The restaurant sign atop the brick building was still there yesterday: "McKeever's, Established in 1963."
But empty tables inside werealready stripped of their linens, and a handwritten sign taped to the door read, "Closed. Sorry, out of business."
The unexpected news surprised a couple of regular lunchtime customers, who stood outside fighting back tears. At least three days a week, the women patronized the German-American restaurant, known for its bratwurst, bauernwurst and knackwurst, reasonably priced prime rib and other fresh dishes.
The restaurant, an extension of the original sausage and pizza concession at Glen Burnie Mall, had built up a loyal following in 2 1/2 years at The Festival at Pasadena on Ritchie Highway.
But then the recession hit, and people stopped eating outlike they used to, said Ed Hermann, a 53-year-old co-owner whose father-in-law started the original business in 1963.
The original stand, The Popcorn Co., sold soft ice cream, candy and popcorn. When Hermann and his wife, Sally, took over in 1971, they added pizza and German sausages and changed the name to McKeever's. They closed the stand in 1988 and opened the 136-seat restaurant in July 1989. Now, Hermann and Charles Williams -- a 26-year-old who started with the business at 14 and worked his way up to partner -- are forced to close for good.
"People are not going out to dinner like they were in the '80s," Hermann said, as he and Williams began notifying their 25 employees of the closing.
Along with the recession came skyrocketing unemployment insurance. And it didn't help that McKeever's had poor visibility in one of the strip shopping center's buildings, or that the center suffered chronic vacancies.
The business never made money, Hermann said. Still, at first, everything was going according to schedule. In 1990, Baltimore magazine named McKeever's as one of the best bargain restaurants of the year.
In September 1990, business began to decline to a point from which it couldn't recover. Hermann and Williams each worked 80-hour weeks to keep it going. But the average number of diners on a Saturday night dwindled, from 230 people, to 150, to between 70 and 80.
In December and January, "the recession nearly crushed us and put us deep in the hole," Hermann said.
A week ago, Hermann thought for the first time, "this place isn't going to make it," he said.
On Sunday, the restaurant served just six tables of customers.
The next morning, Hermann told Williams, "It's time to pull the plug."
Hermann said he expects to file for bankruptcy protection from creditors, to reorganize and pay his bills. He would not say how much is owed to the bank, landlord and suppliers and in taxes.
Both Hermann and Williams said they'll be looking for new jobs, probably outside the food business.
Hermann, a former stockbroker, said he might re-enter that field, while Williams said he hopes to work more regular hours.