Analysis: Hammerheads bites back after Big Fish reels in marina concession


The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control  has made it official with the  Big Fish Restaurant Group gaining the restaurant concession at Indian River Marina in Coastal Sussex County.

The contract went to Big Fish after a 10-year run by Hammerheads That contract expires at the end of the month.

“We are excited for this opportunity to take over such a wonderful place. Look forward to the upcoming season and many more years to come. Will share exciting updates as we move closer to opening. We appreciate all of the support,” Big Fish’s Eric Sugrue and Holly Monaco  wrote in an email comment.

The news leaked by way of a social media post with Hammerheads going on the offensive. (See below). The post generated 1,000 comments, an unusually high figure.

The popular restaurant went on to criticize the lack of transparency in awarding the contract and the state not taking into account the performance of the restaurant in adding revenue for the state park over the 10-year period at a site that according to the company was little more than a hog dog stand.


The decision was not great news for Gov. John Carney, who has frequently said his administration as being pro-small business. At the same time, state parks are supported with taxpayer funds in addition to revenues from camping and fees. 

In a press release, DNREC appeared to be on the defensive in explaining the change, noting that only two bidders emerged for the concession from its Request for Proposals (RFP), with the amount of money going to the state amounting to a fifth of a  scoring list for bidders.

The state’s list

While not identifying the second bidder, the release seemed to indicate that Big Fish scored higher. According to the release, the RFP was rated using seven criteria categories, with 80% of the total score including quality and diversity of the menu; past performance; the vendor’s action plan; vendor’s financial stability; creativity in planning; and designing and delivering a successful establishment.

The release stated that “Big Fish Restaurant Group will operate the marina restaurant “with full waterfront menu fare, including but not limited to, fully prepared seafood dishes (excluding off-premise raw seafood sales), entrees, appetizers, desserts, alcoholic beverages, non-alcoholic beverages, and any other refreshments necessary to carry on the business for the public.”

Big Fish will also provide breakfast and delivery service to the Indian River Marina and to the park’s North Inlet Campground. 

Big Fish has a wholesale seafood operation that might have been a factor in meeting the state benchmarks. It also has the heft that comes with operating nearly a dozen and a half restaurants and related businesses in both Sussex and New Castle counties.

Garvin encourages businesses to visit the bidding site

“While it is never easy to change concessionaires, the state RFP process is fair and Big Fish Restaurant Group submitted the winning proposal this time. I encourage any Delaware business that wants more information on the state bidding process to visit Delaware’s contract portal,, which has a wealth of information about the process,” DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin stated in a release. 

Big Fish will use  DNREC’s existing restaurant space at the marina, a 1,400-square-foot building with an outside usable deck and pergola area of approximately 1,100 square feet plus a grass area extended from the deck.

The Big Fish win follows a controversy over the awarding of a contract to another Sussex County-based restaurant group for the concession at Cape Henlopen State Park. A plan that included expansion of the site led to outraged neighbors claiming the project would take away from the qualities of Cape Henlopen – the most visited state park.

The contract was abandoned with both the prospective operator and DNREC saying they did not have sufficient time to meet requirements, but most suspecting that opponents torpedoed the plan.  A similar move is unlikely in the case of Big Fish, given the approach of summer.   

Click here for the earlier story on Cape Henlopen.