The story begins with Big Geroge…More than just a real estate developer and land speculator, George Shockley worked as a contractor for commercial and residential buildings throughout the coastal area, a marine salvager who cleared shipwrecks along the eastern seaboard, and a bargeman who dredged substantial stretches of Rehoboth-Lewes canal. Both his physical stature and entrepreneurial spirit earned him the nickname “Big George.”
The original building comprising the Avenue Restaurant was sited on a single commercial lot on Rehoboth Avenue. In 1945, seeking to expand the footprint of the property, George Shockley negotiated the lease of and eventual purchase of an adjacent lot on Wilmington Avenue. Eventually the Avenue Restaurant would come to operate on three commercial lots acquired by Mr. Shockley.
In 1937, George and Eliza Belle Shockley constructed a commercial building on Rehoboth Avenue that included a movie theatre and a “tea room.” The couple initially let the latter space to a third party, but by 1945 the lease was assumed by their daughters, Grace and Helen.
The Avenue Restaurant served as a gathering place for the U.S. and Soviet naval and intelligence officials following the Allied victory in WW II. During that conflict, the U.S. had lent Russia 32 ships. The evening before the return of the first and largest ship, the USS Milwaukee, 9 soviet officers and 5 American officials gathered at The Avenue to enjoy more than 4 hours of camaraderie and an unquantified amount of vodka.
The two sisters, together with Helen’s husband Alvin Simpler, operated the Avenue Restaurant on the premises from 1945-1950, but left the business to pursue other commercial interests. Helen (at right) and her husband Alvin resumed management of the restaurant in the mid-50s, beginning what would be more than three decades of control under the Shockley and Simpler families.
In December 1962, fire destroyed the original Avenue Restaurant building constructed in 1937. Firefighters and volunteer companies fought the fire for more than four hours in freezing temperatures.
Ironically, The Avenue had survived nearly unscathed the legendary and catastrophic “Great March Storm” that ravaged Rehoboth Beach earlier that year. The Avenue Restaurant was rebuilt on the same site the year following the fire and opened again for business less than six months after being destroyed.
Kenneth (Kenny) Simpler, the son of Helen Shockley and Alvin Simpler, began working for his parents at the Avenue Restaurant in the 1960s. He started as a dishwasher and worked his way up through the restaurant doing everything from kitchen line work to purchasing and ordering and ultimately to managing. After marrying Karen Gottshall in 1966, the couple ran the restaurant together, with Kenny in the kitchen and Karen managing the front of the house.
The heyday of the Avenue Restaurant occurred during the 1970s and ‘80s. With the exception of a three-week period from Christmas through mid-January, the restaurant served breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. During the summer months, the restaurant operated three separate dining rooms and employed nearly 150 people.
At the height of the vacation season, the restaurant turned out more than 2,000 meals per day and wait times of up to two hours for dinner were not uncommon. The philosophy of the owners was simple: provide the freshest food at the most reasonable prices — and never leave the customers hungry!
When Kenny’s father passed away in 1974, the couple purchased his parents’ interest in the Avenue and continued to manage the restaurant for another 13 years before leasing the operation to a third party in 1987. The Avenue Restaurant ended its 50-year run in 1996 when the Simpler family decided to open a new operation on the site of the iconic eatery.
A little more than a decade after the Avenue Inn was first built on the footprint left by the restaurant, Alex Moore and Ken SImpler, Jr., the fourth generation of the property’s owner-operators, planned the expansion of the original 48-unit hotel.
In 2016, The Avenue expanded again to include two adjacent properties on Wilmington Avenue, adding 28 rooms and three more stores. And for the first time since the Avenue Restaurant ended its 50 years of operations in 1996, a new restaurant, the Blue Hen, was incorporated into the site.
The Avenue Inn & Spa is today operated by a fourth generation of owners, who are committed to passing the property to their children. The Avenue includes 77 rooms and offers guests the amenities, caring service and value that have made it the #1 TripAdvisor hotel in Rehoboth Beach.