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To the delighted diners coming from near and far to experience Caroline’s in Denton, it’s often a surprise to learn that the driving force behind the comfortably upscale farm to table isn’t, in fact, someone named Caroline, or even a restauranteur.

The fact that Nancy Minahan has made Caroline’s burgeoning success seem, well, seamless, is due in large part to an intrepid spirit, her 40 year business owner’s acumen, and a burning desire for a fresh, fabulous, locally sustainable and succulently crafted meal in her adopted county.

Despite her busy schedule operating three businesses, Minahan said she “always loved good food and loved to cook.” Raised to enjoy the bounty of her family’s large home garden on the Western Shore, the taste expectation bar was set high early on.

Until starting elementary school, she had never tasted anything but freshly shelled peas, and was less than impressed with the far less appealing imposters on her cafeteria plate.

Fresh meat raised on relatives’ small farms provided the animal protein enjoyed at family meals.

Minahan’s own mom, a Marine during WWII, canned tomatoes, bottled homemade salsa and dutifully “cooked, not because she necessarily enjoyed it, but because we had to eat,” she recalled with a smile.

A lurking love of adventure and desire to travel propelled Minahan to embark on an exchange semester in Switzerland during High School, “where I learned to love trying foods I never found in Mom’s kitchen,” she said.

Despite a desire to become a fashion designer, with superb math and science skills she was pressed to pragmatically follow in her industrial engineer grandfather’s footsteps.

“Needing to decide what specific field to follow, I chose chemical engineering because it seemed most similar to cooking,” Minahan said.

For a while she found her happy place working at Procter and Gamble. But the family concrete business, begun by her grandfather and continued by her dad and uncle, soon needed her at the helm. She returned to Mayer Brothers’ expansive Elkridge plant and ran it for the next 40 years, along with several other related ventures, including a sewage treatment operation based in Denton.

With an eye to eventually retiring in the Denton area, Minahan and her husband put down roots there, reverse commuting daily to Elkridge for 10 years, in itself a daunting accomplishment.

Then, in January 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic was poised to alter everyone’s operational ‘normal,’ the decision was made to sell off Mayer Brothers’ physical plant assets while retaining product manufacturing licenses, enabling business to thrive remotely.

Still amazed at the incredibly optimal timing of her business operation transformation, Minahan joked that “sometimes the bear gets you, and sometimes you get the bear.”

Ever a fan of good food, when Harry’s on the Green opened its Denton location, the Minahans quickly became regulars, fostering a friendship that would impact their lives in unforeseen ways, interrupted by COVID’s arrival, temporarily, or so they thought.

But once the world opened back up, Harry’s owners, in their 70s, were eyeing an offramp to transition into retirement.

Minahan jumped on board to help, diving headlong into learning the quirks setting the restaurant industry apart from those she had known.

Despite several months’ effort, Harry’s closed for good. Among the locals left to grieve its demise were the Minahans and former Caroline County Tourism Director Kathy Mackel.

To that end, Mackel helped connect Micheal McCrea, who owned the vacant mansion property at 406 Market Street, once site of a well known Denton doctor’s home and practice. Most recently, the building housed the Joviality gift shop and a hair salon, until that tenant succumbed to a non-COVID illness two years ago.

While vacant, McCrea began helping his daughter renovate the old doctor’s practice side building which had also housed a music store, among other enterprises) into a coffee shop, starting to install a semblance of kitchen operation. (The structure became The Side Bar, serving drinks and light fare such as sourdough pizza, charcuterie boards featuring homemade fermented mustard and local cheese and other light fare).

Viewing that, and the rest of the building, brought Minahan to entertain getting fully on board with bringing a brand new restaurant to the county, primarily as a developer, with the long range goal of eventually turning the enterprise over to a chef desirous of becoming an owner/operator.

“Many chefs want to do that, without having a way to accomplish it,” said Minahan. “It was my idea to present a way for someone else to fulfill their dream, while also giving me a great place to go out to eat nearby when I’m 80.”

Enter classically trained Chef Adam Flood, who had lived in Maine since moving from the Shore at age 10. Flood and wife Nancy (also a chef), originally from Quebec, now live in the private apartment on Caroline’s top floor, while working their magic in the restaurant’s compact but stateof-the-art kitchen.

Flood, whose parents and brother had in recent years returned to this area, relished the opportunity to do the same, while following his own dream.

While Chef Flood’s culinary talents and family ties helped him score major points towards winning the job, a dash of karma didn’t hurt; not only is his wife also named Nancy, his mother’s name is Caroline.

Along with partner McCrea, Minahan organized the project under the working title, Denton Restaurant Group. During a later brainstorming session with relatives around her kitchen table, a cousin proposed Caroline’s, honoring its namesake’s home county.

From there, Minahan proceeded to steadily gather as much realistic information about operating a restaurant from friends including Easton’s Our of the Fire owner Amy Haines, to Bartlett Pear Catering’s Jordan Lloyd and Nicki Gladu (get full name), who had previously worked for 15 years at Kent County’s Hemingways, who became Minhan’s right hand as kitchen manager.

Accustomed to seeking our available government money in her other businesses, she applied for and received funding from Maryland’s Project Restore Program, which supports startups breathing new life into vacant buildings.

But despite the influx, numerous challenges remained and more arose, among them, the considerable cost of converting the space into a building code and fire marshal certifiable restaurant.

To help keep refurbishing and outfitting costs down, wherever possible, with help from enlisted friends and family, Minahan rolled up her sleeves to paint, construct small furnishings, and sew seat covers, along with crawling under the building when required to make minor repairs.

With the sidebar’s successful summer featuring outdoor seating, in October Caroline’s opened for full dinner service and brunch. Next up is the front porch service set to begin as the weather warms up. But even while getting fully up to speed, Minahan is formulating plans to convert the property’s old carriage house into a local farmers market.

Located on Google and now on Open Table, Caroline’s growing reputation is being bolstered by being centrally located on the Delmarva Peninsula. Recently, two customers, one from Rehoboth Beach, the other from Baltimore, drove to Caroline’s to meet up. And over the holidays, the restaurant served as a reunion point for three families coming from separate areas.

Moving ever forward on her unexpected restaurant journey, Minahan especially loves the way the restaurant is helping spread the word about “this wonderful little town and all it has to offer.”

For more information, visit https//www. carolinesindenton.com, or call 410.490.4495.

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