A beloved, locally-owned Dover restaurant celebrates 21 years of good eating.
When someone says, “When pigs fly,” they’re usually talking about something so incredible that it’s difficult to believe.
But when you say “Where Pigs Fly,” you’re talking about a restaurant that’s survived more than two decades in an industry where such longevity, particularly for a locally-owned business, also is difficult to believe.
And yet, Dover’s best known barbecue restaurant, located at 617 E. Loockerman St. has survived and is, in fact, thriving.
“We’ve been very, very blessed,” said owner Kelly Devine. “We’ve been blessed with great employees and great customers who have made all of this work.”
Kelly, her husband Tom and brother and general manager Dan Buckley, all were on hand April 18 as Where Pigs Fly celebrated its 21st birthday. Diners were treated to free helpings of an anniversary cake and music provided by Cool 101.3 radio’s Steve Monz.
Actually, the celebration was a day early − Where Pigs Fly officially opened April 19, 1993 − but no one really seemed to mind the early festivities.
Amid the usual bustle of the Friday lunchtime crowd, Kelly was able to find a few minutes to reflect on the past two decades, which has seen more than one barbecue restaurant appear on the scene, only to fade away within a few months.
“We’ve always wanted to provide good food, good service and reasonable prices,” Kelly said. “It’s amazing that with all the franchises in town that we’ve been so blessed.”
Actually, Where Pigs Fly has its roots in a franchise, the former Shakey’s Pizza.
Kelly started out at Shakey’s in 1975, eventually moving up to district manager. She bought the business in 1988 from Dover businessman Ray Clatworthy; five years later she quit the franchise and struck out on her own.
Margie Busch of Camden remembers those days. She’d begun working as a dishwasher at the pizza restaurant, but eventually was promoted to manager, working for Kelly after she’d bought the business.
“Shakey’s was a dying franchise and Kelly wanted something different,” she said. The pair studied a number of restaurant models, traveling up and down the East Coast before hitting on the barbecue theme.
Coming up with a catchy name was a little harder.
“We’d considered names like Pig Tales, Buckley’s BBQ and Hog Heaven,” Kelly said “I knew we wanted a name that stood out. We thought of Where Pigs Fly, literally while we were driving back from one of our road trips.”
With encouragement from Clatworthy, Kelly remodeled the restaurant building − then, as now owned by former Dover Mayor Jack Richter and his brothers − and threw open the doors.
“I took a big risk back then” she said. “I was 34 years old, and I had three young children. It cost me a lot of time and energy, but I had a lot of energy back then. I still do!”
“It was tough,” Tom agreed. “But everything is tough in the restaurant business. But 21 years later, we’re still here.”
Then, as now, Where Pigs Fly is stuffed from floor to ceiling with pig-related décor, from fuzzy flying and dancing pigs to hog-themed clocks. Much of the collection has come from Kelly’s customers, who seem to delight in presenting her with odd and unusual swine-type items.
And what does the future hold?
“We’ve been through a lot together,” said Tom, who operates his own auto body detailing business, Devine’s Lines. “But she’s always loved the restaurant business, and we’re like most people. You persevere and you do the best you can.”
“Business has had its ups and its downs over the past 21 years,” Kelly said. “But we’ve always had good customers. That makes it all worth the while.”