Lori Kline Puts the Oy Vey in Café
One of the things that surprised me most about living here in Rehoboth Beach is the number of people who have no clue what that big, blue wet thing is at the easternmost end of Rehoboth Avenue. They’re so wrapped up in selling condos, running their stores, offices, or restaurants that they rarely take time to appreciate the sandy and watery rewards of resort living. So imagine my delight when I discovered that such is not the case with restaurateur and Rehoboth Beach resident Lori Kline.
“Life is short,” smiles the proprietor of Lori’s Oy Vey Café (a Baltimore Avenue landmark). And here’s the kicker: She didn’t come to the beach to open a restaurant—in fact it was the last thing on her mind. But she did open her restaurant as a way to stay at the beach. Lori’s refreshing take on life and the success of her well-known eatery is summed up in her scholarly philosophy on the risks and commitments of owning a business: “Oy vey…what’s the worst that could happen?”
Lori Kline’s degree in Social Psychology (and her years of working in a mental hospital) made her perfectly suited for operating a restaurant in a resort town. After graduating from Frostburg State University in 1989, she worked for about three years at Chestnut Lodge Psychiatric Hospital in Rockville, Maryland. After a short stint as the fitness coordinator (she looks the part, too) for Rockville’s huge Jewish Community Center, she found her niche as a teacher for learning-disabled children at The Chelsea School in Silver Spring, MD. Though she loved it, she also loved to escape from the relentless congestion of Montgomery County by fleeing to Rehoboth Beach whenever the opportunity presented itself.
At 29, she spent an entire summer living here at the beach in a group house. Several weeks into her dream vacation, she got bored (surprise, surprise) and took a job preparing and serving food at Cuppa Joe, a tiny coffee shop and carryout tucked away in the CAMP Rehoboth courtyard. The following fall, Lori knew she was destined to be a resort dweller when she walked into her Silver Spring classroom and realized she was not happy with the number of miles between her and the Delaware shore. She finished out the year with her students, resigned her teaching position, bought a Jeep, sublet her Wheaton, MD home and (while still running things at Cuppa Joe) became the assistant manager of Rehoboth Guest House. Lori freely admits that she was dead broke—living at the guest house as part of her compensation, eating her meals at the carryout, and funneling the rest of her funds into her Jeep payment.
At the beginning of summer 1997, Lori acquired Cuppa Joe from Kenneth Jacobs, the owner (and still her friend). She took up residence on a powerboat in Dewey Beach and spent eighty hours per week doubling the size of the restaurant, creating an even bigger following of loyal customers, and essentially putting her own “Oy Vey” stamp on the place. “I knew I could do it,” she insists, “thanks to my friends and family.” Every tchotchke and piece of furniture (even the logo painted on her window) is a gift to her, and her fans are always ready to pitch in (careful…she might recruit you to run the register if things get really busy in there).
As if she didn’t have enough to do, Lori continued to work in the off-season. She was a substitute teacher in Sussex County, lathered-up deserving pooches at Dirty Dogs and cavorted amongst the blooms at Windsor’s Flowers. She even considered opening a second Lori’s, but she wisely recognized that the key ingredient of her success (other than the first-rate food) is her presence and the loyalty of her beloved staff. Unless cloning becomes an outpatient procedure in the near future, Lori’s simply cannot be duplicated. She pauses at this point in our interview, glances over at the restaurant and says, “Every year I open these doors, I’m grateful.” I can’t help but admonish her to not downplay her own contribution: interminably long hours, abandoning her life in another city, living on a boat, and working year ‘round to make the business what it is today.
Lori hasn’t forgotten why she chose to make Rehoboth her home, and now, after her 15th year, she’s keeping her off-season months to herself (though she will happily mount the occasional holiday catering job if you ask her nicely). She has also reined-in her summer hours, closing in late afternoon (instead of staying open until midnight—seven days a week—like when she first opened).
In those off-season months and after four o’clock pretty much every day, Lori can be found hanging out on Baltimore Avenue with her friends, walking (or running) on the beach, or strolling the boardwalk. She’s finally living the dream she worked so hard to create. I remind her again that she should take more of the credit for her hard work. She shrugs and says, “I figured out what I wanted early in life and I went for it. I started with nothing, so I had nothing to lose.”
Bob Yesbek is a Rehoboth Beach resident. He can be reached at Bob@RehobothFoodie.com.