three young children. As described on the glassybaby website, “She had endured surgery, countless rounds of chemotherapy, and was searching for a few moments of serenity to escape the fear that encompassed her life. Lee filled [the glassybabys] with tea lights and scattered them throughout her home. She found great hope and healing in their color, light, and love.” One especially lovely thing about glassybaby is that each purchase, each gift, becomes its own story as you select exactly the right shade, and name, for the occasion. On Mother’s Day, I chose baby, a pale peachy hue I know will look perfect in my mom’s beach house, and red, red happiness for my mother-in-law.
  2. Craftsmanship: Each glassybaby is handmade by artisans in the Madrona hotshop–in fact, you can peek in and see them at work on any given day. The high quality is evident in the heft and stunning color of each unique piece. I love that they have been able to continue manufacturing locally even as they’ve scaled up to supply new shops around Seattle and in New York. The obvious care and craft makes each glassybaby feel that much more special.

    glassybaby

    glassybabys by greenplasticamy

  3. Generosity: Since 2003, Glassybaby has donated more than $900,000 to charities dedicated to health, healing, and quality of life. In each collection, several glassybabys are offered to benefit specific organizations that align with the company’s mission. I was surprised to see a prominent glassybaby presence at a recent Seattle Sounders Women match, but it all made sense when I read more about the partnership behind it to “kick cancer.” This deep commitment to worthy causes–in a way that authentically supports the brand’s roots–adds meaning and grounding to what might otherwise be perceived as a style-focused brand. Another generous (and all too rare) detail that stands out is free everyday shipping from their online shop.
  4. Focus: It takes incredible focus and discipline to do one thing and do it well. Pressures from retailers, media, and investors to deliver something new can be intense, but I’ve observed too many brands spin out from their centers as they rush to expand with new products, lines, and categories. There is a compelling purity and simplicity to a glassybaby shop that I believe amplifies the deep power of the brand.

    glassybaby

    glassybaby colors by mariusstrom

  5. Courage: I have a soft spot for companies that play by their own rules, and I love this quote from Lee Rhodes: “Even with my early success, I can’t tell you how many people told me that my product and my company wouldn’t work.  Many doubted that I could hand-make a product in the USA; others doubted that I could be successful with a single product; still others questioned my decision to give a portion of revenue away.  All of these people underestimated the power of color and light.  I knew I had something special because you can’t help but look at a glassybaby and feel something.”

For me, glassybaby is a model for brand cohesion. The powerful story at the core shapes everything, from how the product is made to the causes the company supports, and the effect is a warm, sustaining glow. What memorable details can your brand’s founding story inspire?

Brandcrush: Molly Moon’s Gets the “Offline Event” Badge!

Molly Moon's Homemade Ice Cream, Seattle

I could make a list of 100 things Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream has done right in terms of word-of-mouth marketing, really from the moment they opened. Their stylish scoop shops are loaded with talkable details like the irresistible smell of fresh waffle cones baking, a strategically placed low window where toddlers can peek in to see the ice cream being made, and smartly designed posters showing all the wholesome, local sources of their ingredients.

Molly Moon's Ice Cream Trade Map Local

Molly Moon's Trade Map

Of course, Molly Moon’s also makes seriously kick-ass ice cream with inventive, memorable flavors like Salted Caramel and Honey Lavender that get people literally lining up around the block on Seattle summer days — which, of course, drives interest and gets even more people lining up — you get the picture.

Today I saw a Tweet that Molly Moon’s was offering free scoops of one of their signature flavors, Scout Mint, in honor of the 100th Anniversary of the Girl Scouts. It happens to be about 40 degrees and pouring — certainly not a day that would normally make me think “ice cream.” But this sounded so fun and compelling that I surprised the kids with an after-school stop. Here are five things I loved about this inspired event.

Molly Moon's honors Girl Scout Anniversary

Happy 100th Anniversary, Girl Scouts!

  1. It was generous. Not 20% off Scout Mint. Not buy one get one free. Not free scoops for Girls Scouts in uniform (which would have been perfectly awesome). Free scoops of Scout Mint. Period. No questions asked.
  2. No huh? moment. You know what I mean. You hear about a special promotion, you go into the store, and the person at the counter has no idea what you are talking about. Or you bring in a coupon and you have to wait hopefully while the manager scrutinizes it to make sure you’re not trying to rip them off. The guy serving up the free scoops at Molly Moon’s was just straight-up awesome. He patiently gave out tastes and served up dozens of free scoops with gusto. He made the whole event feel fun, which, of course, is exactly how it should feel.
  3. It felt celebratory. There was a seriously festive vibe going on. The whole store was decked out with artful arrangements of Thin Mints boxes. A local Girl Scout troop was camped out at the entrance gamely selling boxes of cookies in the rain. Another troop had come in for scoops in full regalia. As they left, they called out, “Thank you, Molly Moon’s,” and the cool scoop guy called back cheerfully, “Thank you, Girl Scouts!”  It made me love my neighborhood and, of course, love Molly Moon’s for being part of it.
  4. It was disruptive (in a good way). When was the last time I took my kids spontaneously for ice cream on a Monday afternoon? Hmm. Maybe never. There was something about going at an unusual time that made it feel extraordinarily fun and memorable. Will I do it again? Probably. Where will I take them? That’s pretty easy.
  5. It was authentic. For me, this is a big one. Molly Moon herself was a Girl Scout, and she has honored that with her unique Scout Mint flavor. There is a real reason for Molly Moon’s to be celebrating Girl Scout Day; it wasn’t forced or opportunistic. It was from the heart.
Artful Thin Mint display on Girl Scout Day at Molly Moons

Those who follow word-of-mouth marketing best practices know well how important it is to have offline events in the mix, but I think Molly Moon’s gets a badge for this one: a sweet, simple, smart concept, perfectly executed. Thanks for those free scoops, Molly Moon’s! We’ll be back.

Brandcrush: PEMCO Gets It!

Over the past year I have had the excellent good fortune to get to know Rod Brooks, VP and CMO of PEMCO, through various word-of-mouth marketing events. It’s difficult to imagine a warmer, more authentic, more visionary leader for such a warm, authentic, visionary brand. I have heard Rod speak 3 or 4 times now, and each time, I feel more compelled to stand up and cheer and clap and say “YES! This is how it should BE!” I am continually inspired by the bold, consumer-focused marketing he and his team are doing at PEMCO.

Rod Brooks, CMO of PEMCO

Rod Brooks, PEMCO CMO and Sounders Fan

Here are five things that PEMCO has nailed, from my perspective.

1. They had the excellent sense to realize that their customers really don’t want to talk about insurance. After all, as Rod points out, insurance is odd in that you spend a lot of money on something you hope to never use. But when PEMCO invested time in really listening to their customers, they discovered that they *did* want to talk about their homes, their habits, their neighbors, and what makes them unique. This critical insight helped PEMCO carve out both a competitive niche and a creative point of view, celebrating the quirky facets of local life through its Northwest Profiles campaign, which immortalizes local characters like “Ponytailed Software Geek” and “First Snowflake Freakout Lady” and proclaims “We’re a lot like you. A little different.”

2. They have had the courage to stick with this memorable, extensible campaign for several years. They introduce new profiles as needed to keep things fresh and support their expansion into new Northwest markets (most recently, “Flawless Firewood Stacker” and “Portland Food Cartlandian“), but they haven’t succumbed to the temptation to break out some flashy new campaign once or twice a year like so many brands do. As a result, the campaign itself has become a local touchstone with meaningful roots and street cred. PEMCO fans can create their own profiles, suggest new ones, and even make trading cards.

PEMCO Northwest Profiles on Metro buses

Seattle Buses Adorned with PEMCO Northwest Profiles

3. They are truly committed to hearing and being led by the voice of the customer. Rod’s last presentation opened with a quote from a customer that said simply, “PEMCO gets it!” I frequently pull consumer quotes for inspiration in my work, and this one is a gem–crisp, memorable, and broadly applicable. Rod told me that they begin every executive meeting at PEMCO with a real customer story. I can’t think of any business that wouldn’t benefit from such a simple, focusing practice.

4. They have one of the most elegant and inspiring mission statements I’ve ever heard: “We enable and protect the dreams of responsible Northwest people.” Early on, they made the strategic decision to focus on “preferred-risk” policyholders in the Pacific Northwest–and this clarity about both their audience and their offering helps them stand out from the competition with a local angle and a distinctive voice.

5. They don’t just say they are local; they live and breathe it, supporting and participating in the Northwest community in enthusiastic and fun ways. They host a running pre-game foosball tournament at Sounders FC games. They hand out soup and coffee at the Polar Plunge in Eugene and show up at the Northwest Center with their WALLY (short for “We’re A Lot Like You”) van stuffed with 920 pounds of clothing donated by PEMCO employees.

PEMCO hosts the Foos Cup before Sounders FC games

PEMCO Foos Cup at a Sounders FC Game

If PEMCO can make insurance this fun and talkable, really, there’s an angle in for any product, category, or brand.

You can (and should) follow Rod Brooks on Twitter and read more at his personal blog,  as well as the PEMCO blog.