(April 12, 2019) A year ago, all eyes were on the Matt Ortt Companies as they prepared to take over operations of the Ocean Pines yacht and beach clubs, which had just finished losing nearly $800,000 in the preceding 12 months.

This fiscal year, under Ortt, the facilities project to break even or better, in large part because the company provided consistent food and quality customer service.

The question now is what do cofounders Matt Ortt and Ralph DeAngelus do for an encore?

Coming into Ocean Pines last April, DeAngelus said, “Everyone gave us warnings.”

“[People said] ‘you’re going to hate this and these people are impossible, and you’re going to be out in a year.’ It’s been kind of the opposite,” he said. “They’ve been open-armed and very gracious, the Ocean Piners. It’s been nice.”

Ortt, during a public meeting last April, joked the number one reason his company would succeed was because “my mother lives in Ocean Pines and I’ll never hear the end of it.”

“So far, so good,” Ortt said with a laugh. “She’s one of those mothers that won’t let it go to our heads. She lets us know that we need to keep going and improving. But, I think my mom and dad are pretty happy with what we’ve done over there.”

DeAngelus said the plan this year is to improve operations even more

“It’s actually going to be easy to make it better, because we threw so much spaghetti against the wall to see what would stick – we don’t have to do that again,” he said. “That cost money when you test something out and it doesn’t work – and now we know what does work and what doesn’t, and we’re never going to throw that old spaghetti against the wall again.”

He said the goal was to do “more sales with less cost.”

“That’s the encore,” he said. “It’ll be the same great service, the same smiling face is going to be there, and the food’s actually probably going to be a better quality, because we’ve got a running start going into the year.”

DeAngelus and Ortt are thrilled with renovations being made at the beach club, on 49th Street, oceanside. The association board of directors recently approved creating a larger bar and altering the roofline to improve the view of the ocean.

“Now, you can actually sit at the bar and look at the ocean,” DeAngelus said. “You’re not looking at the corner of a building.”

Renovations are scheduled to wrap in time for a reopening around Memorial Day.

The yacht club, on 1 Mumford Landing Road, remained open for most of the winter and will see expanded hours into the summer.

Ocean Pines and the Ortt Companies last year signed a two-year deal to manage both facilities. DeAngelus said there have already been preliminary talks about extending that deal.

“We’re starting to book [banquets] now for Ocean Pines that aren’t in our contract years and we addressed that,” he said. “We asked, ‘Who do we send these people to if we’re not going to be there,’ and they said, ‘Listen, let’s talk about renegotiating your contract to extend it, so you can actually book things for yourselves,’ which makes sense, obviously, for everybody.

“They see that we’re thinking long term, and they like that,” he continued. “We’re going to think long term and do everything right, knowing that they’re going to give us a good deal to extend – at least we feel that way. I’d be surprised if they didn’t take care of us.”

Ortt added, “We didn’t do this for short-term thinking.”

“I’ve said it before and I’ve said it to Ralph and everybody else: Ocean Pines turned out to be one of the most rewarding projects I’ve ever done, because of the amount of gratitude,” he said. “In this business you don’t always get that.”

He said the resort mentality is often all about getting people in and out as quickly as possible. Not so in Ocean Pines.

“Here, we see the same faces all the time and they thank us each and every night,” Ortt said. “And that’s one of those things that you never put a price tag on before, but the gratification we get from it really makes us want to keep going and do better.”

In January, the Ortt Companies parted ways with Rare & Rye, an upscale 32nd Street restaurant, after their two-year contract expired. They’ll soon take over The Abbey Burger Bistro on 12601 Coastal Highway.

DeAngelus said remodeling efforts in that location have included doubling the size of the existing bar and reducing the size of the dining room. He said there would also be a large outdoor dining area.

“We’re going to stay traditional, true to the Abbey Burger menu, as far as their meat and potatoes, which to them is obviously their burgers,” he said. “They sell the hell out of some burgers, let me tell you.”

He said they would also add “an Ocean City flair,” with steam pots and crab cake sandwiches coming onto the menu.

“For the most part, it’s going to be true to Abbey Burger’s menu – with a little twist,” DeAngelus said, adding the restaurant would reopen May 17.

The Ortt Companies also runs the Hooters in West Ocean City. DeAngelus said they’re working on two other projects, but neither would be open this year.

“They’re 2020s, but they’re going to be monsters,” he said. “I’m excited about it.”

Josh Davis is an MDDC award-winning editor and reporter at the Bayside Gazette and Ocean City Today newspapers, covering Berlin and Ocean Pines, Maryland. He is the author of three novels, including 'Vanishing is the Last Art' (2012). He lives in Berlin.

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