Two Delawareans are building a culinary powerhouse
As a University of Delaware student, Paul Bouchard waited tables to help pay for room and board. The Wilmington native enjoyed the job. But after graduation, he promised his father he’d spend a year outside of the hospitality business. It was a year he hated.
“I would sit in my car until two minutes before 9 a.m., and I would watch the clock until it was 5 p.m.,” says Bouchard, who worked for an IT consulting firm. “On the last day of that year, I left.”
Bouchard returned to restaurants, and he’s never looked back. Today, he is the managing partner of Wilmington-based Jamestown Hospitality Group. His partner is Chris Blackwell, whose background is in painting and construction, not hospitality. He owns Jamestown Painting and Specialty Finishes.
“I really hadn’t thought about being in the business,” Blackwell acknowledges. But like many investors, he was drawn to the social aspect. The rewards include “the opportunity to see old friends, meet new ones and provide a memorable dining experience to our customers,” he says.
The partners are doing just that at Tonic Seafood & Steak and the event space Juniper by Tonic in downtown Wilmington. Across town, there’s Park Café, which is next to Jamestown Catering. The company has expanded beyond Delaware’s borders. Tonic operates the food concession at Braeloch Brewing in Kennett Square, and Jamestown recently purchased the Kitty Knight House, an Eastern Shore icon in Georgetown, Md.
Back to the Start
The story, in many respects, starts with Bouchard, who grew up in the Brandywine Hundred suburbs. His father moved the French-Canadian family to Delaware while working for Scott Paper. It didn’t take long for the six children to find the Skating Club of Wilmington. Bouchard’s father became the president, and his mother ran the pro shop.
Bouchard, the youngest, went to St. Edmond’s Academy, Salesianum High School and UD, where his first job was at the Ground Round. He wound up at Café Bellissimo at Price’s Corner. When Bouchard quit his office job, he planned to return to the popular Italian restaurant. Unfortunately, there were no openings. So, he took a position at the newly opened Griglia Toscana in Trolley Square, owned by Chef Dan Butler.
Bouchard rose through Toscana’s ranks. He managed the takeout shop and catering business. When Butler opened Deep Blue Bar & Grill in 1998, he brought Bouchard and Michael Majewski on board. In 2006, the trio partnered to open Brandywine Prime Seafood & Chops at Chadds Ford Inn.
Bouchard returned to Deep Blue to oversee a freshening. He introduced more landlubber dishes to the menu and, on one Tuesday, sold 45 steaks. “I’m like, all right, this is telling me something,” recalls Bouchard, who added a menu section for steakhouse selections. “We started selling them left and right.”
Butler’s renovation plans coincided with menu additions. It also opened the door to management changes. In 2015, Blackwell, a frequent customer and longtime friend of Bouchard’s, joined the two men to open Tonic Bar & Grill in Deep Blue’s space. It wasn’t such a stretch, Blackwell maintains.
“One of our core values for Jamestown Painting and Specialty Finishes is focusing on relationships,” he says. “That value goes hand-in-hand with the hospitality business, as we are constantly building relationships with our customers, employees, local businesses and the community.”
Some of his best construction customers are his best restaurant customers. He credits those relationships.
Eventually, Bouchard and Blackwell purchased Butler’s shares. Jamestown Hospitality Group was born.
Adjusting & Adapting
Like Bouchard, Blackwell grew up in Delaware and attended UD. During summers, he cleaned the offices of the family business, Blackwell & Sons, a painting company that dates to 1908. Little did he know that one day that office would become part of his restaurant business.
Before becoming Park Café, the space was home to Movable Feast, a gourmet carryout shop, caterer and restaurant. After managing partner Steve Horgan died suddenly in 2018, the property went up for sale. Blackwell bought it, and Jamestown Hospitality Group opened Park Café, whose expanded commercial kitchen also serves Jamestown Catering.
Not surprisingly, catering hit a wall at the pandemic’s start. But things have changed. Equipped with the new kitchen and a new director, Jamestown Catering is “killing it,” Bouchard says.
You know you have a decent operation when another restaurateur hires you to do his wedding.
“People continue to reach out and rave about the food,” says Michael Stiglitz, owner of Two Stones Pub restaurants, who wed in November. “Their team was extremely professional, always attentive and more than anything; they eliminated stress at every turn.”
It takes a village to run a catering and hospitality group. Ashley Ghione oversees catering and events for Jamestown Catering. (Juniper and Kitty Knight House have their own supervisors.)
While Ghione concentrates on Jamestown Catering, Chef Patrick Bradley oversees all the culinary operations for Jamestown Hospitality. The industry veteran, whose first job was at Annie Golden’s near Wawaset Park, was at Deep Blue when it became Tonic, and he created the first menu. In turn, he lets his chefs de cuisine at the various locations write menus. “I want them to have some creative freedom.” He now oversees a staff of up to 45 people.
Jamestown Catering partners with Alexis Floral, which also provides flowers for catered events and activities at Juniper. Floral creations are available at Park Café.
“She has an edge to her designs that really elevates us,” Bouchard says of Alexis Wirt Curtis.
Stiglitz, a fan, calls her a “floral genius.” “They transformed our brewery wedding venue into a five-star space,” he says.
Love What You Do
All of this takes work. Bradley, who is usually in the kitchen at Park Café or Tonic, is on site by 6 a.m. Bouchard rolls in around 7 a.m. In the catering office across from Park Café, Ghione meets with clients and works on the schedule.
“Catering is my passion,” she says. “This job lets me focus on that.”
Staffing has not been an issue, partly because servers at Tonic and Park Café can pick up catering shifts if their schedule allows. This is a team that wants to work, she says.
The pace is accelerating with the addition of the Kitty Knight House. “We really haven’t put our thumbprint on it yet,” Bouchard says. “We just hired a general manager, and I’m writing an action plan to elevate the whole level of the place.”
Given the waterside location, seafood will be a focus. The team will give the site a new name but keep “at the Kitty Knight House” at the end. “Naming a restaurant is a challenge,” says Bouchard, who is still fond of Deep Blue.
He no longer counts the minutes until he can leave work. “I really like the team we have put together and truly come to work with a smile on my face,” he says. “I genuinely care about each of my coworkers, and, honestly, that comradery is what helps us succeed.”