No one is surprised more than Brenda L. Wargo that the restaurant she and her husband, Andy S. Wargo, opened 10 years ago near Forest Hill is still open.
Though she trusted her husband's ability to run Andy Wargo's Restaurant and Tavern on Jarrettsville Road, she wasn't so sure she could manage being a 28-year-old mother of two and a restaurant co-owner.
"I hated it at first," she recalled, saying she didn't want to juggle raising a family and a restaurant at the same time. "I wasn't ready to devote my entire life to business.
"I said, 'I can't take it Andy, I'm not cut out for this.' He said, 'Give me three years and if you still feel the same let me know. We'll sell it.' " "I really had to face up to the fact that my partner wasn't thrilled," said Andy Wargo, who had worked in his family's former Baltimore County restaurant since he was a child.
Three years passed and Brenda Wargo didn't even think about the deal she made with her husband. Now she works at the restaurant on weekends, and does bookkeeping at home.
While she said the restaurant's first few years were rocky, she and her husband have been able to turn it from a roadhouse serving the pickup truck and lunch-bucket crowd to a busy family restaurant that will be a decade old Saturday.
"When we first took over here the notoriety was that we were a bar," Brenda Wargo said. Before she and her husband bought the restaurant, it was Basilone's, a bar and Italian restaurant.
But over the years she said they've been able to shake the roadhouse image. "More and more people realize this is a family restaurant."
The restaurant is packed on weekends, she said, when Wargo's serves pit beef sandwiches. The restaurant also has steak, seafood, fresh dough pizza and sandwiches on its menu.
"We're still known as the casual pit beef stand, the upgraded pit beef stand," she said.
The fact that all four of the restaurant's high chairs are in use on the weekends is one sign to Brenda Wargo that Wargo's has become a family spot.
Another is the regular clientele and business people who come in for lunch, which is served daily. Dinner is served Wednesday through Sunday.
On Thursday as the lunch crowd filtered into the restaurant, Brenda Wargo greeted many of them by name. "A lot of people come in week after week," she said. Wargo's uncle, Henry Yarish, manages the restaurant.
Changing the restaurant's image to a family spot took some time.
First, Brenda Wargo said, she and her husband introduced a children's menu sheet that kids could color. "How can you order a ribeye steak for a 6-year-old kid?" she said.
On Saturdays, the restaurant gives away helium-filled balloons to children.
Then Wargo's took out newspaper ads touting the restaurant as a family restaurant. The restaurant still has a bar, with four pool tables, but customers cannot walk between the bar and the restaurant. Each has a separate entrance.
Wargo's is a family restaurant in another sense: Brenda Wargo said she and her husband raised their three daughters, now age 8 to 18, there -- a home away from home.
"Running the restaurant made me realize it wasn't important whether we were sitting at home watching a movie and eating dinner," she said. "We can sit down here and eat dinner."
When daughter Dana was 2, Brenda Wargo would bring her to the restaurant and sit her in a high chair. "She fell asleep in her plate of french fries" once, she recalled. Dana, now 12, also could be found playing in the kitchen and stock room. Now her chores include cutting the 4 -acre lawn behind the restaurant.
Daughters Kerry, 18, and Kimberly, 8, also help out, said Brenda Wargo, who praised the restaurant's staff for its success.
"I've learned you can still have a career and be a mother," she said.