Hoggin All the Fun with Denny DiOrio

Denny DiOrio

DiOrio’s is an unassuming Somers Point landmark that sits on MacArthur Boulevard between the parkway and the bridge to Ocean City. While many summer weekenders stop for wings and a case of beer on their way to the beach and brag about finding this hidden gem, locals know it’s so much more than great food and packaged goods. Dave and I recently sat down with owner, Denny DiOrio, to talk about the community he has built around our favorite watering hole.

DiOrio’s has been a part of the Somers Point scene since 1936. At that time, they were located on Maryland Avenue by the bridge to Longport. In 1951, they made the move to MacArthur Boulevard and have been operating there ever since. Denny’s father opened the business all those years ago, but it is now run by Denny and his sisters, Terri & Janet.

DiOrio’s has changed quite a bit since they first opened their doors. In 1984, when Denny took over, Tony Marts and Bayshores had closed, so there was no place for young people to go out and dance in Somers Point. Denny changed things up and made it more like a night club. One of only two in the area, the other being The Surf Side Club.

Denny told us: “Gregory [the owner of Gregory’s Bar on Shore Road] always had Taco Tuesday. We were busy 7 nights a week, but we would always put on our sign “Dance Your Tacos Off”. They would go there for tacos at 6 o’clock and then come here at 9 o’clock to dance the night away”.

But as the times changed, so did the atmosphere at DiOrio’s. While the bar doesn’t look all that different, the tone has shifted to one of community support. Not only does Denny invite the local high school teams to host their fundraisers here, he is the first to celebrate their successes, posting words of congratulations on their electronic marquee and hanging framed pictures of teams, celebrating with wings, on his back wall.

He keeps tiny ice cream sandwiches in the kitchen that are saved for his youngest patrons, and at Halloween a hidden bucket of candy is waiting for the kiddos as well. When you are in the industry as long as the Diorios family though, you are sometimes forced into changes you never would have seen coming. Which is exactly what happened when the Covid-19 restrictions eliminated in person dining back in March. I asked Denny about that specifically…

Kate: You were one of a few Somers Point bars that were offering take-out from day one. What led you to the decision to offer your menu for take-out at such a big discount, when all of these regulations went into effect?

Denny: My first thought was, how much business are we really going to do with take-out. My second thought was, how am I going to keep my employees surviving and working. So I went with one third off my entire menu, knowing that…the business wasn’t going to make any money. The idea was for us to stay even. In the first six weeks of the shut-down, we gave $50,000 in discounts to the public. $20,000 of that came back to my employees in the way of gratuities. So I hit a homerun. So then after the six weeks, we shifted to just wings and tenders offered at 30% off, and now we are right around $90,000 in discounts since this all started. But it has kept my employees afloat. I was able to keep all of my cooks in the kitchen and we stayed very busy.

We sat and listened to Denny talk about how important it was to keep his staff employed, and I was hit by an overwhelming wave of emotion. To hear the concern and love he has for his staff had us both in awe. Our conversation continued…

Kate: One of the things that Dave and I love about this place is it’s always the same faces here serving you. How long would you say your average employee has been working here?

Denny: I have two girls that have been here 22 years. I believe Cheese or Jimbo might be the ‘oldest’ bartenders and they have been here 14-15 years. I’d say the least is 7 years. Although Mary and Trish just joined us three years ago. I needed one more girl and I talked to Mary, and Trish said – what about me? I said sure. We can always use more.

Kate: And I love that too, because not only are you a family runned business but some of your employees are family members as well. Jodie & her mom & her sister work here and Mary & her sister…

Denny: The whole place is like one big family. When you’re not here everyone talks about you and that’s okay.

One of our favorite DiOrio’s memories was coming in early one Sunday to watch football and unbeknownst to us, catching the tail end of the DiOrio’s Staff Christmas party. The staff and their families are invited to celebrate the holidays every year with drinks and gifts. Denny even plays Santa and has gifts for everyone’s children. We told Denny that one year in particular, the employees that stayed welcomed us in, and we immediately felt as if we were part of their team, the extended DiOrio’s family. We shared this memory with Denny…

Denny: I think that because our group is so close-knit, it expands into other areas and makes the customers feel the same way. We have a solid base of customers like yourselves that have really kept us going and that is growing by the day which means we can be busy any day, any time.

We continued to chat about his team, the new restrictions, what they’re doing to prepare for indoor dining and the like. And then, just for fun, we threw in a few personal questions, because we could…

Kate: What is your favorite thing to do when you’re not at this bar?

Denny: Sit home and watch baseball. With a glass of wine.

Kate: That was going to be my next question! What is your drink of choice?

Denny: I drink pinot noir. And I never ever drink here. Not even a sip. Everyone asks me to do shots. But this is where I work, so I don’t drink here.

Kate: That’s a good rule. That actually leads me to my next questions. You have been in this busines for a long time. What would be your hang over cure recommendation?

Denny: I would just say drink plenty of fluids in the morning or start over again, one or the other. When I was younger, not matter how bad I felt I used make myself go for a run. That would cure it, but it was not enjoyable for sure.

Kate: Okay – last question. If you hit the lottery tomorrow, what would be the first thing you would buy?

Denny: Well, I can tell you this, it won’t be a new bar. First thing I would buy, probably a bayfront home.

While we talked and laughed some more, we sat hoping for pre-Covid times to return. Football Sundays with Jimbo, an occasional week-night drink with BC behind the bar chatting us up about college hoops, Trivia Tuesdays with a bowl of tenders and that warm fuzzy feeling you get when you walk in and see there are open stools at the bar and your neighbors are sitting on the stools right next to them. They are ready for the next step towards a new normal. The bar is adorned with new sheets of plexiglass, hanging from the ceiling. The stools are paired off and distanced 6 feet away from the next set of stools. The tables are set up in the same manner, with plenty of space in between. Denny said when the new rules are rolled out, they will be able to accommodate 50 customers inside. DiOrio’s will forever be our happy place, but shhhhh – don’t tell anyone. It’s our best kept secret.

Photos from Our Visit to DiOrio’s Bar and Grill