Friendly Farm sets sights on catering Route 140 eatery to close its doors

November 12, 1992|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Staff Writer

The regular lunch crowd at Friendly Farm will have to find a new place to meet.

The Westminster restaurant, a branch of Friendly Farm in Upperco for 12 years, will become a banquet and catering facility on Monday.

"We're really going to miss you," said a woman as she and a friend paused to say goodbye to Larry Wilhelm, owner of buffet-style restaurant. "Where are we going to go for lunch now?"

"That's the general feeling I've been getting," said the 41-year-old president of Friendly Farm Inc. and the new Wilhelm Limited Caterers.

"It makes me feel bad, but I have to do what's best for the business," he said.

The restaurants, started by the Wilhelm family on their farm in 1959, added catering to their services in 1973, when Mr. Wilhelm graduated from college. Since then, the annual catering business has grown tenfold at the Route 140 location and elsewhere.

.` Mr. Wilhelm said the new plans

will not affect the Upperco restaurant, which is managed by his brother, Gary, who is company vice president.

"That's the part of the business that's continued to grow more and more," Larry Wilhelm said. "We finally thought, 'This is silly. We should be focusing our energies on the part that is growing.' "

Catered events range from delivering food for a gathering of 15 people to planning wedding receptions and banquets for up to 3,000 people, he said.

"They're not all big, though," he said. "I don't want you to get the idea we're a big conglomerate. But, we've got 100 parties booked from now until Christmas."

Operating the catering business out of the popular family restaurant was not the best arrangement, Mr. Wilhelm said.

At wedding receptions he catered, people often seemed surprised that the restaurant offered that service.

"The perception is that we are solely a family restaurant, all-you-can-eat, and people don't even think of coming here when their daughter is getting married," he said.

In fact, Mr. Wilhelm said he looks forward to giving as much attention to each catering customer as he does to the prospective brides. For example, rather than simply offering a choice of paper or linen tablecloths and napkins, he can now take the time to find the perfect color, Larry Wilhelm said.

"I love to sit with the brides planning their receptions and watch their faces as they look through the books of things we've done," he said. "I relish the opportunity to sit and talk with them, and now all my customers will be treated that way.

"For me, it will be less stressful."

Aside from wedding receptions, Mr. Wilhelm said he will continue to cater banquets for clubs and organizations and provide corporate catering.

"We've carved out a market for ourselves in all three of those areas," he said. "Up to this point, we've targeted the large fund-raisers in the county and we've been pretty successful in getting that business.

"We're hopeful that our established reputation will keep us going."

For example, Friendly Farm has catered events for the Restaurant Association of Maryland, the Carroll County Chamber Commerce, and the Carroll County General Hospital Auxiliary's Silvery Moon Ball.

"We worked very hard to do a good job for that," Mr. Wilhelm said.

The facility will also be open for holidays such as Thanksgiving, Easter and Mother's Day, he said. Reservations will be necessary for each event.

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