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DeNovo’s a labor of love for owners Bob and Kelli Beck

(Feb. 12, 2015) A decade ago, husband and wife Bob and Kelli Beck moved from New Jersey to the small community of Ocean Pines, dreaming of opening a successful restaurant and raising a family.
That dream celebrates a milestone, as DeNovo’s Trattoria, a staple of the community, celebrates its 10th year in business.
Bob, who began working as a dishwasher at age 15, was fresh from a successful restaurant launch that started a modest franchise in the Garden State when the couple decided to move.
“He made the owner a huge success and opened two other restaurants for him,” Kelli said. “But he was working crazy hours and I was home with two small kids. I had given up my job because his job really had no flexibility.”
Looking for a slower pace, the Becks decided to relocate to Ocean Pines, where Kelli’s parents lived.
“We liked the area,” she said. “It seemed very family-friendly and a nice environment to raise kids in, so we picked up and moved down here.”
After spending a year and a half doing their homework and learning about the makeup and needs of the community, the Becks bought a small former sub and pizza shop on Manklin Creek Road.
“It came up for sale and we jumped on it,” Kelli said. “We took what worked for them and put an Italian base on it and made it work for us.”
Bob supervised the food side of the operation, while Kelli, whose only previous restaurant experience was a brief stint in college, handed the organizational operations.
“We started it small on the other side of the shopping center, just wanting to be that casual, family-friendly everyday place,” Kelli said.
Often seen as a strictly Italian eatery, Kelli said the menu leans more on the “eclectic” side.
“We do all the meatballs and spaghetti and raviolis and all that, but we also do a lot of fresh fish and salads and steaks,” she said. “It’s really a comfort food restaurant.”
The formula was an instant success.
“It was a Friday night when we first opened and I’ll never forget it,” Kelli said. “We kept the number of the original business and the phone started ringing and we just got so excited.
“It was a success in that it had its own little niche here,” Kelli continued. “A lot of people liked that you didn’t have to leave the Pines to get something, and I think it has been such a nice draw because it is so eclectic. If you bring a large group of people in here and somebody wants a full entree, somebody else wants a salad, somebody else says, ‘I’m in the mood for a sub or a cheesesteak’ and a couple of kids want to split a pie, there’s a little something for everyone.”
In 2007, DeNovo’s expanded into an adjacent unit, opening a second dining room and adding a bar.
“We worried about getting through each day back then, not even about tomorrow,” Bob said.
“We dreamed it would be this successful and we worked really hard 24-7,” Kelli said. “If anybody thinks that it takes anything less than that, they’re wrong.”
Closing the restaurant on Sundays, Kelli said, gave the couple some much needed family time, a tradition that remains today.
“That was so important to us,” she said. “When we first opened, I was home a lot with the kids, so I would be in and out and I would help manage and organize things, but he was here constantly. Our kids were three and four years old at the time, and to have any sense of normalcy they needed to know their dad.”
Low turnover and a “great management team” also helped the restaurant run smoothly.
“It’s very unlike most restaurants in that sense,” Kelli said. “Our people are local, they’ve been in the industry and they realize it’s not late nights and it’s consistent here. We’re a little unusual in that way, but it works for us.”
On Thursday, the Ocean Pines Chamber of Commerce will hold celebratory ribbon-cutting ceremony at the restaurant at 5 p.m.
“We’re very excited about that,” Kelli said. “It’s a nice milestone, and a lot of the chamber members are regular customers. We see them all the time and I think they’re excited to be able to celebrate with us too.”
Kelli said the couple has considered remodeling and opening a second location, although that’s not definite.
“We serve comfort food in a comfortable establishment and that’s kind of what we’re all about,” she said. “Eleven years ago, when I wrote a business plan, that’s exactly what we were looking to do. We’re not the place when people want something special; we’re the place they want to go to every day.”
Bob said he was grateful for the community’s continued support, from Ocean Pines residents to those from Berlin, Newark and Snow Hill.
“We love our neighborhood, we love our surroundings and we love our customers,” he said. “Without their support and without them actually wanting us to be here, we’re nonexistent. This restaurant and this community changed my life, it changed my family and it was one of the smarter moves that I’ve ever done, besides marrying my wife.
“It’s nice to be appreciated, and in return we appreciate everything that everybody else does for us,” Bob continued. “You can be whatever you want to be, but if the people don’t come in to use you, you’ve got nothing. Our customers mean a lot to us.”
For more information, call 410-208-2782 or visit