The pandemic drove many people out of the restaurant business. The situation was quite the opposite for Kris and Randy Sumey, who opened Boardwalk Vegan last fall in Havertown.
As 2019 dawned, the Sumeys were flying high with their event-planning company, Event FX Productions, shuttling from Delaware County to their bayside house in Ocean City, N.J. “It was going to be our best year yet,” Kris Sumey said. Their health was improving after adopting a vegan diet.
Then came heartache. Her father died. Their dog died. Then he was diagnosed with colon cancer, which he beat.
“Then we were like, ‘OK. We can breathe now,’” Kris Sumey said, referring to the start of 2020. “It’s February and we’ve got a great 2020 ahead,” she said.
We all know what happened next. “We got sucker-punched by COVID,” she said.
One by one in a matter of days, their events began to cancel — “March Madness parties, tons of events in Atlantic City, pharmaceutical events,” she said. “I was, like, just so depressed.”
With no income, the Sumeys — he’s 52, she’s 54 — began selling off such things as their motorcycle and boat and moved back to Delaware County full time while they figured out plan B.
A caterer friend offered them a food truck that needed work, and Randy Sumey, who likes to cook, thought they could make a go of operating it.
One day in summer 2020, the Sumeys drove past a shuttered pizzeria with a “for rent” sign on Manoa Road, just off West Chester Pike. The owner wanted too much, they said, but after they related their story, he offered them a better deal and even promised to coach them.
That made them restaurateurs. They dropped the food truck plan, but needed a concept. “I missed the Shore,” Kris Sumey said of her happy place. “I miss everything about it — the salt air, and especially the food.”
That gave them the idea for Boardwalk Vegan, whose plant-based menu is all summertime favorites: pizza, sandwiches, ice cream, hot dogs, popcorn, cotton candy, saltwater taffy — “because people were depressed,” Kris Sumey said. “They weren’t going to the Shore. I needed to be happy. They needed to be happy.”
“We really didn’t know if it’s going to work,” Kris Sumey said. “People plan for years to do things like this. We had no plan, no money.”
They opened Boardwalk Vegan in October, offering takeout from a window. “We love hearing the stories of the people when they come to the window,” said Randy Sumey, a Navy vet and a contractor. “We see how happy they are that they’re here. Some people tell me they drive hours because they just want to come and get happy. That’s my therapy. One guy who came down had a beautiful orange ’54 Chevy and he drove down just to take a ride and come and eat food. And they sat in the car.”
In April, the couple brought in a chef, Melissa Maly, who had plenty of vegetarian and vegan experience, including time at the now-closed Green Medley in Moorestown, Roots Market in Clarkesville, Md., and HipCityVeg in Philadelphia.
The restaurant business has been an eye-opener. “I have produced events for 2,000 people, done a political rally with 72 hours’ notice with the Secret Service — and I can’t figure out how to get these people fast-enough food on Saturdays,” Kris Sumey said.
“Sure, you miss the sparkle,” she said of the events business, which she expects to return. “You miss the glitter. You miss the glamour. You miss the people. You miss physical touch.”
But they’re surviving. “What are you going to do?” she asked. “You’ve got to do something.”