Robert S. Curreri

Owner transformed his popular Ocean Pride from a carryout into a full-fledged seafood restaurant

December 19, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Robert S. Curreri, the owner of a popular Lutherville crab and seafood restaurant who later became the owner and operator of a northern Baltimore County Christmas tree farm, died Dec. 12 of renal failure at Greater Baltimore Medical Center.

The Monkton resident was 75.

Mr. Curreri was born in Baltimore and raised in a rowhouse in the 1200 block of N. Decker Ave. He was a 1947 graduate of Patterson High School, where he was a star running back and basketball player.

He received an athletic scholarship to the University of Alabama, where he played for a year before transferring to the University of Maryland, College Park, where he played football and studied business.

"After leaving college, he worked as a laborer at Bethlehem Steel in Sparrows Point," said his daughter, Monica A. Woodford of Ocean City. "He also ran numbers for a long time, saved his money and bought Ocean Pride in 1971."

Mr. Curreri's culinary education was confined to owning and operating a hot dog stand.

"And that goes back a lot of years," he told The Baltimore Sun in a 1997 interview.

In 1971, Mr. Curreri purchased an old one-story house in the 1500 block of York Road in Lutherville and went into the carryout crab business.

An Evening Sun restaurant critic wrote in a 1984 review that if Ocean Pride were in "East or South Baltimore, it would be just another crab house. But in the Towson-Lutherville section, strangely lacking in these typical Baltimore establishments, it stands out like a cracked claw."

During Mr. Curreri's ownership, Ocean Pride evolved from a roadside carryout crab house to a full-fledged restaurant with a bar and two dining rooms.

The Bielski brothers, Ricky and Randy, began steaming crabs at Ocean Pride in 1972.

"We worked there while we were in college, and then after we graduated, we opened our own place," said Randy Bielski, who with his brother purchased Ocean Pride from Mr. Curreri in 2002.

"When we started, it was just an old house and a carryout operation. Then Bob added a deck on back and a concrete patio, and because we didn't have a liquor license, it was strictly BYOB," Mr. Bielski recalled.

In 1981, Ocean Pride was awarded a liquor license, and a lounge and a dining room were added, Mr. Bielski said.

"Bob was just a great guy, extremely successful, and very loyal to his employees. He was a very generous man who enjoyed life," he said.

"Bob came up with the crab seasoning that we still use today as well as the crab cake recipe," Mr. Bielski said.

In addition to crabs, oysters, clams and lobster, Mr. Curreri expanded its menu to include additional dishes such as prime rib.

"Ocean Pride looks like a place more conducive to enjoying onion rings than Caesar salad with smoked salmon," wrote a Sun critic in 1995. "You can sit at the noisy and popular bar and make a meal of raw oysters and steamers, or you can eat in the low-ceilinged dining room with its bright paisley and teal decor and cheerful gas fireplace. The tables are bare except for paper place mats."

Mr. Curreri opened a second Ocean Pride in the Freedom Shopping Center in Eldersburg in 1991.

The original Ocean Pride was listed in a 1995 Sun article as one of the top 50 restaurants in the Baltimore metropolitan area.

"The place mats are paper, the lighting harsh and the salads unappealing, but Ocean Pride deserves its place as one of the area's 50 best restaurants," wrote a Sun critic. "Where else can you find such consistently superb seafood in a family-friendly setting with first-rate service and prices so easy on the wallet?"

When Mr. Curreri decided to sell his restaurant, he selected the Bielski brothers.

"He had plenty of offers, but he selected us. I think he was happy that someone he had groomed was taking over," Mr. Bielski said.

In addition to owning and operating his restaurant, Mr. Curreri expanded his business horizons when he purchased a 65-acre cut-your-own Christmas tree farm in 1984 on Mount Carmel Road in Parkton.

"He was still planting trees and riding a tractor," his daughter said.

Mr. Curreri enjoyed deep-sea fishing and dancing.

"He took up skiing in his 40s and went to Park City, Utah, and Colorado, where he owned property, to ski," his daughter said.

Mr. Curreri was a communicant of Our Lady of Grace Roman Catholic Church in Parkton, where a Mass of Christian burial was offered Thursday.

Also surviving are a son, Michael A. Curreri of Carney; and three grandchildren. His marriage to the former Drucella Mann ended in divorce.

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