Restaurant delivers message with meal

November 23, 1993|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Staff Writer

Even before she bit into a hot cheese steak sandwich at Freebies 2 for 1 Pizzas & Subs in Ellicott City, Robin Vittetoe already had taken spiritual nourishment from the surroundings.

"Jesus is the way, the truth and the life" reads the message in the middle of one wall of the restaurant at 9313 Baltimore National Pike. Throughout the room, inspirational posters and bumper stickers reinforce that idea.

At the counter, a small wooden container holds free, Biblical booklets for patrons to take. And a chalkboard and the paper menus continue the Christian theme.

"I love it," Mrs. Vittetoe, of Ellicott City, said recently during a lunch break with her daughter Laura, 9.

"I don't think there's enough said about religion," she added.

Since first stopping in the restaurant a year ago, she visits three or four times a week, drawn by the atmosphere, the workers' smiling faces and the food.

She said she's not turned-off by the omnipresent religious messages.

"They're not pushing religion down your throat," the clerical technician said. "Nobody's forcing you to read it, or says 'If you don't believe it, you can't come in here.' "

The Christian messages are the work of restaurant owner Matthew White, who bought the fast food shop in the late 1980s.

Several years ago, Mr. White, a devout Christian who is in Vermont completing studies so he can attend the Dallas Theological Seminary, decided to spread the gospel through his restaurant.

The name Freebies refers to "the free gift of salvation that Christ offered," said general manager Brian Pickett, who, with his wife Faith, is due to purchase the restaurant from Mr. White in January.

Since Freebies began spreading the gospel, Mr. Pickett said, the shop has given away 350,000 Bible booklets.

Mr. Pickett said people from as far away as Pennsylvania and Virginia visit frequently.

"It's been really neat," said Mr. Pickett. "I have people come in and say, 'You've been a real encouragement.' "

Though most appreciate the Christian messages, he said, "We'll get, 'Oh, what the heck is all this' once in a while."

Mr. Pickett and Mr. White met five years ago while attending Winfield Bible Chapel in Woodbine.

Mr. White asked Mr. Pickett to be his manager nearly four years ago.

The Picketts don't plan to make major changes to the restaurant when they take over in January, but would like to franchise one day, and expand the 1,100 square-foot shop that seats 26.

Each week, a minimum of 3,000 customers walk through the restaurant's doors, consuming 450 pounds of fresh cut steak and 400 pounds of cheese, Mr. Pickett said.

Although four competitors have moved into the busy nearby commercial strip, Freebies hasn't been greatly affected, Mr. Pickett said.

"The Lord's been good to us," he said. "We can't complain."

The general manager said he has no idea how to measure whether his patrons' lives have been changed because of the messages they received in Freebies.

"We're not headhunters," he said, "that's for the Lord to determine."

But Michael Nasrallah, 28, one of the 25 Freebies employees, said the posters and messages are important.

"It means something to people," Mr. Nasrallah said. "It teaches something."

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