Donny’s Family Kitchen on the corner of 7th Street and Wesley Avenue is serving up classics outdoor on their patio, and getting ready for when we are allowed to gather indoors and dine. Formerly Romeo’s Pizzeria, Donny’s is a fresh start on the corner. They are serving breakfast, lunches and dinners with the scenery we love and have been hankering for, especially in the middle of quarantine.
Cream chipped beef is a simple dish, but a definite classic on the island. Donny’s serves it up fresh for anyone coming in (or taking out) looking for an oldie but goodie.
“They used to call it ’S.O.S.’ in the army,” said breakfast cook Pam Sheeler.
Making their own recipe of cream sauce and dried beef, Pam cooks it fresh every morning and serves it over toast. Fresh potatoes are cooked up on the side, delivered daily from local produce suppliers. The chipped beef always gets a little green onion garnish, and then it is good to go.
“I just think it’s an area thing,” said Pam. “Philadelphia does pork roll. I think cream chipped beef is just popular in this area.”
Serving up the classics, with freshness.
“We use what we have, and use hardly any frozen ingredients,” said Kyle Gillen, who co-owns Donny’s with his wife Shay. The restaurant is named after their son, who at two years old cannot get enough of their lunch menu chicken wings.
“We only have one freezer, so we will use what we have. It’s just going to be fresh all the time,” said Kyle.
“Ocean City people just want fresh,” added Pam. “I want people to know we are taking our time to make things fresh as they possibly can be. Especially with young kids you want to know what is in everything.”
At the Airport Diner (which recently closed for good earlier this year) chipped beef was served up on the menu for 26 years. Diners at Donny’s might recognize Pam, who cooked there for three years before it closed this spring. And Airport Diner regulars know she cooks it the way all of the faithful customers liked it.
“Chipped beef was huge at the Airport Diner,” said Pam.
With 2020 being the last year on the Airport Diner’s lease from the city, in addition to COVID-19 throwing the business’s future into uncertainty, former owner Bill Juhas decided it was time to shut down before the summer season.
“When the Airport Diner decided they were not going to reopen for the summer my boss Bill got in touch with the Gillens,” said Sheeler. “He said they need a breakfast cook so get over there right now. I met [Kyle and Shay], and we have all been happily together since.”
Establishing a brand.
Kyle and Shay were more than willing to take in anything and anyone they could from the old establishment as they set up their new kitchen.
“When they closed we were willing to take anyone who was over there,” said Kyle.
Having an experienced crew has been a crucial factor getting Donny’s up and running. Bringing over tried and true recipes and customer-oriented philosophies has allowed them to attract loyal customers and get the wheel turning as they make themselves known.
“Ocean City can be expensive at times,” said Pam. “We have big portion sizes so you are getting your bang for your buck. It is very family oriented here.”
Thanks in part to Pam and the other staff members’ experience in Ocean City restaurants, getting the new establishment off the ground has been done with as little frustration as the current situation can allow.
“Starting a brand new restaurant in the middle of a pandemic is not easy but everyone here is helping make it work,” said Shay.
“We got really lucky with Pam and her whole crew,” said Kyle. “We got lucky with Melody from Romeo’s for our pizza. She was the best pizza maker there. When my wife and kids would come to Romeo’s we would always ask if it was her cooking.”
The Gillens – new to the restaurant industry – have been able to work with their experienced employees to utilize their talents in order to serve up the best of Ocean City dishes. Additionally, they have been able to look at what Ocean City dishes offer, and add the flair needed to make it appealing for their new customers. Pancakes for the kids at Donny’s are not just chocolate chip or fruit topped – they are funfetti pancakes. Served with colorful sprinkles inside and a marshmallow sauce drizzled over top of the flapjacks, it’s a fun take on the classic breakfast dish.
Donny’s is keeping things fresh and fun, but is also catering to the needs of today’s customers.
“We have two fryers. One is exclusively gluten free. A lot of people have gluten intolerances,” said Kyle. “One of our other ideas my wife and I have had is to name our items after things in Ocean City. People love our ‘The Gardens Salad’ because it has the Gardens in its name.”
With the incorporation of everything Ocean City into Donny’s Family Kitchen, the crew hopes their restaurant becomes the new family spot on island.
“I am glad I found this place,” said Pam. “It is hard to find a place that treats you like family.”