Matt Haley’s Ingredients for Humanitarian Success As the winner of the James Beard Foundation’s 2014 Humanitarian of the year award, the International Association of Culinary Professionals National Humanitarian award, and the National Restaurant Associations 2014 Cornerstone Humanitarian award, Matt Haley has become quite the celebrity this spring. Yet, Haley does not take this as a personal success. Rather, he sees this as recognition of the work of his company including his coworkers, and his community. For him, “this organization does not exist in our community, but rather, for and because of our community, both local & global.” Being honored by these three organizations all at once is a bit overwhelming, but this restaurateur remains grateful and humble in the face of amazing success.
While Haley was born and raised and first learned the culinary business in Washington, D.C., he has always felt a deep connection to Delaware. He recalls fond childhood memories of enjoying summer crab, steak, and fresh sweet corn with his mother on Bethany Beach. These memories instilled in him a love for the area and for good food. In 1999, he moved to Delaware, planning to stay for a season, but there was no going back and it quickly became his home. In 2001, he went out on a limb and opened his first restaurant, now called Bluecoast Seafood Grill, in the sleepy beach town of Bethany that quickly found incredible acclaim, becoming a culinary destination. Today, his restaurant group, SoDel Concepts, consistently offers locally grown plates and tastes with multiple locations including, Fish On! in Lewes, NorthEast Seafood Kitchen in Ocean View, Catch54 in Fenwick Island, Papa Grande’s in Fenwick Island and Rehoboth, Lupo Di Mare in Rehoboth, Matt’s Fish Camp in North Bethany, and Plate Catering. For Haley, this has become a perfect way to combine two of his greatest passions: the beach and simple, fresh food.
Still, he has a third great passion for giving back that shines through in his humanitarian work. Matt Haley is a byproduct of people who helped him and were there for him when he could not be there for himself. These people have inspired his deep involvement in service – both locally and globally. Living the way he lives, he understands the importance of community and friendship, bringing that into his restaurants and the many communities he is a part of. Just one of the many ways he gives back is as an active member of the Latino community surrounding Papa Grande’s. He gives a portion of the profits back into the community and also goes into local schools to work with the students offering support and mentorship.
In the end, the greatest part of the job is creating a business that employs people, especially those who may not be that employable, so they can have a good life, feed their children, and be happy. That is the simple but noble mission of Matt Haley Companies (MHC).
Right now, MHC is expanding to 27 businesses and bringing in about $50 million dollars in revenue. In the future, they hope to have 100 businesses bringing in about $250 million. The goal is to create revenue and leverage the profits for good. Whether that means opening up a factory near a prison for work release, a coffee plantation in Nepal for women who are coming out of bonded labor so they can make a decent leaving and feed their families, or hiring autistic young adults in their restaurants (something they already do), Matt Haley infuses a commitment to others in every step of the process.
While for many people, his recent awards would be the culmination of a life’s work; they are just the beginning for Haley. He will absolutely be one to watch as he continues to make great food and an even greater difference in communities around the world.
By Courtney Ingard