Owners of The American Cafe chain have spent more than $1 million renovating a vacant building into their first restaurant in Towson.
The renovations began last summer and finished just recently, with the new restaurant opening Dec. 13.
In the old setting -- a bar that was cited numerous times for serving alcohol to minors -- the interior was dim, even in the daytime.
That atmosphere was changed by having the old front torn down and replaced by huge, plate glass windows.
After work was finished, the 7,000-square foot interior had room enough for a 90-seat restuarant, a 64-person capacity bar and a carry-out gourmet deli counter.
They have hired 130 employees, said Janet Radcliffe, the restuarant's general manager.
Radcliffe said so far the lunch and catering side of the business has been steady but dinner has been light.
"It's not any slower than we expected, because we know Towson traditionally hasn't been a place families go to have dinner," she said. "Most of the places where you eat out in Towson are either carryout or an extension of the bar. We're trying to fill a different niche."
They are aiming to do 85 percent of their business in the restuarant and carryout and 15 percent in the bar, she said.
Located in the first block of West Pennsylvania Avenue, just off of York Road, The American Cafe faces the muddy pit where construction of Towson Commons is taking place.
Radcliffe said their restuarant expects to benefit from the opening of the huge development, which is to have up to eight movie theaters inside, along with shops, restuarants and office space.
"We think it'll help our dinner" business, said John Sampogna, area director for four Baltimore-area American Cafe restuarants, including the Towson one.
"We target families, business people and tourists in some of our locations," Sampogna added.
During the 1960s the building was a restaurant called Jade East and later was a popular bar and restaurant known as Hooligans. It became a Schaefer's Pub in the middle 1980s.
The county liquor board ordered Schaefer's closed in November 1989 but the order was temporarily delayed by a bankruptcy filing. The building was closed and stripped of all its fixtures. County police told the liquor board of numerous cases of under-age youths found drinking at Schaefer's, and fights and assaults at or near the bar.