Tommy Gross presides over The Point's annual Gingerbread City.
Tommy Gross: Talented Manager Makes a Good Point
A certain restaurant columnist for the Cape Gazette recently dubbed Tommy Gross the “honorary mayor of Rehoboth’s gingerbread city.” In fact, anybody who has ever visited The Point Coffee House & Bake Shoppe at the west end of Rehoboth Avenue knows that Tommy is more like the goodwill ambassador for all of Rehoboth Avenue—gingerbread or not.
Watching him work is like watching a magic act, and nobody escapes his enthusiasm. He serves sandwiches. He carries on multiple conversations with multiple customers, remembering their names and favorite dishes. He recommends, grinds, brews, and pours coffee. He pushes donuts, pies and pastries (still kibitzing with the patrons). He takes phone orders. Oh, and he waits tables while he welcomes everyone who walks through the door. I am not making this up. Go there and see what I mean. (Have a slice of cherry cheesecake pie and a cup of Wreckless Abandon blend while you’re at it.)
Of course, it really isn’t magic. Tommy Gross worked hard to hone those skills, and if it all looks a little too easy, it’s because he’s just plain good at it.
He was born in New Jersey’s rural Sussex County near the Delaware Water Gap (where the Delaware River cuts through a ridge of the Appalachian Mountains). He rolls his eyes and assures me that it’s “God’s country.” I get the hint. But he’s quick to credit his educated mom and dad for introducing him to Broadway shows and cultural events in nearby New York City.
His parents split up after he graduated from high school, and Tommy joined his father in South Florida. While working as a manager for a Mailboxes Etc. outlet (eventually becoming Southeast Regional Manager), he earned business and accounting degrees at Broward College in Fort Lauderdale and Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. Toward the end of his time in school, he began to develop his skills in the hospitality industry as a bartender and waiter, 28 floors above Fort Lauderdale at the ultra-exclusive Tower Club. It wasn’t long before he was the supervisor of the banquet department; staging weddings and social events for such names as Wayne Huizenga (Waste Management, Inc., Blockbuster Video, co-owner of the Miami Dolphins) and former NFL quarterback Dan Marino.
During this time Tommy created “Parties with Style,” an event-planning and catering company responsible for orchestrating an entire occasion from flowers to music and from food to limos. He enjoyed ten years of success, eventually selling it in the mid-‘90s.
Through contacts he made in the business, he ended up as the full-time personal assistant to the CEO of Harrison Industries, a company that fabricates roof trusses for new home construction. Tommy smiles as he tells me he was “enjoying the sun and the fun” in Fort Lauderdale. I quickly realized that was code for his coming to terms with his sexuality—and loving it. His mother accepted his proclivities, but dad was not amused. Mmmm...sounds familiar, huh?
Tommy had a lucrative business on the side where he bought properties, fixed them up and “flipped” them. It was during that time that he met a wealthy doctor who asked him to work in his accounting office in Lancaster, PA. Tommy mastered the medical billing process and ended up moving to Rehoboth Beach around 2007 to work in the doctor’s Dover office. He spent his free time moonlighting as banquet manager in the catering department of Rehoboth Beach Country Club (RBCC). It was time to settle down, and he purchased a house in Stonewater Creek near Millsboro, calling it “the home of my dreams.”
It was a serendipitous moment one evening at RBCC when Tommy met Jeff and Ruth Ann Zerby, the long-time owners of Boardwalk Plaza Hotel. Jeff Sr. suggested that Tommy think about a job there, and he eventually approached the Zerbys about a possible position at Victoria’s restaurant. But they had other ideas: The Zerbys had just acquired the old Obey Lee coffee house on Rehoboth Avenue and needed a strong manager to bring the bakery up to Boardwalk Plaza standards. Victoria’s GM Steve Cobb and Tommy clicked immediately and Steve hired him that day. This is certainly not Cobb’s first rodeo, and like any wise manager, he gave Tommy free rein, from menu creation to managing bakery operations along with talented baker John DelVecchio. They and the rest of the dedicated staff uphold the strict day-to-day standards maintained by Jeff Jr. and his wife Jenn at their pink mothership on the boardwalk. “The Point is my home away from home,” Tommy admits. “I’ve created wonderful friendships there.”
He confesses that he’s never been in a long-term relationship (how could he possibly find the time?!). But as he gets more comfortable here in Rehoboth, he feels that he’s finally “more ready than ever.” No, gentlemen, I am not matchmaking. But when you order that pie and coffee at The Point, take a minute and get to know Tommy Gross. It won’t be difficult. I promise you.
Bob Yesbek is a Rehoboth Beach resident. Email Bob Yesbek