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The Story of Fifer’s Farm Kitchen

Serving unique needs and diverse clientele

Memorial Day Weekend is something of a New Year’s Day for many beach-area shops and restaurants. But few know how to work the seasons quite like the team at Fifer’s Farm Kitchen in Dewey Beach. The diminutive roadside eatery—part farm stand, part deli counter, part breakfast powerhouse—has quietly and steadily evolved into a summer beach staple. Starting life in 2008 as a southern outpost for the fresh fruits and veggies grown at the 105-year-old Fifer Orchards in Camden-Wyoming, it’s evolved to meet the unique needs of Dewey Beach and its diverse set of clientele—from the visiting families to the hungover partiers, the contractors, realtors, servers, and everyone in between. With local produce as its foundation, the Kitchen today serves breakfast and lunch sandwiches, baked goods, coffee, grab-and-go options, and a small-but-strategic selection of convenience items.

Convenience with a strong following

“It’s just all about convenience,” says general manager Connie Warren, a 10-year veteran of Fifer’s Farm Kitchen. “It’s a prime location here for so many people that can just walk, ride their bikes, skateboard, however they choose to get here. When we open up for the season, I have so many customers who say, “Oh, thank goodness you’re back.” Much like the farm from whence it came, the growth at Fifer’s Farm Kitchen happened gradually and organically. Fifer Orchards, which sits on 300-plus acres outside Dover in Camden-Wyoming, was founded by Charles Frederick Fifer in 1919. Over the generations, Fifer Orchards became known for more than just the delicious peaches, pears, apples, tomatoes, corn, asparagus, strawberries they grew. The site of countless community engagements—from farmer’s markets to u-pick produce, cooking demos and foodie festivals, weddings, fundraisers, and more—the family-owned farm became a Delaware agricultural icon. “Our family farm has been participating in the Lewes and Rehoboth Beach weekly farmers markets for 20-plus years, so we already had a strong following in the beach area,” says Michael Fennemore, one of the fourth generation of Fifer Orchards owners. “We were also delivering fresh fruits and vegetables to Sussex County schools and restaurants prior to our Dewey store opening. Since we were already making frequent deliveries to eastern Sussex County, it made sense to have a retail outlet there as well.” Fifer delivery trucks run from the Kent County farm to Sussex County almost every day from May through October, making Dewey a perfect landing spot for the freshest products straight from the source. “Initially we were simply trying to replicate our Farm Store offerings,” Fennemore says, referring to the decades-old retail appendage to the Camden-Wyoming farm, where in addition to fresh produce, customers can browse baked goods, jams, ice cream, and more. “We quickly realized that most of our customer base in Dewey Beach was looking for convenience and ready-to-eat items. We pivoted our focus to breakfast and lunch sandwiches with a farm-fresh twist. As we did this, we tried to incorporate our own homegrown fruits and vegetables into the menu to highlight what’s in-season and the bounty of the spring and summer harvests.” In other words, that refreshing acai bowl tastes a whole lot more refreshing thanks to ripe strawberries and blueberries that were harvested yesterday 40 miles up the road. Same goes for the tomato, lettuce and sweet corn stacked between whole wheat bread topped with hummus and provolone. Even the peanut butter in the PB&J is ground freshly at the Camden-Wyoming farm. “Nowadays we’re a deli that sells produce,” Warren says, “instead of a market that made sandwiches. Because it definitely shifted.” Says Fennemore: “We listen to our customers and their specific needs and wants. This is 100 percent how we’ve evolved over the years with a focus on continuous improvement.”

“When we open up for the season, I have so many customers who say, ‘Oh, thank goodness you’re back.'”

A neighborhood gathering place

Early customers filing in at 8 a.m. love their morning coffee, particularly the cold-brew Nitro coffee, which Fifer’s carries on tap, along with a newspaper, breakfast sandwiches made with farm-fresh eggs and Liscio’s breads, or famous Fifer apple cider donuts. By lunchtime, the focus shifts to handcrafted sandwiches, salads, drinks and ice cream. By the time Fifer’s approaches its 4 p.m. closing time, folks are shopping for grocery items and grabbing fresh local meats, cheeses, tomatoes, sweet corn, watermelons and more for their evening barbecues, happy hours, or beach picnics. “It’s a neighborhood gathering place,” Fennemore says. After 10 years at the helm, Warren knows the daily habits of Dewey Beach denizens (the town’s population balloons from around 300 to 30,000 during the summer months) better than most. She knows many of them by name. She’s served countless bacon-egg-cheese bagel sandwiches to the bleary-eyed Senior Week kids— “they tend to travel in packs of around eight,” she says. She regularly boxes dozens of sandwiches for customers’ daytime beach or boat trips. And she’s grown close to the families who visit annually for their family beach trip— “I know that during the second week of July, I’ll see the same people that I saw last year at this time,” she says. “I’ll be working on a Saturday and see the same person come in three times,” Warren says. A local mortgage broker named Tim orders the same slightly modified sandwich (a Farm Market Veggie, toasted, with sweet pepper relish, Havarti cheese instead of provolone and NO onions) each time he comes in, which is about four times weekly. Warren eventually named the new sandwich creation after him. “When he walks in, I just say, “You look like you need a Tim. He was here yesterday, and I already knew what he was getting. “On a busy summer day, Warren and her team of about two dozen employees make upward of 500 sandwiches daily. They once hit 600 during a Fourth of July weekend.  “We’re probably in there five days a week between my husband and I,” says Shannon Colburn of Rehoboth Beach, who’s frequented Fifer’s Kitchen for a decade. “If you live south of the bridge, that’s just where you go. It’s your neighborhood spot.”

Friendly hospitality while avoiding the traffic

Colburn, who works in the hospitality industry, understands how Warren and her team embody the small-town, customer-focused congeniality that started at Fifer Orchards generations ago. “Connie always says ‘Hi’, and is always so hospitable,” she says. “I’ll see [a staff member] out someplace in the winter, and they’re still just as friendly. It’s not forced at all.” As Colburn points out, the beach towns offer a plethora of fine dining options, localvore foodie destinations, and convenience spots—but no one combines the three quite like Fifer’s. “It’s not like you’re grabbing a bunch of processed foods [from a convenience store],” she says. “It has fresh fruit, healthier options, a veggie sandwich—it’s great. You see people walk out with a sandwich in one hand and a quart of strawberries in the other.” Need further proof? Consider the house specialty power chicken salad, a flavorful blend made at the Camden-Wyoming farm with walnuts, craisins, fresh apples, and grapes—piled onto whole grain bread with lettuce. It’s by far the shop’s number one selling item. “I say the words ‘chicken salad’ more than any other words in my life,” Warren jokes. “It’s crazy. But they’re very popular.” While the Fifer’s crew knows it can’t compete with Wawa or Food Lion in terms of selection, they dedicate a handful of shelves to pantry staples, along with a few unique goodies (like the farm’s homemade apple butter). It’s the kind of stuff you might need last minute for a beach house get-together, but can’t suffer Rt. One traffic to drive to the nearest grocery store. Think: milk, bread, condiments, coffee. “Nobody wants to sit in traffic for 30 minutes because they need a jar of cocktail sauce,” Warren says. Says Fennemore: “Our core clientele are the folks living right here in our own neighborhood. This has led to an amazing relationship with our community and customers. We are space-limited, so we’ve had to streamline our offerings to the bestselling items only.”

Working with seasonality

Like the summer season itself, Fifer’s Farm Kitchen is around for a fleetingly short time, closing its doors in September. Once all of the watermelons, cantaloupes, and peaches have been harvested and sold, the focus then shifts back to Central Delaware for the fall season—along with all the pumpkins, apples, squash, and a major fall festival that takes up team capacity. In that sense, the Dewey Beach kitchen mirrors the shifting seasons at the parent farm. “We try to own that seasonality and work with it, not fight it,” Fennemore says. “Our focus is to take what nature gives us and savor the harvest season as it progresses from spring through fall. That seasonality is part of the fun and excitement. Our Farm Kitchen is always changing and never stays the same.”  

Building the Perfect Picnic at Fifer’s Farm Kitchen

Your Dewey Beach sunset soirée starts in an hour and northbound Route 1 traffic is backed up to the Rusty Rudder. Panic not. Instead, walk over to Fifer’s Farm Kitchen and curate the perfect spread with time to spare. Here are just a few suggestions from general manager, Connie Warren: 

  • Fifer’s kettle chips
  • Red grapes
  • Blueberries
  • Watermelon & cantaloupe cubes
  • Lancaster Sharp Cheddar cheese, with crackers & olives
  • Fifer’s Old Bay pickles
  • Chicken salad & veggie pasta salad
  • Newsoms Peanut Shop peanuts
  • Fifer’s kettle corn
  • Fifer’s apple cider donuts
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