Swell Tiki Bar & Grill: The Restoration and Rebirth

Debra J. Quinton, It's a Snap
It’s a Snap: Designing for the Community
August 9, 2016
Two girls kissing
Who’s the One For You?
August 11, 2016

Swell Tiki Bar & Grill: The Restoration and Rebirth

Helen Fausnaught - Swell Tiki Bar

Co-owner Healen Fasnaught (Photo by Shelley Couch)

Helen Fausnaught - Swell Tiki Bar

Co-owner Healen Fasnaught (Photo by Shelley Couch)

The Tiki Team
Bar owners Helen Fausnaught and Jamie Forfhey joined forces to form a team of eclectic members that make up the The Swell Tiki Bar & Grill.

Fausnaught has been an active member in the Rehoboth lesbian community for many years. Her independent real estate has thrived on the basis of superior customer service and her authentic desire to help people. She also has an extensive background in the bar and hospitality industry. Co-owner Forfhey sketched out the bar’s concept during a conversation with Fausnaught. Her digital marketing and social media skills are rooted in IT expertise. The two of them have created a bar encompassed in a laidback vibe.

Greeting guests with an amiable attitude, the co-owners embrace customers in this labor of love. “You have to have a passion for what you do,” said Fausnaught, who doesn’t mind the long hours, but in fact welcomes the opportunity to meet many new people every day and greets returning guests as if they are coming home. Not only will the staff at Swell Tiki Bar & Grill ask your name, they will remember it.

They have carefully chosen entertainers and staff members who draw a mix of different types of people and promote an all-inclusive atmosphere. On any given night, you can find a blend of guests including straight, gay, transgender, men, women, locals, and tourists.

The Dream Catches Fire
Inspired by a vision of a tranquil, safe and extremely chill bar setting, the two owners brought their ideas to life in 2015. “It is like fulfilling a dream,” said Forfhey.

With the bright colors and colorful people, Swell Tiki Bar & Grill was fast becoming a favorite Rehoboth hangout. “I never looked at it like a job but something we were creating,” said Fausnaught. “We want every experience here to be memorable.”

However, the night before 2015 Labor Day weekend, just four months after being opened, an electrical fire devastated the bar, causing extensive damage to the interior and structure. The night of the fire, owners were on site until around 6 a.m. and then returned to speak to insurance adjusters by 8 a.m. While the restoration companies gathered to clean up, the women were left with many overwhelming decisions to make. “When I got in there and I was sitting on the curb, it was kind of a whirlwind. It was very emotional,” said Fausnaught.

The Swell DecalTiki Rising
After some contemplation, the owners dove into the rebuild process that took nine months. Despite dealing with insurance, contractors, bids, construction, permits and codes, they persevered through the struggles of the rebirth. In March, the county unexpectedly flagged the restrooms as non-compliant, but they were determined to reopen soon. “I wanted to put everything I had into it and if for some reason it doesn’t work, I will know that I put my heart and soul into it,” said Fausnaught.

Taking the opportunity to implement improvements, Swell Tiki Bar & Grill rose from the ashes with a new facelift, some added driftwood décor and a little healthier menu that features salads, seafood and grilled items. Tiki tip of the day – try the calamari. “The silver lining in all of this was that we were able to make some changes that have a positive impact,” said Forfhey.

An Oasis
Swell Tiki Bar & Grill is tucked away and nestled in a corner. It can be easy to miss, so look for Forfhey’s logo design of the surfing dog. There is an outside tiki and patio bar and the inside is splashed with bright, warm, and welcoming orange colors. The vibe is inviting and the energy is peaceful.

The intimate space does not leave guests feeling cramped, but in a cozy and comfortable state that keeps people coming back. “We typically see regulars like once or twice a week,” said Fausnaught.

Can a bar be Zen? At Swell Tiki Bar & Grill, the owners promote a tone of calmness. They don’t see the typical hostility, fights, and outbreaks that many alcohol-induced moments can entice. “They typically remember our faces because of how we made them feel,” said Fausnaught. The owners find great rewards in hearing the stories and adventures of newly formed friends and guests from all over the nation.

Hugs and Hippy Juice
Along with personable service, delicious food and great conversation…they have cocktails, tea dances, karaoke and entertainers. This summer the bar hosts many events that are lesbian-dominated, but not only is anyone encouraged to attend, but they are welcomed with open arms. The entertainment draws different crowds on different nights, featuring men, women, solos and duets. Karaoke crowds follow their favorite karaoke host, creating a variety of singers and songs at each event. And if you missed happy hour, you can catch up with the late night drink specials.

On Wednesday nights, see local favorite Cathy Gorman performing and enjoy the beloved home-style chicken. The tea dances and live music are on the weekends, along with DJ nights and karaoke. A new venture called “Benefit Sunday” will feature local artists and proceeds from “Hippy Juice”, the bar’s refreshing summer citrus berry rum specialty drink, will be donated to local individuals and organizations in need. They will also raise money through raffles.

A Legacy of Love
Fausnaught and Forfhey aim to leave behind a legacy that inspires openness, tranquility, and togetherness. They welcome those entering Rehoboth with an intriguing invite that many can’t resist. “One of the first things they see when they come into Rehoboth is our logo,” said Fausnaught.

They thank those who stuck by them during the remodel and want to ask those who may not have had a positive experience, to give them another shot. Reflecting on the new changes, the ladies are improving on the original concept and welcome any feedback as constructive criticism.

Swell Tiki Bar & Grill is already becoming an important cornerstone in the community and a second home for many. If you are interested in joining the Tiki team, they are in search of kitchen staff, as well as solo or duet performers.