For 25 years, Frank Lutzi toiled behind the stoves and counter tops of Baltimore's Calvert House restaurant, which for decades has enjoyed a successful existence just beyond the shadows of Inner Harbor establishments.
As the restaurant's chef and one of its owners -- his mother, Rose Herrin, bought the Calvert House in 1964 -- Mr. Lutzi, 46, has spent more than half his life focused on cooking.
Last April, however, Mr. Lutzi stumbled upon an idea that, while it may not revolutionize the food industry, has expanded his vistas beyond the tight confines of a kitchen.
A 1964 graduate of Kenwood High School, Mr. Lutzi has embarked on a new venture selling a ready-to-use crab cake blend that bears the crest and logo of the Calvert Street restaurant.
Called the "Calvert House of Baltimore Gourmet Crab Cake Blend," the new product is being marketed in plastic containers ranging in size from 7 ounces to 5-gallon drums. An imperial sauce is also available.
The blend -- his own -- is a combination of mayonnaise, eggs and spices and, according to Mr. Lutzi, is one of a kind.
There are dry crab-blend mixes on the market, he said, but no one else has come up with a refrigerated blend that requires the cook to add only the crab meat and bread filler.
"It's an amazing feeling to be able to come up with an idea or a concept that represents something totally new and different on the food market today," said Mr. Lutzi. "You sit back and wonder, 'Is this really happening?' "
With the help of Mr. Lutzi's partner, Charles Smith, a salesman with Martin Seafood Co. of Jessup, the Calvert House crab blend is being used in one local hospital, four country clubs and 15 restaurants in the Baltimore and Washington areas. Mr. Lutzi said the company sells about 40 gallons of the blend each week.
Recently, Mr. Lutzi and Mr. Smith landed a contract with Monarch Sky Brothers of Altoona, Pa., which will begin handling sales and distribution of the product in February in northern and western Maryland, Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio and West Virginia.
Mr. Lutzi makes his crab cake blend in the first-floor kitchen of the Calvert House, mixing, pouring and applying the labels himself.
If the product takes off, he said, he'd like to convert part of the restaurant's second floor into a mini-factory.
While the partners are currently focusing on winning commercial contracts for their product, they hope to be able to offer their blend to the general public through grocery stores eventually.
Mr. Smith said grocery-store sales are not a possibility until the two can afford to apply safety seals to every product.
After so long in the kitchen, being able to come out and sell the blend he's been using for years has produced a "gratifying feeling," said Mr. Lutzi.
His mother, Mrs. Herrin, who at 68 is still the Calvert House's official hostess, beams when she talks about her son's new venture.
"Needless to say, his mother is very proud of him," she said.