Atlantic Social restaurant opens in Rehoboth Beach

Atlantic Social owners, Derek Fink, left, and Zach Diogo stand in the dining room of their new restaurant in Rehoboth Beach. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

REHOBOTH BEACH — A newly opened restaurant and bar off Del. 1 won’t let a global pandemic cramp their style. Atlantic Social is now open to those looking for a seafood eatery with fruity frozen drinks and an Instagram-friendly interior.

Co-owner Zach Diogo boasts of the Rehoboth Beach restaurant’s unique menu, with East Coast-inspired entrées and a colorful drink selection.

“What we’ve done with our menu is we’ve taken some East Coast favorites, whether it’s the Chesapeake lobster roll, the Maryland seafood steamer, or the Philly cheesesteak. We’ve put a little twist on them, a more modern touch,” Mr. Diogo said.

The two co-owners of Atlantic Social, Derek Fink and Zach Diogo, met working at their other business venture in town, Blackwall Hitch. Yet the two restaurants could not be more different, according to Mr. Fink. Atlantic Social is trademarked by its crisp lines, beachy white and blue accents, while Blackwall Hitch is elegantly dark, with black paneling and marble surfaces.

“They’re polar opposites,” Mr. Fink said “It was meant to be that way. Blackwall Hitch is a very cool concept, but I think when you go to the beach, you’re looking for something much different than that dark, polished slate, and that type of stuff.”

Mr. Diogo said they wanted to create a high-quality seafood menu which would be inviting to a wide audience, no matter their price range.

“We want people to feel like no matter what the issues are at home, when you walk in, the airy white space is fun and inviting, and you’re gonna leave feeling the same way because of our approachable menu and our price point,” Mr. Diogo said.

Atlantic Social opened June 30, but not without facing challenges. COVID-19 has crippled many locally owned businesses, and as a result, new restaurants opening in town have been few and far between this summer.

Mr. Fink said by the time COVID-19 began to reshape the economy, they were already in the late stages of remodeling the lot which used to be occupied by a Ruby Tuesday restaurant.

“We’d been working together for almost four years at that point, and were looking to expand business. Then all of a sudden, what we thought was the perfect location just opened up,” Mr. Fink said.

“We were way along the road with this by the time 2020 started. We had signed the lease, hired an architect, a designer. We were rolling by then, and then a pandemic hit.”

Atlantic Social restaurant is in the building formerly occupied by Ruby Tuesday on Del. 1 in Rehoboth Beach.

Some of the challenges they’ve faced while opening is struggling to hire enough employees and pushing back opening by a month due to vendor delays. With the lack of J1 visa workers and delayed vendors across all departments, these are struggles echoed by many small businesses since COVID-19.

“[COVID-19] completely wreaked havoc on the entire industry, specifically with restaurants. It’s affected us in several ways,” Mr. Fink said. “It’s just been a lot of issues all around, and a lot of these issues aren’t specific to Atlantic Social, it’s something the entire industry is dealing with. That certainly makes it a lot more complicated when you’re trying to get open for the first time.”

Both owners said Atlantic Social is following all state-mandated health precautions, such as spacing tables properly and frequently sanitizing surfaces. Additionally, they encourage customers seeking healthy air filtration to sit in their hybrid indoor-outdoor patio with fully retractable windows.

The “social” aspect of Atlantic Social looks quite different from what was originally envisioned for the restaurant, at least for the time being while COVID-19 persists. The U-shaped bar at the center of the restaurant is closed to seating, and they are limited to allowing 134 people in the building at a time.

One way the restaurant maintains its “social” reputation is through its social media marketability. Mr. Diogo said they designed everything in the restaurant to be as photogenic as possible, so customers may feel inclined to snap pictures for their Instagram.

“Everything was based off social media, down to our plateware, our cocktail menus and our garnishes. I think we’ve put a lot of thought into what we wanted this to look like, and with the pandemic we still want to be everywhere on social media,” Mr. Diogo said.

Returning customer Brooke Bennett of Wilmington said the ‘fresh and bright’ atmosphere of Atlantic Social is one of the best she’s seen in Rehoboth Beach.

“The menu is great, especially the drink menu is super creative and unique, and the service is excellent. And, above everything else, the atmosphere was just super chic and photo-worthy,” Ms. Bennett said. “I love the atmosphere, it’s nothing like anything else I’ve experienced in Rehoboth. I definitely like a good atmosphere, it was very fresh and bright, just a new approach.”

Atlantic Social owners Derek Fink and Zach Diogo, above, also run Blackwall Hitch in Rehoboth Beach.Atlantic Social owners Derek Fink and Zach Diogo, above, also run Blackwall Hitch in Rehoboth Beach.

Atlantic Social hopes to continue fulfilling their goal of creating a social, energetic environment for gatherings as the year continues and state business restrictions lifts. Mr. Diogo said he looks forward to bringing live music to the restaurant and eventually opening bar seating- with state permission of course.

Mr. Fink said he also looks forward to opening the bar and letting more people through their doors.

“This will be worth it in the long run. We’re able to employ a lot of really good people right now, and that’s very encouraging for us,” Mr. Fink said.

“In a lot of ways we’re doing a lot of good things, this is just not exactly the summer we anticipated. It wasn’t the summer we had on paper that’s for sure. We’re hopeful that as time goes on though, we’ll get a little bit closer to what the old norm was. And hopefully by August, we’ll see our bar open and that’ll be a game changer for us.”

Atlantic Social is at 19340 Lighthouse Plaza.

Diners can make reservations at Atlantic Social on their website, theAtlanticSocial.com, or by calling (302) 212-5319.