This is Kern’s third semifinalist nomination. He was a semifinalist in 2019 and 2020 while working at Heirloom in Lewes.
“It’s way different,” this time, said Kern, who purchased One Coastal from Scott and Carlie Carey in 2022.
“I have put everything I have into this tiny 50-seat strip mall restaurant—everything. I’ve spent God knows how many hours believing in this place—painting, struggling, failing, thriving, teaching and believing in my staff — just to be able to do this on my own terms,” he explained.
Kern is the only Delawarean nominated this year.
Kern had no idea he was on the selection committee’s radar, and he didn’t know that he’d earned a semifinalist spot until a friend congratulated him. The announcement was posted this morning.
“I cried a little bit,” said Kern, who immediately called his wife, Karen, a business partner.
The Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, native came to coastal Delaware to work at a restaurant that quickly closed, but by that time, he’d met Karen and decided to stay in the area. Before Heirloom, he worked at Salt Air and the Blue Moon in Rehoboth Beach.
One Coastal originally was an extension of the Careys’ farm, and Kern respected their mission.
“Out of the many restaurants in Sussex County, few are really farm-to-table,” he said when he purchased the restaurant. “This place already has such a loyal following, and we have similar interests.”
Kern, who is passionate about supporting local farmers, said community involvement is part of the criteria for a James Beard nomination—a culinary Oscar honor.
Kern doesn’t have half the equipment he had at Heirloom, but he buys top-shelf ingredients and has the chops to prepare beautiful food.
“I’m trying to support local agriculture the best way I can,” he said. “This is how I make a living. I’m not getting rich anytime soon with a 50-seat restaurant. But I really love what I do, and it’s an honor just to be on the list.”
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The James Beard Awards, presented by Capital One, were established in 1990 to honor James Beard, America’s first celebrity chef. The winners will be announced at a Chicago ceremony on Monday, June 10.
Sam Calagione, founder of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, received the Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional award in 2017. The company’s Chesapeake & Maine restaurant in Rehoboth has received semifinalist honors for the bar program.
Matt Haley, founder of SoDel Concepts, was the James Beard Foundation Humanitarian of the Year in 2014, the same year he died in a motorcycle accident. The company now has 16 restaurants and counting.
William “Bill” Hoffman was a semifinalist for Best Chef Mid-Atlantic in 2022. He and his wife, Merry Catanuto, own the House of William & Merry in Hockessin.
Antimo DiMeo of Bardea Food & Drink in Wilmington was also a 2022 semifinalist. In 2019, Bardea was a semifinalist in the Best New Restaurant category.
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