New Kate’s owner makes his mark
Changes to restaurant include sushi, live music, updated decor
It’s been roughly six months since Gianmarco Martuscelli purchased Klondike Kate’s and began putting his stamp on the famous eatery.
A seasoned restauranteur, he felt the pressure to impress, but made sure to step lightly, careful not to make drastic changes that would upset the students, alumni and residents who have been enjoying Kate’s since 1979.
“It’s like you’re the new kid in school and everyone’s already been here,” said Martuscelli, who also owns Ches- apeake Inn Restaurant & Marina in Chesapeake City, Md., and La Casa Pasta off South College Avenue near Newark.
The improvements he has made,
though, are noticeable.
Martuscelli installed new bar lighting, hung vintagestyle signs and put up University of Delaware memorabilia highlighting some of the school’s most famous sports stars like Joe Flacco, Elena Delle Donne and former football coach Tubby Raymond. Upstairs, he gave the Rockwell Room a fresh coat of paint and new wallpaper, polished the floors, added fans to keep patrons cool, put in vintage booths and light fixtures and extended the upstairs bar to increase service on busy weekend nights.
“My staff were joking because when I first started, every day there was something new,” he said.
Some décor, however, Martuscelli left untouched. The photo collages of alumni still hang on the walls of the back staircase, and downstairs still boasts the Wall of Foam, which recognizes loyal customers and some of the bar’s favorite alumni.
One decision he struggled with was whether to keep Kate’s iconic tables, which patrons have carved their names into over the decades. He ultimately decided to replace the tables in the dining areas, but kept one carved table in the front corner of the restaurant as a nod to the customers who participated in the tradition. He also built a ledge around the window using scraps from some of the old tables.
“I thought people would want to come in and still see that stuff, like alumni would want to see their name and say, ‘I carved that,’” he said. “The new tables are already starting to get carved anyways. It is what it is.”
Throughout the renovations, Martuscelli made sure to keep Kate’s Victorian feel intact.
“It’s got a lot of history,” he said. “You can’t make this place modern.”
Kate’s dates back to 1880, when the current threestory building was built as a public meeting space and post office with the city’s jail in the basement — the cells still remain in the cellar. Through the years, it has hosted a pool hall, courtroom, barbershop, a skating rink and movie theater, before becoming the restaurant and bar it is today.
Its name derives from “Klondike” Kate Rockwell, a vivacious dancer who moved to the Yukon during the gold rush and earned the nickname “Klondike Kate, Queen of the Yukon.” She later opened a bar and was wellknown for her generosity.
The business’ more than two century history made him a little nervous, but Martuscelli said he’s prepared to see it live on much longer, so he added some new technology to bring it up to speed.
Hostesses now use a program that texts customers when their table is ready, allowing customers to peruse the shops on Main Street while they wait instead of standing in the entrance. There is also a flatscreen TV on the back wall downstairs that promotes food specials and music and is also connected to Instagram. Customers who use the hashtag #KlondikeKate’s will see their photos featured on the screen.
Aside from the fact that Kate’s needed a little sprucing up, one of the first things Martuscelli noticed after he and his wife, Gilda, bought Kate’s in November from businessman Alan Burkhard – Kate’s owner since 2005 – was the restaurant’s massive menu. He said there were two sizes for every burger and more than 20 side dishes, from mashed potatoes to fries to several different vegetable options.
“It was crazy how much was on that menu, just from a business standpoint as far as ordering the ingredients and for the chefs to prep all of that,” he said.
He decided to keep the top sellers for the past two years and scale back the rest. Kate’s burgers now come in just a half-pound size, except for the new menu item “Call An Uber” burger, which is a pound of beef, double patties, cheese, applewood smoked bacon, sauteed mushrooms, lettuce, tomato, onion rings and chipotle ranch on brioche roll. Food coma not is included, Martuscelli said.
He also cut the sides down to just eight and added a seasonal veggie that’s up to the chefs to decide.
“It gives our chefs more creativity in the kitchen and a little flexibility in terms of the market,” he said.
Diverging from the typical pub food, Martuscelli took a risk and put sushi on the menu, starting with 10 rolls and recently expanding to 20 rolls after hearing positive feedback from customers. He also added a few favorite dishes from the family’s other restaurants, including Chesapeake Inn’s mussels fra diavolo and crab cakes, and La Casa Pasta’s homemade chicken parmigiana and a pasta with shrimp, scallops and crab meat in an aurora cream sauce he renamed “Gold Rush Penne.”
Martuscelli kept Kate’s ever-popular wings, nachos and burger night specials, assuaging fears from longtime patrons.
“If I had a dollar for every person who told me not to touch the nachos, I could retire,” he said.
He did, however, change the specials’ policy to dinein only. He said a deluge of takeout orders on Monday’s burger night and Tuesday’s nachos night backed up the restaurant’s kitchen and put stress on the staff.
The DJ and dancing is still upstairs for college students on the weekends, but now Kate’s offers acoustic music downstairs during the week for older adults and families.
“I don’t want people to think Kate’s is just a party place,” Martuscelli said. “I want people to come with their families and have a few drinks. I want it to just be a great neighborhood restaurant.”
The changes are going over well with loyal patrons like Bill Thomson, a UD alumnus and Nottingham Green resident who has been coming to Kate’s for decades. Every day around happy hour, he joins a group of longtime customers at the back corner of the bar, where they share a few beers and watch the game on TV.
“No matter how many owners change hands, they can’t scare us off,” Thomson said, laughing.
C.R. Burris, a Newark resident and UD alumnus, said their group thought Kate’s was nice before Martuscelli took over, but it didn’t hurt to spruce the place up a bit. Although he hasn’t tried the new food yet, he has noticed the renovations and applauded the new owner for all of his hard work.
“You can tell he really knows how to run a restaurant and bar,” he said.
Burris added that it’s been a “smooth transition.”
“It’s tough to come into an established restaurant and make changes. It’s like walking a tightrope,” Burris said. “He kept things like the Wall of Foam, which is good because that’s part of the charm of this place.”
Gianmarco Martuscelli has made several changes to Klondike Kate’s since he purchased the restaurant in November.
New owner Gianmarco Martuscelli installed new lighting to the downstairs bar at Klondike Kate’s and created a weekly live music schedule, among other changes to the restaurant.