When Anthony and Nick DellaVecchia opened Tony Beef in Galloway Township three years ago, it was obvious the brothers had a vision beyond their original location.
With a focus on a variety of burgers — what food is more American than the hamburger? — with some all-American appetizers and sides as well as shakes, Tony Beef was about elevating relatively simple comfort food to the next level … much like Danny Meyer did with Shake Shack.
Everything about Tony Beef screamed expansion and maybe even franchising. From its relatively small menu to customizing your orders by touchscreens, the DellaVecchia brothers had a vision.
So it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that a second Tony Beef recently opened in the Ocean Heights Plaza in Somers Point in the former location of The Original Greek, next to Manco & Manco Too and ShopRite.
Since opening, Tony Beef has been a huge success, even increasing numbers dramatically during the pandemic. Yes, burgers seem to be pandemic proof. A big part of that success is that Tony Beef remains a family business. One of the brothers — or both — can always be found at the two locations. They grew up in Galloway and dreamed of being business partners since childhood. Legend has it that after eating at the former Old Country Buffet in Mays Landing one day, the two brothers looked at each other and vowed they would one day open a restaurant together.
“The pandemic was definitely interesting like it was for everyone in the restaurant industry,” Nick says. “We definitely were busier and saw more volume but there was a time where our beef prices quadrupled. We didn’t want to jack up the price on customers, so we hammered through it and made it through. By the time the dust settled and we were able to get some financial aid that was given, we were OK. Then we found the spot in Somers Point and decided to just be aggressive and take a shot. This was the space that we knew would be the mode of what we always dreamed Tony Beef would be and then we will replicate this in Galloway. But I can say that there were more pros than cons going through all of it. We grew our clientele and became better operators.”
Opening a second location
Like any good entrepreneur, the DellaVecchias learned some lessons after opening their first location — mistakes they wouldn’t repeat a second time opening in Somers Point.
“When we first opened in Galloway, we didn’t have the resources we have now so we opened the whole entire restaurant on our credit cards,” Anthony says. “So we didn’t have enough money to afford the equipment we really wanted. So this time around, we made sure to get the equipment we needed to ensure the food is more consistent, goes out faster and creates an overall better product.”
The Somers Point location pretty much mirrors the Galloway location except that the DellaVecchias are slowly easing into the full menu. Right now, Tony Beef in Somers Point doesn’t have all of the burger varieties Galloway does and only has sides such as onion rings and fries. They will gradually add other items found in Galloway including more burger choices, chicken wings, shakes and other surprises.
“I think one of our strengths is that we retain our focus on burgers and a few other items,” Nick says. “We are confident in the items we have and we don’t feel the need to make the menu overbearing for the customer. So we want our customers to be happy and we will just ease into the whole menu.”
Both experiences fall somewhere between fast food and a sit-down restaurant, in that relatively new category known as fast-casual. The Somers Point location mostly retained how The OG looked since it was designed nicely in the first place, but the DellaVecchias added a wood wall to close off the kitchen from the dining room, custom wainscoting, artwork, decorations, a quartz countertop and a rustic metal ceiling.
Like Galloway, Somers Point will soon add kiosks for easy ordering, or do yourself a favor and just order ahead online.
“In fact, we fully upgraded the system from what people are used to in Galloway,” Nick says. “Bigger kiosks, nicer display, easier for customer to use … we are just waiting for them to arrive.”
The stars of the show — the burgers — offer more proteins and combinations of sides than the best mathematician could compute. Currently, the Somers Point Tony Beef offers beef ($6.59 single, $8.24 double), chicken ($6.59, $8.24), sweet potato black bean ($7.69, $10.99), the Impossible Burger ($11.99, $14.99) and alligator ($12.99, $16.49), but will eventually add Galloway faves such as filet mignon, bison and wagyu. All of the burgers are 5 ounces, so if you double up, you better be hungry.
“People will try anything that we put on the menu when it comes to meat options,” says Anthony, whose favorites over the last three years include yak, camel and alligator with goat being his least favorite. “We will try to run at least one special protein a month. Customers are always asking what we cut the meat with to make then so flavorful or whatever. And the answer is nothing. Whatever meat we are offering, you are tasting 100 percent of what that meat is.”
In addition to traditional burger condiments like ketchup, mayo and mustard, check out the roasted garlic aioli, bacon mayo and bacon jam; one of eight cheeses including American, white cheddar, mozzarella, pepper Jack, blue and even ghost pepper; and top it off with lettuce, tomato, bacon, pickles, red onion, fried onion strings, caramelized onions, avocado, jalapenos, mushrooms, turkey bacon or even a fried egg.
But my father once said a sandwich is only as good as the bread it’s served on, and he couldn’t have been more right. In the case of Tony Beef, they bake their own in house — something unheard of for a quick-serve burger joint. And the roll is absolute perfection: flavorful, soft, yet strong enough to hold two large patties and all of the fixins.
“We will never stop baking our own rolls,” Anthony says. “I believe it’s the single most important part of the hamburger. Our house roll is a hybrid of a lot of style rolls. We literally went through hundreds of recipes until we nailed the one we settled on.”
There are other vessel options, including having your burger served between a pair of grilled cheese sandwiches ($1.99), a pretzel bun ($1.49) or just lettuce for the carb conscious. There’s even a gluten-free option.
“We also bake the pretzel buns,” Anthony adds. “The only thing we don’t bake ourselves are the gluten-free rolls because of all of the baking we do, we want to ensure there is no cross contamination.”
More than burgers
Somers Point currently offers sides such as regular fries ($3.15 small, $3.95 large), waffle fries ($4.15) and onion rings ($4.15) and will eventually offer their famous dry wings available in a variety of sauces including honey sriracha, lemon and pepper, jerk, soy teriyaki and maybe even tika masala. The brothers are also entertaining a wing challenge with some high heat levels.
Tony Beef’s evolution
Tony Beef is evolving, and customers will notice some big changes in the next couple of months.
“We are going to ease into the full menu in Somers Point and then also upgrade it with more sauces, toppings, signature burgers that are already put together, loaded fries, milkshakes, ice cream sandwiches and more,” Anthony says. “We are not getting rid of the ability to build your own burgers as you want them, but we are designing some great burgers.”
Those will soon include a Banh Mi Burger with pork belly, pickled carrots and daikon radish, cilantro and possibly a hoisin crema; and a Reuben Burger with a beef burger, house-cured pastrami, sauerkraut and a house dressing.
In addition to the signature burgers, Somers Point will feature a new soft-serve ice cream machine where ice cream will be made from scratch to concoct a variety of different shakes. One option may include chocolate peanut butter ice cream topped with Reese’s peanut butter cups, a chocolate taco, garnish around the rim and more.
“We want the milkshakes to be a big show,” Anthony says.
So with two down, what’s in store for the DellaVecchias and the future of Tony Beef?
“We want to open as many as we can without sacrificing the quality of the product,” says Nick, noting the Somers Point location “had people pouring in the doors as soon as we opened. Franchising could be an option. We are not trying to reinvent the wheel here, but we are trying to polish it up and make it run better.”