Keepin’ it Real at The Love Shack: Shelia Savaliski and Steph Dalee
The TV commercial proclaims Seafood Shack to be a “seriously easy goin’ place,” and that’s exactly what owners Shelia Savaliski and Steph Dalee want it to be. But like any restaurant, it’s the back-story that really counts, and both women paid their dues long before assuming ownership of the popular Baltimore Avenue eatery.
Steph was born in Pittsburgh. She didn’t waste time coming to terms with her sexuality, and was comfortably out even in high school. She minored in psychology at Slippery Rock University, but ended up earning her degree in physical education.
It didn’t take her long to find her first love: food service. Just a few months out of college, she was working “The Best Breakfast in Pittsburgh” at the Shadyside branch of Pamela’s Diner. She eventually landed the bartender position at Lucky’s Real Luck Café, one of Pittsburgh’s oldest gay bars. By this time she was already dating a woman, and they decided to move to Rehoboth Beach in 1996.
All that experience came in handy as Steph became a fixture behind the bar at Frogg Pond. Around ’04, she moved around the corner and up The Avenue to Cloud 9, where she spearheaded the now-legendary “ladies’ happy hour”; keeping everybody’s cocktails topped-off until 2007.
Shelia was born in Baltimore, but lived in Anne Arundel County. Her mom raised four kids while working in the restaurant business, and was one of the original “Gaslamp Girls” at Bill Tutton’s Gaslamp Club. When that, and his iconic Eager House sold, she went to work as bartender, and eventually general manager, at Cy Bloom’s star-studded Place in the Alley. Young Shelia followed in mom’s footsteps, becoming the first-ever busgirl at the Wagon Wheel restaurant on Ritchie Highway. (Baltimore readers will have to be of a certain age to remember all these notable spots!)
Shelia loved music, playing in her first band at the tender age of eleven. But she was an athlete through-and-through and wanted to “play sports and have a good time.” Apparently she did both, as she met her best friend on the ball field. They visited Rehoboth Beach in ’79, with Shelia waiting tables in the Clubhouse at Ocean Downs Raceway, and Ocean City’s long-gone Gunnings Seafood. Around ’83, she and her friend were living in Ocean Pines, and applied for jobs in law enforcement. Shelia spent the next 21 years as a cop. As her retirement approached, she vowed she was going to “open a business and own a home.” She finally retired in ’03 as a detective with the rank of sergeant, and by 2005 was living in Rehoboth Beach full-time.
A regular at Frogg Pond, Shelia was fascinated by the notoriously shy Steph, toiling quietly behind the bar. Both women were in relationships, but Shelia admits to “admiring her from a distance.” After they both had moved-on from their relationships, they attended a Frogg Pond pool party in ‘06. Shelia says, “I wasn’t her type,” but they both loved the arts, animals, and shows. On one fateful night, Shelia boasted to Steph that she had snagged two tickets to a coveted Barbra Streisand concert. Steph joked, “Are you taking me?” That was Shelia’s cue: “Why, as a matter of fact, I am.” They’ve been inseparable for the last six years.
By this time, Steph was bartending at Cloud 9, and Shelia told her that she was looking for a restaurant to buy. One requirement was that it had to be small. The owners of Seafood Shack had posted a “For Sale” sign in the front window, and the little cottage certainly filled the bill.
Both women toiled around the clock, and in January, 2008, the doors of Seafood Shack opened under Steph and Shelia’s new ownership. One of their dreams was to showcase entertainment, and their restaurant has become not only a place to get tasty salads, char-grilled goodies, and recipes imported from their families, but also a stage for well-known local entertainers like Cathy Gorman, John Flynn, the Girlfriends, and Viki Dee, just to name a few.
In spite of their smack-in-the-middle-of-the-gayborhood location, both women work hard to keep Seafood Shack a place where anyone can feel comfortable. Singles, couples of all persuasions, and families with kids happily mingle on warm afternoons, lounging on the front porch, or on the dog-friendly back patio. In fact, the place has been dubbed the “Love Shack” because of the number of couples who have either met there, received proposals over a romantic dinner, or got married (or civilly unioned) after making their love connection there on Baltimore Ave.
Though Shelia and Steph have certainly made the Seafood Shack their own, they look forward to building a larger facility from the ground up. “We hope to do something on our own,” they smile, “with big-name entertainers, and music every night.”
I have no doubt that these two seasoned restaurateurs will achieve whatever dream they desire. They’ve gotten this far doing what they love—why should things be any different?
Bob Yesbek is a Rehoboth Beach resident. Email Bob Yesbek