WILMINGTON – “I’m nervous – and excited,” Rachel McGhinnis revealed Tuesday, five hours before her first dinner service at The Little Dipper. “I’ve been a freight train engineer, I’ve been an underground miner, but I’ve never been a restaurateur.”
McGhinnis and her husband, Jason, received the keys Monday to 138 S. Front St. They bought the 17-year-old fondue restaurant from Pete and Kristen Gruodis, which oversaw nearly two decades of growth and expansion.
“This is definitely a bittersweet moment for us,” Kristen Gruodis said in a press release issued by MoMentum Companies, which oversaw the business transaction.
The Gruodis want to spend more time with their children, according to the release: “We like to say [selling the restaurant] was much like raising a child who is now ready to leave on his own. While we focus on our young family at home, we are happy to hand over the company to a fantastic couple. ”
McGhinnises found the business for sale, marked as confidential, in a classified listing earlier this year. “The ad said something similar it had been establishing since 2005,” said Rachel McGhinnis. “I started google what year downtown restaurants opened in Wilmington.”
She and her husband suspected, and even hoped, that it would be The Little Dipper. Both are foodies and have frequented the business since moving to the city (Rachel over a decade ago and Jason six years ago). When they signed a confidentiality agreement and found out that their suspicions were true, both did not hesitate to make the investment.
“We love that place – great location, great reputation, well established,” McGhinnis said.
Only one of the two McGhinnises has restaurant experience, yet they bring to the table combined knowledge of marketing and understanding of processes that successful businesses run.
“I was the manager of a restaurant in my 20s,” McGhinnis said, though she has worked for Alcami for the past decade. She will oversee The Daily Dipper’s day-to-day operations as she shifts away from the pharmaceutical industry until her replacement is hired.
Her husband will continue to work as an engineer for ThermoFisher and run his own marketing company while working behind the scenes at the restaurant. Tuesday night, both will perform for the first time on the floor.
“I want to follow the CEO, he wants to be in the kitchen,” McGhinnis said.
Getting to know their 25 employees and countless customers are the first steps to getting used to the new company, McGhinnis said. They retain all staff and hope to add five or more in the coming months. The recent restaurateurs plan to add benefits, such as profit sharing, paid days off, including birthdays, for part-time and full-time employees and cover the cost of training programs, such as culinary classes, bartending school or wine tasting opportunities. They will also pay for downtown parking fees and uniforms for their employees.
“We would love to give them full benefits,” McGhinnis said. “We can not afford it right now, but we are looking at the long term.”
She encourages open dialogue with servers, bartenders, kitchen staff and managers to find out what works and what could be used for improvement. The plan is to set monthly sales targets so staff can see for themselves how they can make more money.
“I want them to feel like they have a chance at a career instead of just a job,” McGhinnis said.
An updated look is also coming to the eatery. The couple has been working with Big Sky Design to bring a “whimsical steampunk” vibe to the space. McGhinnis described darker colors, more constellations, and stars with some Victorian elements.
Renovation will take place on Mondays when The Little Dipper is closed and during the day before the restaurant opens for dinner.
“We’re taking small steps,” McGhinnis said, though she also plans to open on Monday at the end.
As for the menu, The Little Dipper remains the favorites. If anything, the new owners hope to bring additions – primarily vegan options, including milk-free “cheese.”
“We also want to serve raclette,” McGhinnis said. “It’s basically a giant wheel of cheese that you melt and then scrape it off on the plate.”
More appetizers and snacks from Switzerland, the birthplace of fondue, will be added. McGhinnis imagines these things are especially popular on the restaurant’s outdoor deck, which they hope to be able to use more with live music.
“The little bucket is not just for dinner,” she said.
After dinner service, from kl. 22:00 to midnight, McGhinnis wants to roll out a “super cocktail cocktail hour” that highlights special drinks and focuses on flair-bartending.
“More like works of art versus just, you know, your dinner cocktails,” she said.
Lunch and brunch follow, with a focus on dipping food: sandwiches and soups, biscuits and gravy or pancakes and syrups.
“We have so many ideas, we really need to start putting them together,” McGhinnis said.
The Little Dipper is open for dinner at 17:00 Tuesday to Friday and at 16.00 on weekends.
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