Sale of Buell's restaurant marks end of an era

October 01, 1992|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Staff Writer

The 5-foot-wide steer horns that overlook the bar will probably have to go. As will the pinball machine and the Baltimore Colts silver anniversary team poster featuring Johnny Unitas and John Mackey.

Buell's, a Howard County culinary institution for the past 53 years, is about to become a Chinese restaurant.

The owner, Trudy Buell, has contracted to sell the blue-collar eatery to Y. Y. Lee, Inc., a family-run company in Howard. The Lees plan to reopen it as Jade Garden, a Chinese Szechuan restaurant.

The sale hinges on transferring the liquor license. A hearing is scheduled for Oct. 13 before the county liquor board. Mrs. Buell, who is in her 50s, declined to discuss the matter, saying she didn't want to jeopardize the proposed sale.

If the transfer is approved and the sale goes through, it will mark the end of an Ellicott City restaurant that has employed three generations of Buells and been a community gathering spot for more than five decades.

"It's history," said waitress Petie Bowers, who has worked at Buell's for the past 15 years. "I'm going to miss the place."

Buell's lies along the heavily developed Route 40 corridor in the northeast corner of the county. It is one of the last roadhouse restaurants that serves home cooking in an area now dotted with dozens of fast-food chains.

As the county has gone from dairy and soybean farms to office parks and subdivisions in the past 25 years, Buell's has become something of a refuge for residents with more traditional tastes. The clientele includes roofers, carpenters, factory workers, businessmen and government officials. In addition, Buell's is host to meetings for local chapters of the Kiwanis, Optimist, and Soroptimist clubs.

News of the planned sale saddened some residents and caught most by surprise.

"You've got to be kidding," said Joetta Cramm, a county historian and author.

Asked where he would now go to find home cooking in Howard County, Circuit Judge and longtime patron Neal Sybert paused and thought.

"I don't know, to be honest with you," he said.

Mrs. Buell is trying to sell the restaurant for personal and business reasons. Since the death of her husband and partner, Bud, in 1988, it has been harder for her to run the place, said her attorney, Lewis S. Nippard of Ellicott City. The shrinking market for family-style food also influenced her decision, Mr. Nippard said.

Buell's first opened in 1939 as the only restaurant along Route 40 west of Baltimore. The family raised pigs, chickens and a garden in the backyard. Mrs. Buell married into the family in 1962. Her son, Carl, serves as manager and chef.

Buell's serves typical tavern food with a Maryland accent. The menu includes hot pork sandwiches, grilled cheese, grilled ham steak as well as crab cakes and fried oysters.

The restaurant's atmosphere is vintage roadside. The blood-red carpet matches the table clothes. Faux daffodils and tulips sit in vases on the tables. An eight-point buck hangs mounted on one of the knotted pine paneled walls.

Although Buell's will probably look a lot different under the Lee family's ownership, some things will remain the same, Mr. Nippard said.

"It's been a family business, and it will continue to be a family business," he said.

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