The Brothers DeVivo
By Lori Stacy
One of John DeVivo’s childhood memories involves helping his mother clean squid for a large dinner party. It was there, in the family kitchen, where both John and his brother Ralph developed a passion for food, a passion that led them both through many years in the restaurant industry to now owning and operating three unique eateries in Southlake and Keller. “Like some girls might talk about their weddings, we talked about opening our own restaurant,” says John of his and Ralph’s dreams.Ralph says he just knew, from a very young age, that he wanted to be in the food industry. When his two older brothers took jobs at the fast-food restaurant Wendy’s, Ralph was adamant: He wanted to go to work with his brothers. But he was only 14, and the minimum age requirement was 15. Still, he managed to get a job as a cook, and thus began the DeVivo brothers’ first foray together in the food world.From Wendy’s came many more jobs in the restaurant business. John was most recently executive chef at The Cheesecake Factory and Ralph worked for Outback Steakhouse for 15 years, followed by a short stint at The Cheesecake Factory before spending six years at P.F. Chang’s.
WITH A FIRE TRUCK, A BUSINESS IS LAUNCHED
But then a fire truck and, according to John’s wife, Lindsey, some divine inter-vention changed their course. John had just left The Cheesecake Factory and Ralph had just left P.F. Chang’s. For the first time since they were children, neither brother was working. It was a good time to pursue their childhood dream.“My wife insisted, ‘God made this happen,’” says John, who figured it was time to act. John wanted to open a food truck, so he began looking at the realities of it (including long days and setting up in a new location each day) and at finding a set of wheels, so to speak. That’s when the DeVivos learned about a fire truck that was operating as a mobile pizzeria. The brothers decided to make a move. They started operating Hook & Ladder Pizza Co. out of the fire truck, first park-ing at a commissary in Grand Prairie. Just a few months later, a restaurant space in Keller became available and the DeVivos, no strangers to hard work and long hours, decided to open DeVivo Bros. Eatery in addition to running the pizza truck, which was gaining its own following. That was just three years ago, but quickly the restaurant developed a buzz in the community. “We became successful pretty fast,” John says. “We created a quality product and did a lot to support the community and the schools.” “We attribute our success to the fact that we use fresh food. We are dedicated to cooking from scratch every day,” says Ralph. “We don’t even have a walk-in freezer,” admits John. “We’re strong believers in quality.” Their commitment to fresh food resonated well with their customers. “People come in and tell us how delicious our food is,” says Ralph. “They don’t exactly know why it’s so good, but it’s because it’s all fresh; it’s all from scratch.” Buoyed by the success of the eatery and Hook & Ladder and wanting to expand their concept of fresh, from-scratch food, six months ago the duo opened DeVivo Bros. Latin Fusion in a former taqueria in Southlake. DeVivo Bros. Latin Fusion is a unique concept. Playing off the space’s history as a taqueria, the brothers decided to merge two cuisine types: Latin and Italian. The result is an innovative menu that offers some Italian dishes, some Latin American, plus a fusion of the two, evident in such dishes as their Frijoles and Chorizo pizza (featuring beans, mozzarella, chorizo and pico de gallo) and Spaghetti Pork Bolognese (pasta with pork asada and a hearty red sauce). “We wanted to be unique and different,” says Ralph. While their Southlake restaurant is fairly new, they are hopeful the community will embrace it. “What we hear is that Southlake needs more mom-and-pop places,” he says. On any given day, John and Ralph alternate from restaurant to restaurant, traveling to whichever location needs them. While they both have a say in all things related to the restaurants. John’s focus is on food while Ralph manages the business side of things. It’s a division of labor that works well for the brothers. Says John: “We get along great. We’re both driven and passionate. Sometimes we clash, but we have a great relationship.”Ralph concurs: “John and I are the best of friends. No matter what happens, at the end of the day we’re still brothers.”The DeVivos are also thankful to have a staff that makes it possible for them to run a successful business and, most importantly, have a life.“We’re not in this to get rich,” Ralph says. “We wanted to get out of the hustle and bustle of corporate restaurants, to open a small, quaint place where we could sit down with our guests.”But with three different eateries, each with their own concept, John admits that one of the challenges is being spread too thin, trying to be in too many places at one time. Still, the broth-ers hope to keep up the momentum and perhaps grow even more—so long as it’s not too big. They don’t want to lose control or sacrifice quality, nor do they want the employees or the customers to feel unappreciated.“We treat our guests and our staff like family,” says Ralph. “We have very low turnover as a result.”
ALL IN THE FAMILY
Not only do they pride themselves on treating their staff like family, some of their staff actu-ally are family: Ralph’s wife Melissa helps manage shifts, while older son Jacob manages Hook & Ladder and younger son Chandler works at the Keller eatery. John’s wife Lindsey is the former bakery manager, who created the popular carrot cake and cheesecake that are still on the menu. Their daughter, Stella, who has a sand-wich named after her, is a frequent presence at the restaurant.Even their parents’ influence is evident at the restaurants. For breakfast they offer sausage, peppers and eggs “just like Dad used to make,” and one of the guest favorites at DeVivo Bros. Eatery is the meatloaf—ground Angus beef with savory herbs that is a replica of the meatloaf their mother used to make for them. “It’s my mother’s recipe,” says Ralph, “but she didn’t have it written down.”Adds John: “She didn’t use recipes; she cooked by taste.”“She was Italian—all her recipes were in her head,” explains Ralph. “John recreated the meatloaf from memory, and it tastes exactly like the meatloaf my mother made 30 years ago.”It’s dishes like these that have led the broth-ers to call their cuisine “rustic comfort food,” the kind of food that warms the soul and reminds guests of home-cooked meals and family. Think chicken and waffles, chicken-fried chicken with sausage gravy, meatball subs with homemade sauce and meatballs. But it’s not just the food they want to evoke this warm, homey feel, it’s also the laid back atmosphere, the fact that you can most likely run into one of the DeVivos and chat when you’re in one of their places. You may even be tapped to try a new dish. Unlike corporate-run restaurants where decisions are made at headquarters and executed chain wide, at the DeVivo Bros. restaurants, everyone gets a say in new dishes. John says he’s had his regular guests try out new dishes to get their opinions. “When you work for someone else, they tell you what to think,” says John. But running your own restaurant is very different, he admits. “We’ll make a dish and try it out and I’ll say ‘I think it’s good. What do you think?’” It’s definitely not something that would happen in a big chain restaurant, and that’s what sets the DeVivo brothers apart. “We’re not interested in building an empire,” says John. “We’re just trying to live our dreams and be happy.”