It was 6 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 28, in Newark. Most college students were still snug in their beds, but a line had formed in front of 145 E. Main St.
No, Taylor Swift was not in town to sign autographs. It was the grand opening of Helen’s Sausage House, and the queue was about meat, not music.
Picture sizzling bacon, crips scrapple, glistening pork chops on white bread, ham, fried bologna, steak and, of course, sausage.
Out-of-towners would have scratched their heads at all the hoopla. But a Delawarean will understand.
The original Helen’s Sausage House at 4866 N. du Pont Highway in Smyrna is a First State landmark with a culinary cult following. Indeed, the roadside stop once made headlines in Gourmet Magazine.
So why did it take 40 years to open a second? Why Newark?
We turned to Clifford J. Murphy III for answers about the family-owned restaurant.
Early hours and Elvis
Helen Achenbach, a Wilmington native, and her husband, Melvin (Mudge), opened Helen’s Sausage House on Route 13 in 1983.
The couple weren’t new to the hospitality business—far from it.
Helen had been a seasoned server since her teens, and the Achenbachs previously owned a Wilmington bar, Ackie’s Café, with Mudge’s brother, Ernest “Ackie” Achenbach.
Helen’s opened at 4 a.m. to serve hunters, fishermen and truckers who traveled down Route 13 before the Route 1 bypass was built. The staff grilled with fast-food-style precision, and lines moved quickly, which appealed to tour bus companies.
The Achenbachs were crazy about Elvis Presley and decorated the restaurant with artful tributes to the King. Helen referred to the main dining room as the “Elvis Room,” and she collected so much ephemera that the restaurant couldn’t hold it all.
When Helen died in September 2023, Elvis Presley tunes were playing by her bedside, according to her obituary.
Changing of the guard at Helen’s
Mudge was Helen’s second husband. The first was Clifford J. Murphy, with whom she had two children, Diane and Clifford J. “Butch” Murphy.
Butch began managing the restaurant in the 1990s. “She would still pop in from time to time to tell him he was doing something wrong,” said Butch’s son, Clifford Murphy III.
The family helped run the restaurant, with Helen’s sister, Joan, for instance, became a familiar face. Clifford’s cousins, Richard and Kimberly, were also on hand.
When Helen died, Clifford told his dad he wanted to run the restaurant and open another location. Since the younger Murphy lived in Newark and is a Newark High School graduate, he looked for a site in his backyard.
“It’s the right mix of townies, students and Smyrna customers who don’t want to drive that far,” he explained.
The new Helen’s Sausage House is in the old Post House, which opened in 1957 to serve students, faculty and early risers craving eggs, sausage and scrapple before work.
The brick eatery closed in 2012 to make way for a grilled cheese shop, followed by Duck Donuts.
The same but different
The new Helen’s will serve breakfast and lunch from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. every day except Sunday. The original restaurant will stick to a 4 a.m. wake-up call.
“Once I get my [Newark] crew settled in and trained, we’re going to have some late-night hours on Thursdays through Saturdays,” Clifford says. “People leaving the bars will be hungry.”
The Newark site accepts credit cards, while Smyrna is still a cash-only operation.
Partly, that’s because the original restaurant makes money off the ATM, Clifford notes. However, he plans to add a point-of-sale system that can handle credit cards.
As for the menu, there are no plans to add avocado toast to attract health-minded college students.
“That’s not who we are,” Clifford said. “Our most popular item is still sausage, whether with egg and cheese or peppers and onions. Pork chops have also sold well because of their size. They are attention-getting.”
If Clifford has his way, a Helen’s Sausage House will eventually be in Sussex County. But that’s far in the future.
“I’m too broke and too tired right now,” acknowledged the restaurateur, who’s worked the grill since opening. “For right not, we’re going to hold tight.”
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