Walking into Del’s Grill, 934 Boardwalk, there’s a lot to look at. There used to be Miss New Jersey pictures as soon as you went in the door. There was an Anchorage Tavern shirt in a glass box that once hung before the box went crashing to the ground with a sudden gust of wind. Throughout Del’s are old pictures that tell the history of the 55 year old oceanside restaurant. There’s even a framed spatula amongst the pictures. Signs are speckled all across the walls.
The back left wall tells a very different story. It’s coated in Key West memorabilia – two swordfish and a Sloppy Joe’s sign among other pieces. Joe Del lived there- Key West is part of his story.
Though Del’s story is still being written, in 2015, the main character changed. The story is now focused on the woman behind the grill – Tracey Rooney.
As time ticks on, Tracey moves pieces around the walls. She’s starting to use them to tell her own story, which is an integral part of Del’s history.
She’s worked there since 1992.
Del’s first began in 1954 in Audobon. In 1965, Joe Del Sordo opened a second location in Ocean City. Joe, his son, took over the business until 2015, when Tracey bought Del’s Grill.
She knew she wanted to own a restaurant, but she never thought it would be Del’s.
“I love it. I’m very thankful for the opportunity I have. I love where I am. I love what I do. It’s worth the sacrifice, most of the time,” Tracey said with a laugh.
Originally from Philly, Tracey started working at Del’s in high school.
“My parents had a summer house in Upper Township. I think they bought it when I was in 5th or 6th grade. Every year, we spent the summer here. My cousin Karen is married to Joe, so that’s how me, both my sisters, and my cousin all lived here in the summers and we all worked here,” she explained.
Tracey has a business degree from Millersville University and was able to count her work at Del’s as her internship.
She met her husband Justin there, too.
“Justin’s dad and Joe went to school together. They knew each other. When Justin was 14 or 15, he and his dad came up and talked to Joe and Joe gave him a job. Justin worked here for probably ten years. I thought he was crazy funny. He was goofy. He drove Joe nuts, but I thought it was cute,” Tracey said.
Tracey’s son, Will, also works at Del’s.
After you’ve been to Del’s many times, you start to see patterns. Joyce from the mini golf course near Del’s comes over to say hi and picks up her meal.
You pick your favorite booth after a while- mine is either booth four or five, close enough to be able to people watch but also able to watch the kitchen from between the slats of the counter and the condiments. Waitresses hustle past and stand on their tiptoes to see if their table’s food is up. Tracey calls through the kitchen to the regulars.
“We have a lot of [employees] who have stayed with us year after year, which is incredible. Everyone here has a story connecting them to Del’s, which is also cool. It’s very rare that we have people who work here that don’t somehow have some kind of connection to us. We have so many siblings, which is nice. It makes for a better work environment when people get along and work well together.”
This year looked different from most in terms of the amount of staff she needed.
“I get applications starting in January. I think it’s still cool to work on the Boardwalk. It’s a cool environment to look out at the beach. We’re lucky in that respect….Typically, I have eight people basically running the floor. This year, the most I had was two.” Tracey amended, “Well, at one point I had three to help with phones and curbside pickup.”
It was a hard summer for them, understandably so.
“There were days that my payroll exceeded what I did,” Tracey said. “It’s high real estate being on the Boardwalk.”
With good service comes good customers. Tracey has seen them return year after year.
“We have people who eat here every single day of the week they are on vacation and we’re so appreciative. Through the years we’ve gotten to know so many people. I’ve become friends with people, I’ve gone to their house. I see it with the girls I have now. It’s nice when you know the people.”
Del’s menu has grown from sandwiches to now include salads as well as seafood. At one point in time, they had a counter.
“There were stools. There were four down there, two here[near the front].”
Besides that, not much has changed.
“We’ve painted the walls. We haven’t done much because I think people like that it’s been the same.”
It works for them. Many people call Del’s home and wouldn’t want it to be any other way.
“You know, it’s funny. I had a guy in here maybe three weeks ago and he took a picture of himself outside and he came in and said, “I just called a relative to tell them that we were at Del’s. We haven’t been here since the ’80s and it seems exactly the same. It’s like going home.”