Governor’s Cafe expansion plans heating up



Governor’s Cafe general manager Ray Searles is looking forward to the expanded kitchen space  that will allow the cafe to offer a larger menu selection. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

DOVER —It’s amazing that the Governor’s Café has been able to operate a successful restaurant with a kitchen that is traditionally sized for a single family.

That’s why Ray Searles, the general manager of the restaurant at 144 Kings Highway, was so excited after the city of Dover Planning Commission approved his plans to expand his kitchen space at its meeting on Feb. 20.

Finally, his cooks will be able to have a little bit of elbow room and will be able to expand the options on their menu.

“We’re going to be doing a lot of cooking,” Mr. Searles said. “Everything in our kitchen right now is electric. With our menu we do an awesome job with what we have. Our menu is decent for what it is, but it focuses mainly on sandwiches.

“We can do crab cakes and things, but we can’t do French fries. We can’t do wings. We can’t do steak or a burger. We’ve known this all along and we deal with that and even our regulars have said to us, ‘Hey, we’d come up there a little more often if we could get a plate of wings.’”

That, and many other dining options, will soon be possible after the building’s owner Jody Cahall, who also owns Cahall Construction in Denton, Maryland, completes the one-story, 344-square-foot addition.

“Jody Cahall loves this building and he looked at me and said, ‘Ray, I’m a builder. I’ll come in here and I’ll build this kitchen because I want you to be successful and I want you to be here for a long time,’” said Mr. Searles. “We’re hoping to change our image from just a sandwich shop so that people think of us for a burger or a steak or wings.”

The addition to the building will be covered in a light-colored horizontal siding on the northern and western facades and the base will be clad in a red brick veneer to match the existing brick of the building.

The addition to the kitchen on the historical building will match the existing architecture. The house is listed as the Leason House on the National Register of Historic Places. It was built in 1857 with a tower addition in 1885. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

There will also be a flat roof with a new parapet to match the existing architecture of the building as well as a set of concrete steps with black aluminum railing leading to a new six-panel door, in the same light color of the siding.

Going hand-in-hand with the expansion, the Planning Commission also approved the Governor’s Café’s plans to erect a “special events tent” with seating for 56 people, as well as 24 other seats outside the designated tent area for special events around an existing fountain on the restaurant’s grounds.

The special-event space will only be erected on Saturdays during business hours for things such as weddings and would be dismantled at the end of the day when no longer needed.

“I’m looking forward to that, especially with the expanded kitchen,” Mr. Searles said. “Before, when we were looking at that, we would have had to off-site cater all the food. There’s no way you can cook for 300 people back there. That will be possible now.”

The Governor’s Café’s new expanded kitchen will include a six-burner stove with a salamander broiler on top for melting cheese, a grill to cook burgers and steaks on, a pair of fryers for fried foods, an Alto Sham which cooks by steam and a couple of walk-in freezers.

Mr. Searles laughs when he sees the reaction to other cooks when they peep into his current kitchen.

“During Firefly (Music Festival) we get a lot of the professional chefs that travel with the bands and come from all around,” he said. “In fact, I had a couple of ladies from the Red Hot Chili Peppers come in, one’s a French cook and one’s a vegetarian/health cook.

“They both cook for those guys, but one of them came back here and looked at our kitchen and was like, ‘Oh my gosh, you do all of this out of there? That’s quite a challenge.’”

Mr. Searles said that even with his upcoming expanded menu he plans on keeping the laid-back, casual vibe that his café has become known for. It will also soon feature low-level music on the deck.

He doesn’t plan on increasing the businesses’ hours, but he does plan on adding to the kitchen staff. The café will remain open while the expansion is taking place.

The expansion faced tight scrutiny since the building is in the city’s Historic District and is located on the Heritage Trail, directly across the street from the Governor’s Mansion.

The house is listed as the Leason House on the National Register of Historic Places. The house was built in 1857 with a tower addition in 1885.

“It’s a historical building, so you’re kind of stuck with what you can do,” Mr. Searles said. “Was I surprised that we got approved? Yeah. I’ve got to be honest, but everything we’ve told them that we’re going to do we’ve done and adhered to.

“We don’t have police problems here. We’re not a place that’s trying to have bunch of people drinking booze and getting crazy. That’s not what we do.”

What the Governor’s Café does is make tasty sandwiches — and soon many other dining options.

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