In Annapolis, with coffee you get Gus

December 28, 1992|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer

On New Year's Eve, Gus Leanos is throwing a party for his closest friends: everybody in the neighborhood.

As the master schmoozer, gourmet sandwich maker, white-haired political pundit, raconteur and mayor of West Annapolis, Gus Leanos knows a lot of people. His coffee shop on Annapolis Street has become a neighborhood hangout for everyone from fourth-graders to state legislators.

City Administrator Michael Mallinoff drops by the Annapolis Gourmet in the mornings to sip coffee and shoot the breeze. Sometimes he brings his 6-month-old son, Andrew, to "get him acclimated to people and politics."

State Del. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Baltimore County Republican, Edwin Disharoon, a retired bank president and former chairman of the old Baltimore-Annapolis Railroad Co., and other movers and shakers stop in almost daily. And so do plenty of regular folks.

They come to eat bagels, talk politics, read the paper and just hang out. They tune in to CNN to keep up with world events and argue over the state budget. Mostly, they come to gossip with Gus Leanos, 70, who loves a good story.

"I was in this before Columbus discovered America," he jokes, pouring a fresh pot of water into the coffee maker.

He posts community notices on the glass display case filled with cookies, croissants and turnovers. He never hesitates to give a customer credit. In fact, he's so generous that his daughter sometimes posts notices, "Please pay the correct amount."

In the afternoons, school children swarm into his shop to buy candy. They know they can count on Mr. Leanos to let them have an extra Tootsie Roll, even if they're a nickel short.

"People come in here because of Gus," says Brigid Cobbs, who helped out by working behind the counter until she had her daughter, Paige, now 1 1/2 years old. She says it was "the best job I ever had," and still drops by daily, with Paige in tow.

"The real thing about him is he's the kindest, most generous man," she continues as soon as his back is turned. "He lends his car to anyone who needs it. If people don't have the correct change, he says that's OK. They come here because of Gus, not because of the service."

Indeed, Annapolis Gourmet is not the right place for those who want to down their breakfast or lunch in a New York minute. Customers are always hanging around, helping themselves to more coffee and distracting Mr. Leanos with stories and wisecracks.

"This is the only place in town where all the natives hang out," says a 50-year-old engineer who identifies himself only as "Inch."

When Mr. Leanos says he likes the corner location of the shop, Inch chimes in, "Yeah -- that way if there's an accident, everyone can come in and drink coffee."

The son of a deli owner, Mr. Leanos grew up in Gotts Court off West Street, now the site of a parking garage.

He's been in the schmoozing business for 50 years, ever since he opened his first place on Route 50.

He ran a deli in downtown Baltimore for a long time before deciding to open a shop closer to home three years ago.

His 70th birthday party was so much fun, Mr. Leanos decided to invite people over for New Year's. He plans to cook a big pot of chili, get a keg of beer and invite everybody into his store. The party is likely to spill over into the street, but that won't bother anyone.

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