Wendy Adams: If It Were Easy, Everybody Would Do It
Even as a child, Wendy Adams was never comfortable working for somebody else. Her dad had a good job as a baker for a chain of Baltimore grocery stores, but she constantly urged him to open his own bakery. When he’d protest about all the extra work of ownership, 13-year-old Wendy would cheerily reply, “That’s OK, dad, I’ll run the business and you just do what you do.” Prophetic words. Read on.
At 16, Wendy got her first job in the meat/deli department, using the money to buy herself a car. Food service was okay, but she really loved cameras. So at 18 she got a job with Galaxy Studios, a franchise with an interesting concept: Set up in beauty salons and photograph women in all their newly coiffed splendor. Then sell them the photos on their next visit. Wendy soon opened her own franchise in Richmond, Virginia, but the concept was self-limiting; each salon had only so many customers, and eventually they all had photos of themselves.
After honing her management skills for a while in the corporate world, Adams opened a card shop in Cockeysville, Maryland. “Country Pleasures” produced corporate gift baskets. One year, in preparation for Secretary’s Day, Wendy bought 400 potted plants at wholesale to include in gift bags. It seemed like a good idea until she realized they needed to be watered—a lot. The front of her townhouse became a sea of potted flora as she carted them inside and out, hosing them down until they all sold.
In the mid-‘90s, competition from specialty shops forced Wendy to reevaluate her choices. “You’ve gotta sell a lot of greeting cards to pay the rent,” she smiles. Undaunted, she took over management of Becker Group, providing large-scale holiday décor to shopping malls. It wasn’t long before her entrepreneurial spirit kicked in and she opened Holiday Décor Store, competing successfully against her former employer for five years. Gigantic Christmas trees, miles of garland, 12 foot Easter bunnies and the like were stored in her tiny townhouse and at her storage/shipping facility in California.
In the early 2000s, Wendy became a business consultant for a modular home manufacturer. Of course, she knew full well that if they could do it, she could do it too. She struck a deal with Beracah Homes in Greenwood, Delaware, and set her sights on investors to develop land in Milton. Wendy doesn’t do anything halfway, so she packed up and moved to the beach.
The housing market took a downturn around the same time she met Tracy Winstead. Also from Baltimore, Tracy worked in medical billing. The women hit it off, and Tracy took up residence here at the beach, working from her computer. As home prices plummeted, Wendy’s investment group came down with a case of cold feet. Nothing if not flexible, she started buying houses herself, fixing them up, and flipping them. The hard work got old pretty fast.
Wendy worked around town for a while, including a stint at Roly Poly on the highway (remember them?). She was a good cook, and family and friends loved it when she grilled over charcoal. One day, while sitting on the beach, Wendy was thinking of creating a new business. The saying, “Do what you love, and the money will follow” crossed her mind, and all of a sudden it was clear: Pit Beef! One thing led to another, and Charcoal Deli was born. As Tracy did medical billing at her laptop, Wendy roasted and grilled beef, pork and chicken, piling it high onto sandwiches and platters for smiling customers.
Just before Memorial Day 2010, Wendy broke her arm in a scooter accident. Lying face down on the asphalt in the hot sun, smarting from road rash and surrounded by EMTs, only one thing was on her mind: “Oh my God! It’s Memorial Day and I’m the only cook!”
Tracy’s family came to her rescue, making the Memorial Day rush a success, but it was a one-two punch: Tracy’s mom passed away unexpectedly, and now it was Wendy’s turn to come to the rescue. They closed for three weeks.
Access to Charcoal Deli was difficult. When Zorba’s Greek restaurant moved out of the Food Lion shopping center, Adams jumped at the chance to turn her Charcoal Deli into The Charcoal Grill, complete with a larger menu, lots of seating and a friendly bar. The improved and (finally) visible Charcoal Grill opened in March, 2012. A lot was needed to bring the old space up to code, and the women did most of the work themselves. Every eatery has a saga of last-minute turmoil: On opening day, Tracy was in Dover with her cell phone, collecting the final approvals for the liquor license while Wendy fidgeted behind the bar with the booze wholesaler on speed dial. Trucks pulled up during their first dinner rush, and everybody—including customers—pitched in to get things moving.
The women survived their trial by fire, and The Charcoal Grill has become the quintessential neighborhood bar. Living at the beach and doing what you love has got to be the ultimate goal, and Rehoboth residents Wendy Adams and Tracy Winstead earned it every step of the way.
Bob Yesbek is a Rehoboth Beach resident. Email Bob Yesbek