Thanks to Delaware’s growing oyster industry, the water off Delaware beaches “has been unbelievably clean” in recent years, a prominent coastal restaurateur says.
Jeff Hamer, owner of Fins Hospitality Group, credits the restoration of the state’s oyster beds, because each oyster filters 30 to 40 gallons of water around it each day.
That’s made for beautiful trips on the water, more plentiful bait and other fish, and views he believes are in danger because of plans to put what he considers needless wind farms eight miles off shore.
The wind farms were one of the topics Hamer touched on Thursday during a wide-ranging online chat with Caesar Rodney Institute‘s Charlie Copeland, director of its Center for Analysis of Delaware’s Economy & Government Spending.
Much of the discussion revolved around government practices that Hamer said are hurting businesses and threatening Delaware’s economy. While the institute maintains it is bipartisan, the positions it espouses are conservative.
The institute hopes to make the online chat a routine offering, Copeland said.
Among the topics they discussed were wind farms, Delaware’s new Family and Medical Leave Act, the federal and national focus on alternative energy, crime and safety.
Hamer, who grew up as one of 11 kids in Baltimore, said he learned his work ethic from his father, who always had a job and a side job to support the family.
“He said you want to get ahead, you work and you educate yourself,” Hamer recalled.
His own first job was bussing tables and washing dishes at a Polynesian restaurant. His co-workers included immigrants from Vietnam and Cambodia, who told him their stories about leaving their countries after the Vietnam war and how hard it was to work their way to the United States.
“They were so happy to be in America,” he said.
He had intended at one point to head to New York and Wall Street, preferably in mergers and acquisitions.
“I figured I grew up poor. one of 11, and I’ve had a job since I was 12 and a half years old, so I knew I could outwork anybody on Wall Street,” he said.
Hamer and Fins
Then his relationship blew up and, instead, he headed to Rehoboth, where he bought a small sandwich and ice cream shop named Arena’s.
It was doing about $100,000 worth of business a year selling $6 sandwiches and $4 beers. When he sold it to his employees in 2005, it was making $2.5 million a year.
By then he was married and had small children and wanted a job that would let him be home more at night.
The last year he owned Arena’s, he had gone to Lahaina on Maui — the community devastated by the recent wildfires — and was captivated by one of the restaurants. It had fish on the walls and he was told he could order any of the fish and they would be cooked however he preferred.
That led to him founding Fins Fish House and Raw Bar and ultimately to Fins Hospitality Group’s expanding number of restaurants.
Hamer said many government policies are confusing and penalize businesses and the environment in ways the government won’t acknowledge.
While cleaning up the Delaware Bay is an issue that both right and left can agree on, Hamer believes that the wind farm’s 1,000-foot tall turbines — the height of the Chrysler building, he pointed out — will harm the bay and do more than spoil the view.
The process will kill and disturb aquatic life while the seabed is being surveyed and the farms built, as well as after they are installed, he said.
Hamer said businesses are confused about how the state’s new Family and Medical Leave Act will work and who is paying for what.
It requires both employees and businesses to pay into the system for a year before it opens and will offer a wide range of reasons that employees can take paid leave for up to 12 weeks each year.
He felt like the program penalized companies that already had leave plans in place for their workers.
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Hamer said some of the unintended consequences of alternative energy sources include much higher costs for businesses and individuals to use those things. He mentioned having to replace a motor that works well with with seven pounds of gasoline versus a 35-pound battery.
Another example, he said, was the propane tanks he now is forced to use. They rust quickly in the environment of a restaurant and require frequent replacement, not an environmentally friendly idea.
One of the big problems with government, Hamer said, is that so many people who work for it or are elected representatives never have owned a business, had to figure out budgets or how to find the money to expand a business or make financial decisions about replacing something you didn’t plan to replace.
Many elected officials have worked for nonprofits or the government, he said.
At the same time, Hamer praised local officials.
While he lives in Republican-dominated Sussex County, he said both Republican and Democrat officials there are approachable, including former Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf, a Democrat from Rehoboth.
He has asked Schwartzkopf to look into things and seen Schwartkopf take action over it.
There are definitely topics they see from opposite sides of the fence, Hamer said, “But it’s nice that you can sit down with them and have a reasonable conversation.”
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience.
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