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Downtown Baltimore restaurants Morton's, Ban Thai refresh properties

One sells center-cut prime ribeye for $47.
The other sells panang red curry with crushed peanuts for $14.50.
But both downtown restaurants Morton’s the Steakhouse and Ban Thai have renovated their Charles Street properties as more competition eats into Baltimore diners’ wallets. They’re the latest Baltimore eateries to redo their space within the past year, along with the 13th Floor, Greektown’s Ikaros, J. Paul’s and others. 
Morton’s has jetted its men’s cigar-club look with dark woods in favor of a black-and-silver Art Deco-style interior. The first facelift the restaurant at 300 S. Charles St. has gotten in 15 years, it includes several crystal chandeliers, new flat-screen TVs, plush chairs and a new bar area.
The Baltimore Morton’s is the chain’s second location in the mid-Altantic to revamp its space, says Stephen Carcamo, general manager for the Baltimore restaurants. The first was Washington, D.C.
“It’s a fresh new look for the Morton’s image,” Carcamo says. He declined to say how much the company spent on the facelift. Privately held Landry’s Inc. recently purchased the steakhouse chain.
Ban Thai meanwhile has installed new floors, tables and chairs last month, Owner Xiong Zhi Wang says. The restaurant has applied for a new liquor license that would allow it to stay open on Sundays.
“For 20 years it stayed the same,” Wang says. “I’m still young. I can do something else to make it grow.”

Writer: Julekha Dash
Sources: Stephen Carcamo, Morton's; Xiong Zhi Wang, Ban Thai

All photographs courtesy of Morton's The Steakhouse

Samos Restaurant's Canton Crossing shop to open in October

After 36 years in Baltimore Greektown’s neighborhood, Samos Restaurant is expanding to Canton with a fast-casual restaurant opening by October at the Shops at Canton Crossing.

Customers at the new store will order and pay at the counter and the 20-person staff will deliver soups, salads, tzatziki, hummus, and pita wraps to the tables at the 1,650-square-foot restaurant.

“We’ll have most of our favorites from the original locations, the ones that can be prepared quickly,” Samos Owner Michael Georgalas says.

He expects the developer will have the shell of the building ready to go in late spring, with interior renovations expected to take about four or five months after that. Georgalas is still planning the space and working on layout and doesn’t know yet how much he’ll spend on the new restaurant.

If the Canton location is successful, Georgalas says the family may expand further. He says there are no specific areas under consideration, but he points out that Samos has a customer base that extends from Washington, D.C., to Philadelphia.

Canton Crossing developers earlier this month unveiled the names of more than a dozen shops and restaurants that will open in the long-awaited development anchored by Harris Teeter and Target. Ulta, Old Navy, Michael’s and Five Below are among the new tenants in the East Baltimore shopping center. Samos is one of the few locally owned businesses that are part of the mix.

“This gives us an edge on being able to meet the needs of local customers, better than the national chains. We’ve been in the area so long,” says Georgalas. “There’s a lot of promise in the area, there’s a lot of people moving to the area. We wanted to serve that area.”

In 1977, Michael Georgalas’ father, Nicholas, opened the original Samos on the 600 Block of Oldham Street. Michael Georgalas currently manages the original Samos, and is the owner of the new location.

After so many years of only one Samos, what made the Georgalas family decide to expand now? Georgalas says a lot of it had to do with Neil Tucker, a principal with developer Chesapeake Real Estate Group LLC.

“He’s been a customer of ours for many years. We’ve considered several locations. Some of them were a little too big for what we wanted to do. This one seemed like a perfect size and great location.”

Writer: Amy Landsman
Source: Michael Georgalas, Owner, Samos at Canton Crossing

Retro clothing boutique moves from Hampden to Station North

A retro clothing boutique has moved from Hampden to the growing Station North Arts and Entertainment District.
My Dear Vintage relocated last month from 3610 Falls Road to 2015 North Charles St. in the Charles North neighborhood. Along with the women’s vintage clothing and accessories, owner Brandi Foster now offers men’s vintage and home goods in her 1,800-square-foot shop.  She held a grand opening party Jan. 26 with wine and cupcakes for her 115 guests.
Foster opened her first physical location last June in the 200-square-foot space above Lovely Yarns near the Avenue but moved out to search for a larger store. Foster enjoyed having her boutique in Hampden but wanted to look for larger locations so she could add more merchandise.

She started searching for available places in November and was impressed when she came across the former church that has a massive storefront window to showcase items, an upstairs loft area and space for fitting rooms. The new location has the potential for drawing customers because the Station North Arts neighborhood is attracting more college students, Foster says. More students are coming to the area with the expansion of the Maryland Institute College of Art.
My Dear Vintage carries seasonal vintage and home decor ranging from $2 to $50. Current hot items include men’s graphic T-shirts and faux fur jackets, Foster says. Foster still runs her boutique alone. She plans to add children’s vintage to her clothing line this spring or summer.
Source: Brandi Foster, owner of My Dear Vintage
Writer: Jolene Carr

Stone's Cove 'kitbar' restaurant opening in Owings Mills, other locations

It’s called a "kitbar." What’s that? It’s a mash-up of kitchen and bar’ and it’s a new concept in dining and entertainment.

Stone’s Cove Kitbar will open in May at the Boulevard College Center at 10995 Owings Mills Blvd., a retail, office and student housing complex in Owings Mills. 

Founder Bob John “B.J.” Stone says he expects to hire between 40 and 50 to staff the 4,200-square-foot restaurant, which will seat 72. Founder Bob John “B.J.” Stone says he expects to hire between 40 and 50 to staff the new store.

And that’s just the first of up to three more Stone’s Cove locations planned for Maryland between now and 2014. The founder says another Stone’s Cove will open in Maryland this fall, with one or two more in Maryland, Virginia and/or Washington, D.C., in 2014. He declined to say where in Maryland he is looking.

Stone says he chose Owings Mills for Stone Cove’s second location because he’s familiar with the Owings Mills area and because of the College Center’s proximity to Stevenson University. 

“I think Stevenson is a really up and coming university. We’re very excited to be close to Stevenson.”

The first Stone’s Cove opened two years ago in Herndon, Va. Stone says the idea is to combine the best things about a house party and put them in a restaurant.

“Normally when you go to somebody’s house, the party’s always in the kitchen. So we put a kitchen in the middle of a building, and we put a bar around it. So it’s a kitchen-bar. A kitbar,” he explains.

Some of the menu items include ‘appetapas,’ which are a cross between appetizers and entrees. The idea is to order a couple of different items, so diners can experience a variety of flavors in one visit. Some of the menu items include lobster salad in black sesame cones, honey-jalapeno chicken wraps, and roasted flatbreads with a variety of toppings.

 “I like the hospitality industry,” says Stone. “We have a lot of fun.”

The Boulevard College Center is a 55-acres mixed use complex.
Writer: Amy Landsman
Source: B.J. Stone, Founder, Stone’s Cove Kitbar

Breakfast chain First Watch expanding in Maryland

First Watch, a restaurant chain that serves all-day breakfast, is eating into the Maryland market.

The Bradenton, Fla., chain is opening this spring across from the Fairgrounds in Timonium, the start of a big expansion in Maryland. First Watch Chief Marketing Officer Chris Tomasso says that between 15 and 20 additional First Watch restaurants are planned for Gaithersburg, Annapolis and other undisclosed locations around the state.

The 3,520-square-foot restaurant is opening at the Timonium Square Shopping Center, anchored by Giant. It will employ 25. This will be Maryland’s third First Watch. There’s one in Pikesville, and another in Rockville.

Tomasso says Timonium was selected because it is a “dynamic community.” The Timonium site will feature an open kitchen concept and lots of natural light.

Florida-based First Watch has more than 100 restaurants in 15 states. It has franchised restaurants in Florida, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Wisconsin and licensed restaurants in Arizona.

First Watch specializes in made-to-order omelets, pancakes, sandwiches, salads and crepes.

It’s not open for dinner, instead serving its entire menu seven days a week from 7 a.m. until 2:30 p.m.
Writer: Amy Landsman
Source: Chris Tomasso, chief marketing officer, First Watch

Sub shop Jimmy John's scouting for new locations

Fast-growing Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches is opening its latest shop in an office and retail building at 537 Ritchie Highway in Severna Park and has plans to open others throughout Greater Baltimore.

The Severna Park location, currently under construction, will be the 11th Maryland location for the sub and sandwich shop when it opens in the spring. Others are located in Annapolis, Baltimore, College Park, Columbia, Frederick, Bethesda, Rockville, Silver Spring, and Hagerstown. Jimmy John's spokeswoman Katherine Perry says the company has plans to grow in Greater Baltimore but wouldn't release locations or the names of franchisees.

Headquartered in Champaign, Ill., Jimmy John’s features fresh bread baked in-house every day. Meats and vegetables are also sliced fresh in-house. On its website, Jimmy John’s boasts its products contain “no fake stuff, no additives, no fillers.”

Jimmy John’s currently has over 1,200 stores that are both franchise operations and company owned. It is expected to open 250 stores in 2013, according to FranchiseDirect.com. The average store is 1,200 square feet.

Starting a Jimmy John’s franchise requires an initial investment of between $306,000 to $488,000.
Source: Katherine Perry, spokeswoman, Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches; FranchiseDirect.com
Writer: Amy Landsman

Mexican restaurant Xitomate takes over former Donna's spot in Columbia

A Howard County restaurant owner has taken over the former Donna’s space in Columbia with his second Mexican eatery in the county.

Xitomate Mexican Restaurant opened this month at 5850 Waterloo Road, at the intersection of Route 108 and Snowden River Parkway. The 100-seat restaurant had a soft opening Jan. 16 with a limited menu of about 40 items, General Manager Octavio Moreno says. By early next month, it will offer about 100 menu items.

Moreno estimates that owner Julio Soto, who also owns Azul 17, spent about $500,000 to open Xitomate. Moreno says the new restaurant is similar to Azul 17, except “more fun, more colorful.”

Xitomate serves fresh-made guacamole, tacos, enchiladas, fajitas and ceviche. The word Xitomate means tomato in Aztec and reflects the restaurant’s commitment to fresh tomatoes and other fresh produce on the menu.

Margaritas are made from premium blue agave tequila. Moreno says the daring should try Margarita La Diable, made with tequila infused with Serrano peppers and mango.

“We are authentic Mexican cuisine,” Moreno says.  

All the decorations were brought from Mexico, and include Day of the Dead motifs and a display of 25 Mexican wrestling masks.

“We decided to do something more family oriented.”

Xitomate employs 28 and will hire four more to work in the patio when it opens in the spring. Patio seating will let it accommodate another 40 diners, Moreno says. 

Writer: Amy Landsman
Source: Octavio Moreno, Xitomate 

New fast-food restaurant opening three Maryland locations

A local entrepreneur is bringing fried chicken and fish to diners in Greater Baltimore with his new fast-food concept.
Munir Qreini is opening three Freestyle Fish n' Chicken restaurants in Maryland by the end of the year and could spend as much as $200,000 on each of the new restaurants. Qreini says he is in negotiations to open two spots in Baltimore City by the end of April. One is in a former Quiznos in Dundalk and the other in the 2000 block of North Howard Street in midtown Baltimore, just north of the Station North Arts and Entertainment District. He is still scouting sites for the third location.
Qreini already has two other Freestyle Fish n’ Chicken stores. In July, he opened a 2,100-square-foot restaurant in a former KFC at 100 N. Howard St. And earlier this month he opened a store in Bowie.  
Freestyle serves salads, fried tilapia and catfish, Philly cheese steaks, chicken tenders and tacos. Qreini has devised his own Mambo sauce, a spin on honey mustard, that’s served with chicken, fish and fries. The business owner gets his fish from Jessup’s Reliant Fish Co.
Qreini’s 15 years in the restaurant business, including opening three Jack’s Famous Wings in Chicago, helped him devise the menu and concept. He considers his first Baltimore eatery on the west side a good area because it’s near the Hippodrome and new location for the Everyman Theatre. The restaurant also has a 1,000-square-foot space for private meetings that can hold up to 50.
Qreini currently has five employees for his west side location and plans to hire more as business expands.
Sources: Munir Qreini, Owner of Freestyle Fish n’ Chicken; Janine Nickel, Marketing Consultant, Maisel Development Co.
Writer: Jolene Carr

Panini shop adding Maryland franchises

Amorini Panini, a Washington, D.C., restaurant that serves sandwiches and salads, is franchising its business starting in New York, Maryland and the District of Columbia.

Matt Gray, the sandwich shop’s co-founder, says he has filed franchise registration forms and plans to start offering Amorini Panini franchises by early spring.

"The hardest part is building the template and making sure that template works," Gray says.

For the past six months, Gray says he has worked with ifranchise, a consulting firm based outside Chicago, to help him create a manual that instructs future franchisees how to choose a location; handle permitting, construction, and hiring; and run the business.

Gray says his goal for 2013 is selling just five franchises, but his five-year plan includes expanding to 100 franchise-owned restaurants in the Northeast.

Gray, who opened the first Amorini Panini with his business partner Rich Twiley in D.C.'s Penn Quarter in 2010, says that a second location will open its doors by the third week of January. The new restaurant is located at 801 18th St. NW, and will hire 10 employees.

"We’re actually documenting the process so that when we start selling franchises, the franchise dealer will have all this information.

"Today we’re selling paninis, and tomorrow we’re selling systems," he says.

Its menu features breakfast paninis, including a strawberry nutella sandwich; a Montana buffalo chicken panini; and an Italian salad.
Writer: Luis Velarde
Source: Matt Gray, Amorini Panini

Luis Velard is development news editor for Elevation DC, a sister publication. 

New restaurant and market coming to Union Wharf in Fells Point

The owners of popular Canton eatery Fork & Wrench are opening their second restaurant and a market inside the swanky new Fells Point apartment complex Union Wharf this spring.
About one-third of the 4,350-square-foot space will be dedicated to a market selling produce, meat and prepared foods, Co-owner Andy Gruver says. Work on the 140-seat restaurant and market will begin in a few weeks, once the owners get the necessary permits.
Gruver estimates that the investment in the new business will total $600,000 to $800,000. The restaurant will employ around 30.

Gruver and partner Jason Sanchez are building the restaurant themselves and relying on recycled materials, like its sister property on Boston Street. The new restaurant will serve locally sourced food, but other details, including the chef and menu, are still being worked out. Fork & Wrench is known for its farm-to-table menu, hand-crafted cocktails and an interior that evokes the working classes of the 1920s, 30s and 40s. 
Fork and Wrench owners had been looking for spot for a second restaurant for some time. The owners decided that the space at the 281-unit at Union Wharf presented the best opportunity since potential diners live right in the building and in several other apartment buildings nearby.
The first phase of the apartment building is fully leased and residents will soon begin moving into the building’s second phase, which includes the units that jut out into the water. That’s according to Jeff Kayce, vice president of Bozzuto Group, the building’s developer. The average monthly rent at Union Wharf is $2,350.
The building’s amenities include a fitness center, conference room and an infinity pool. The developers were going for a South Beach, Miami vibe with the property.

The restaurant's Executive Chef Cyrus Keefer will create his Charm City Common Dinner at the James Beard House Monday Feb. 24. The restaurant will offer a sneak peek of the James Beard dinner in Baltimore on January 28. Call the restaurant for tickets. 

Writer: Julekha Dash
Sources: Andy Gruver, Fork & Wrench; Jeff Kayce, Bozzuto Group

David's Restaurant reopening in Hampden

After being closed for nearly three years, renovation is underway at a revamped David’s Restaurant and Deli in Hampden.

Restaurant owner David D. Morgan has submitted an application to the Baltimore City liquor board for permission to house a full bar and hold live music.

In October, the Hampden Village Merchants Association gave Morgan a conditional letter of support. The conditions being that the restaurant open within three months, and the ownership doesn’t immediately transfer to somebody else.

Community leaders say they are looking forward to seeing the vacant property at 3626A Falls Road put to use.

“This has been sitting vacant for several years,” says Benn Ray, president of the Hampden Village Merchants Association. Ray is also owner of Atomic Books, located next to David’s Restaurant. The block could use a viable restaurant, he says.

“Having that amount of real estate right next door being inoperable is not at all helpful.”

Ray says the space is essentially two properties: the former David’s and an old toy train store. He says construction is underway and it appears it’s to be shaping up as a sports bar and restaurant.

Morgan could not be reached for comment and Hampden community leaders say they do not know what kind of food the restaurant will serve. The old David’s Restaurant featured breakfast, burgers, and sandwiches.

The Hampden Community Council also voted support of the new restaurant’s new liquor license application.

The Baltimore City liquor board will hear Morgan’s request on or after Jan. 31. 

Writer: Amy Landsman
Sources: Benn Ray, President Hampden Village Merchants Association; George Peters, Chairman Hampden Zoning Committee

Acupuncture studio debuts in Hampden

A new business on the Avenue in Hampden allows visitors to try holistic healing on a budget.
Mend Acupuncture opened last month at 1008 W. 36 St. above Hampden Junque. Owner Sarah O’Leary offers $25 acupuncture sessions to clients in her 600-square-foot studio.
Mends houses six reclining chairs but O’Leary may be purchasing two more. She currently works with ten independently contracted acupuncturists. The Mends acupuncture procedure is a more modest version than your average, O'Leary says. It  focuses on areas from the elbows down and knees down and sometimes the ears and head.
O’Leary also owns Seeds Center for Whole Health and decided to open a separate drop-in acupuncture studio after noticing a growing interest in the healing technique. Acupuncture is commonly used to treat back pain, infertility and digestive difficulties while enhancing overall well-being.
“The acupuncture aspect really expanded, there was a two month waiting list at Seeds,” O’Leary says. “More and more insurance companies are covering it, but people who don’t have insurance can’t afford it.”
O’Leary says the low price is bringing a lot of newbies to acupuncture, many of whom are graduate students, artists and people who work in the hospitality business. Mend stayed open late along with other businesses on the Avenue for First Fridays during the holidays and administered 200 acupuncture treatments by the end of December.
O’Leary rented the space above Cafe Hon to open Seeds in 2007. Seeds offers services like reiki, massages and organic waxing. O’Leary enjoys being a business owner in Hampden, where it’s affordable and where there are fellow moms who own their own business. 

Writer: Jolene Carr
Source: Sarah O'Leary, Seeds

Pizza the Color of Ravens' Purple? It's Coming to a Food Court Near You.

The duo known for their Reuben and brisket sandwiches will bring pizza fit for Ravens’ fans to downtown Baltimore next month.
Owners of Beef Brothers Deli Brad and Mark Quint will open Purple Pizza in the Center Plaza Food Court at 222 N. Charles St. Located next to their deli, the eatery will sell pizza by the slice with the option of getting the dough in the Baltimore Ravens’ team color.
The restaurant will also sell subs and other Italian dishes and offer delivery and catering, Brad Quint says. The food court holds seating for about 200 indoors and 50 outdoors.
The Quint brothers started out three years ago after investing about $6,000 in a hotdog cart that they still operate seasonally and then opened their deli the same year. They decided to open a business that sells pizza by the slice after they felt something was missing for downtown employees during lunch hour.
The brothers named their new eatery in honor of the Ravens — now heading to Massachusetts for the NFL Championship game against the New England Patriots. It’s also the name of a favorite hangout of the brothers in College Park that has since closed.  The owners hope Purple Pizza will serve as a friendly spot for people to converse about sports, partake in sports trivia and eat pizza. They also might try adding patterns and designs in their pizza for special occasions, Brad Quint says.
Writer: Jolene Carr
Contact: Brad Quint, co-owner of Beef Brother’s Deli and Purple Pizza

Towson's Greene Turtle May Double in Size

Things may soon be looking up for Towson’s popular Greene Turtle Sports Bar and Grille.

The 26-year-old restaurant hopes to double its space with a 3,000-square-foot expansion in the form of a rooftop deck.

With the Towson Circle III movie theater, restaurant and retail project now under construction, the rooftop expansion could help it attract customers who will soon have more entertainment choices.

Greene Turtle Co-owner Jill Packo says the deck would feature a bar, small kitchen, and table seating. The additional space would accommodate more than 100. Based in Egdewater, the franchise sports bar is rapidly expanding and plans to open 16 to 20 restaurants in the Northeast by the end of 2014. 

The Baltimore County Board of Liquor License Commissioners approved the Greene Turtle’s request for an expansion on Monday. But the restaurant still needs to sign a new lease and complete a geological survey before completing any work at 408 York Road.

“We need to make sure the building can support the rooftop,” Packo says. The restaurant will double its staff if the project goes through.

She says that Baltimore County officials have been very supportive of the idea. Nancy Hafford, the executive director of the Towson Chamber of Commerce, says the Greene Turtle’s expansion will help it get more customers to the east side of York Road.

As for possible noise from a rooftop deck, Hafford says the owners have always been “very responsible” neighbors and she expects that would continue in the future.
Writer: Amy Landsman
Sources: Jill Packo, co-owner, Towson Greene Turtle; Nancy Hafford, executive director, Towson Chamber of Commerce

Developer plotting four-story Mount Vernon apartment building

Developer Patrick Grace is building an apartment complex with 11 units in a former condominium and office building in Mount Vernon.
Construction on the $1.5 million market-rate apartments at 505 Park Ave. will begin in the spring and wrap up in the fall, says AB Associates’ Nate Pretl, a land use consultant working in conjunction with Grace’s Trademark Properties. The developer handles commercial and multi-family properties in the mid-Atlantic. Baltimore’s Harbor Development LLC is the project's general contractor.
The building is just down the street from one of the biggest apartment projects currently under development. The Time Group of Owings Mills is building 171 market-rate apartments at 520 Park Ave., to be completed spring 2014. The neighborhood is attracting more interest from retailers and developers with the expansions of the University of Baltimore and the Maryland Institute College of Art.
Apartments at 505 Park will rent for between $900 and $2,000 a month for one, two and three-bedroom units. The apartments will be between 550 to 1,150 square feet, Pretl says.
The east side of the property contains a four-story carriage house, which the developer will renovate and subdivide as a separate unit, Pretl says. The carriage house will at some point go on sale as a single-family residence. 
The apartments will be marketed to graduate students and young professionals who want to be close to neighboring universities, the central business district and the cultural attractions in Mount Vernon, Pretl says. 

Writer: Julekha Dash
Source: Nate Pretl, AB Associates

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