Everything Revolves Around Family At Cactus Cafe

Everything Revolves Around Family At Cactus Cafe

SELBYVILLE — Nearly straddling the line between Delaware and Maryland, The Cactus Café is a family business specializing in Mexican and Mediterranean cuisine where many patrons around for the 1990 opening remain regulars, according to owner Manuel Pavon.
“I’ve got customers that I knew as children and now they’re doing their rehearsal dinners here and their special celebrations,” he said. “I do anniversary dinners for people who have been 50 years married and also one-year married and they met here … the people here, it’s like a family.”
Cactus has two locations in Delaware: the original in Selbyville and a second spot in West Fenwick which opened about 15 years ago. Spending most of his young life as a baker, Pavon prides himself on Cactus Café’s menu.
When he first came to Ocean City in the 1980s, Pavon became involved with local food culture because of his trade as a baker. He soon decided that he should break into the field himself and opened his own venture.
“We are very constant and consistent. I don’t sacrifice quality for price,” he said.
The menu blends Tex-Mex and Mediterranean influences along with Latin American flavors and focuses heavily on seafood.
“We are very good here with rockfish stuffed with crab imperial. That’s one of the really signature dishes here,” said Pavon.
There’s turf to match the surf as well, and Cactus offers steak, chops, ribs and chicken. For those looking for a little heat, the café offers stuffed jalapeño peppers and fiery wings along with spicy versions of chicken, beef and pork dishes.
Pavon is willing to match the sangria and margaritas at Cactus against any contender.
Running a close second to the quality of food is the atmosphere and service.
“Even in the busy hours, in a minute, as you come in you don’t even finish sitting down and you’ve got chips and salsa on the table,” said Pavon. “We get a lot of compliments about service. And in the first three minutes you’ve got drinks on the table.”
Both Cactus locations have brightly painted interiors swathed in pictures of landscapes, festive sombreros and serapes and other decorations. Customers who visit are treated like family, Pavon promised, and most become regulars.
“Most of the waiters know what people drink,” he said, adding that the majority of his service and kitchen staff has each been with Cactus for more than a decade.
“I’ve got a waiter that has been here 18 years with me,” said Pavon.
Seasonal hires are added during the busy summer crush, but both waiters and customers tend to be invested in Cactus, he said.
Though Pavon is proud of his mojitos and mixed drinks, he stressed that Cactus is very much for families.
“It is very family oriented between the customers and the employees ourselves … I don’t have a lounge so it’s not a bar business,” he said.
It is a family business in ownership as well as clientele with Pavon’s children involved in all aspects of the operation. Pavon is also on site seven days a week during the summer season. Cactus Café closes Mondays during the off-season months.
Proximity to Maryland and resorts like Ocean City has been a big boost to business, said Pavon, though he believes less people are going out to dinner in recent years due to the economic downturn.
“It’s nice with the proximity of Maryland by not having [sales] tax,” he said.
In light of the conservative spending trend, he has added a few new small-plate options that include a drink but stay under $10.