Tomato Palace joins Clyde's at the lake

April 07, 1993|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

Columbia already has a restaurant park by design, but the co-owner of a successful Washington-based restaurant group is creating his own version in Town Center by happenstance.

Clyde's Restaurant Group, which has operated Clyde's of Columbia on Wincopin Circle overlooking Lake Kittamaqundi since 1975, opened The Tomato Palace adjacent to Clyde's on March 23. The restaurant group also recently purchased the closed Rusty Scupper restaurant a stone's throw away.

John Laytham, Clyde's Restaurant Group co-owner and executive vice president, and executive chef Tom Meyer say they are contemplating turning the Rusty Scupper site into a steak and seafood house. But the property will not be available immediately because of complications with a prior lease agreement, said Mr. Laytham.

Clyde's Restaurant Group bought the property several months ago for $1.8 million, he said.

"It's an excellent site for another restaurant when it becomes available," said Mr. Laytham, who, as a college student, began his restaurant career working as a busboy in 1963 at the new Clyde's of Georgetown. "We felt it's a site we'd eventually like to have whether it's the near future or the distant future."

The Tomato Palace, on the lower level of the Columbia Association building, is a family-style Italian restaurant with an open kitchen and a wood-burning pizza oven. It serves homemade pasta, sauces and bread, and offers entrees such as shrimp Marsala and broccoli-bean fusilli, in addition to more traditional Italian fare, ranging from $6 to $12.

Sliding glass doors allow the restaurant to be opened up. The interior is decorated with a winding mural depicting the life of a plum tomato from vine to plate, and jar-like lamps containing pickled peppers.

A vice president of the Rouse Co., Columbia's developer, and the chairman of a committee studying how to improve Columbia's downtown say they are pleased that Clyde's is expanding its presence.

"It's fantastic as far as we're concerned," said Al Scavo, a vice president with the Rouse Co., which lured Clyde's to Columbia in the mid-1970s. "If I know them, they'll do the same first-class job with renovations and concept" at the old Rusty Scupper site.

Mr. Scavo said a concentration of popular restaurants will help attract people to the downtown area, which holds several annual festivals and also includes The Mall in Columbia, a Bennigan's restaurant, movie theaters and The Columbia Inn.

Dick Lewis, chairman of the Columbia Forum think-tank committee that studies downtown development issues, said The Tomato Palace should draw a "different group of people" to the lakefront.

"After dark on a winter night, there wasn't much reason to bring kids to the lakefront, but now there is," he said. "Downtown needs destination activities, whether they're restaurants, programmed events or street-level shopping, and this is certainly a destination activity."

Mr. Laytham and Mr. Meyer say they've considered opening an affordably priced Italian restaurant for years. The Tomato Palace, which shares a kitchen with Clyde's, a pub-style restaurant, has a beer and wine license. It cost about $1.5 million to develop, Mr. Laytham said.

Mr. Laytham's said he's always believed that Columbia had a shortage of entertainment outlets and restaurants for a city of 75,000. He said he's eager to expand options for downtown visitors.

"Restaurants are part of the life and vitality of any city, and being downtown in my mind is what creates excitement," he said.

Mr. Laytham said being part of a restaurant theme park -- such as the Columbia Restaurant Park at Routes 175 and 108 -- doesn't appeal to him.

"There's nothing wrong with the concept, but I prefer to be part of a place people go for a bunch of reasons, not for only one reason," he said.

But he added, "If we do a third restaurant, we'll have our own little restaurant park."

The Tomato Palace occupies space that had been occupied by a real estate office.

Clyde's Restaurant Group operates Clyde's in Georgetown and Reston, Va., and Old Ebbitt Grill, 1789 Restaurant and The Tombs in Washington.

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