Smoke-free restaurant cleans up Owner plans an expansion

January 28, 1993|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Staff Writer

Everybody told him it wouldn't work.

"I took a big gamble when I started," said Don Bullock of his Bullock's Airport Inn, the first smoke-free restaurant in Carroll County. "I talked to everybody, customers and owners. They all said, 'No way' and 'No business without smokers.' "

But now, barely three months after the facility opened in September, Mr. Bullock is planning a 1,000-square-foot expansion for his restaurant at the Carroll County Air Business Center.

"I did in the first week [of business] what I had hoped to do in the first year," Don Bullock said. "At the end of 30 days, I had reached my two-year projection. And that was all without advertising."

Mr. Bullock said he hopes to complete the addition, which will include a 75-seat dining area, and expand the kitchen by June to take advantage of the summer bus tour traffic. He is waiting on county permit approval to break ground.

His restaurant is not affiliated with Bullock's Country Meats or Bullock's Family Restaurant, which are owned by his brother and operated by his nephew.

Mr. Bullock, an amateur pilot, was inspired to open the restaurant after he saw similar facilities in other local airports.

"I do sometimes fly somewhere, eat and come back," he said. "I thought there was a need here for that kind of thing."

Mr. Bullock got permission for his venture after a year of negotiations with county officials. His clientele mainly consists of pilots, airport employees and residents from the north end of Westminster, he said. But the number of customers is still growing.

"There's nothing on that end of town," he said. "But now, they're coming from all over."

Mr. Bullock said the restaurant's smoke-free atmosphere, which was honored with a certificate from the American Lung Association in Maryland, is most responsible for his success.

"Non-smoking has been the key," he said. "A clean atmosphere in a clean place is the No. 2 reason, and good food at a good price is No. 3. I think we have all three."

The Restaurant Association of Maryland doesn't completely agree with Mr. Bullock's assessment. That organization's studies have found that 25 percent of American adults smoke and that restaurateurs need to be able to respond to their clients, said Marcia Harris, the association's vice president.

Restaurant owners in Maryland are not required to provide non-smoking sections and are allowed to change the section's size based on the number of smokers they have at any particular time, she said.

"I certainly wouldn't question the man's assessment of the reason for his business success," Ms. Harris said. "But if he didn't have great food and great service, the fact that he didn't have smoking wouldn't be enough to attract customers."

Frank C. Kosmakos, vice president of the Restaurant Association of Carroll County, said, "If people don't want to smoke, they can stay home and eat. There must be some other reason, like they want to be waited on or the food is good."

Mr. Kosmakos cited a California survey which said that banning smoking had no economic impact on a restaurant's business.

Ms. Harris and Mr. Kosmakos agreed that as the number of non-smokers statewide increases, providing a non-smoking environment becomes a more viable option for owners.

The Restaurant Association does not keep statistics on the number of smoke-free restaurants in the state, but Ms. Harris identified Puffin's in Baltimore County, Friendly Farm Restaurant in Upperco and Mrs. K's Toll House Restaurant in Silver Spring as non-smoking facilities.

"Obviously, he [Mr. Bullock] has sized up the niche of the market that he wants to go after and determined their needs would be best met by a smoke-free restaurant," she said.

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