Cooking up business: Tomeka’s HomeStyle Eatery on way to downtown Dover

Tomeka Crawford, owner of Tomeka’s HomeStyle Eatery, is congratulated by Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen for being awarded an EDGE Grant that will help her open a restaurant on Loockerman Street. Delaware State News/Mike Finney

DOVER — Tomeka Crawford has been cooking up deliciousness in the kitchen ever since she was 10 years old.

She never envisioned that she would get the opportunity to one day be making plans to open her own restaurant within the most historic shopping area in downtown Dover — the Loockerman Street corridor.

But Ms. Crawford is living her lifelong dream these days after her “Tomeka’s HomeStyle Eatery” was selected as one of 10 small businesses from across the state to receive a Delaware Division of Small Business EDGE (Encouraging Development, Growth and Expansion) Grant.

“It’s refreshing, a breath of fresh air, something that I never thought would be an opportunity and it’s like a dream come true,” Ms. Crawford said. “It seems like the foundation has started and it’s starting to grow now, like a seed that was planted that’s growing up and blossoming into something beautiful. I can really truly see the vision as it’s going to be.”

Tomeka’s HomeStyle Eatery was recognized Sept. 18 as one of the recipients of the first-ever EDGE Grants from the state Division of Small Business. Ms. Crawford’s business was one of five Entrepreneur Class businesses that received funding.

The Division of Small Business awarded the EDGE Grants through a competitive selection process among more than 140 applicants. Five winners in STEM-based companies and five in Entrepreneur Class were chosen after public presentations before a panel of judges on Aug. 13-14 at Delaware Technical and Community College in Dover.

STEM-based companies received up to $100,000 for eligible expenses while Entrepreneur Class businesses receive up to $50,000. The funds are provided as a $3 (state) to $1 (business) match.

Ms. Crawford will use her grant to help build a commercial kitchen in the downtown building she plans to use for her restaurant.

Tomeka’s HomeStyle Eatery will be open for business at 131 Loockerman Street within the next six months. It’s an important vacancy that will be filled downtown considering it’s at the busy corner of Loockerman Street and Governors Avenue.

omeka Crawford talks with Brynn Voshell, the administrative assistant/market manager for the Downtown Dover Partnership, about fulfilling her lifelong dream of opening up her own restaurant.

“It’s a very important corner for downtown and it’s very exciting to see a new use here,” said Diane Laird, executive director of the Downtown Dover Partnership (DDP). “I think it’s a perfect use for this space and a perfect candidate to run a business.

“We started a relationship with Tomeka during (DDP’s) ‘Unlock the Block’ last year and the property owner had another building that was in the list of properties, but when he met Tomeka and learned what she was looking for, this one came up, and he let her know about this one. So, we do believe we’re (the state and the city) kind of all in this mix together and are looking forward to this being a win-win for everyone as well.”

Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen was happy to hear of plans to bring another business to the city’s downtown area.

“This lady Ms. Tomeka is an outstanding lady,” Mayor Christiansen said. “She’s persevered in trying to get a place downtown. She believes in downtown the way that I believe and she’s going to be a great asset to the city. Now she’s not going to help my waistline, but I’m anxious to see her get opened up and become another part of our viable downtown.”

Ms. Crawford is no stranger to downtown Dover. She already sells her food at the Capital City Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays.

“Every time we’re at the market, it’s a sellout,” she said. “It’s something different, something unique. I have been cooking since I was 10 years old and I’m focused on my customers and making them happy.

“Through my years of cooking I’ve learned that food seems to make people happy and joyous. Even in happy occasions or sad occasions, people tend to have a very happy feeling when they have food and I specialize in quality homestyle food with a soul-food twist.”

She added, “I do chicken items, people love my macaroni and cheese, my iced tea. I have some specialty items, seafood items that people just love.”

Gov. John Carney said providing opportunities for small businesses is important to Delaware and the EDGE Grant helps such causes. The grant recipients represent a variety of industries, including agribusiness, medical devices, food services and apparel. They include woman-owned, minority-owned and veteran-owned businesses.

“Delaware is fortunate to have a vibrant small business community comprised of 25,000 companies that employ more than half of all Delaware workers,” Gov. Carney said. “Through these grants the State of Delaware is helping to support small business owners who take risks to realize their dreams of building companies from the ground up.”

Tomeka Crawford welcomes everybody in Dover to her new restaurant, Tomeka’s HomeStyle Eatery, when she opens her doors at the corner of Loockerman Street and Governors Avenue within the next six months.

For Ms. Crawford, it’s a chance to do business in a place that she said helped put her on the map as a person.

“I feel great,” she said. “This is an area that I’m very used to. I actually came here in the ’80s. I went to Wesley College and it was a great experience. This was my home away from home and I felt comfortable and secure here and I wanted to (bring) that right back to the city of Dover in opening a business here.”

Ms. Crawford promises her restaurant will be ready to serve up homestyle staples that will make people feel like they are in mom’s kitchen.

After all, Tomeka’s HomeStyle Eatery’s Facebook Page does proudly proclaim, “Where we serve LOVE on a plate.”

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