Landmark restaurant again must be rebuilt

November 30, 1993|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff Writer

From where she was standing, Ella Welch could see the spot where her father first built Wayson's Restaurant in 1928. Nothing left now but charred debris and her determination to see the family business rise again.

"Bigger and better," she said, when asked whether the restaurant her company owns would be rebuilt after it was leveled by fire early Sunday morning.

The five-alarm fire wiped out the 150-seat restaurant and attached liquor/grocery store, and with it part of a way of life for many folks who live around Wayson's Corner, a crossroads in southern Anne Arundel County near the Prince George's County line.

"Breakfast will never be the same until they're rebuilt," said Margaret Perrie, whose husband, Alfred, said he's been having breakfast at Wayson's every day but Christmas for decades.

"I like the people mostly," said Mr. Perrie, who lives about two miles away. "To me they had good food."

Ms. Welch, president of Wayson's Properties, was standing in the parking lot yesterday afternoon, telling how there are people who eat two, three meals a day there, people who have been eating there for decades.

"That place was always packed during the day," said Tom Rogato, who lives in the nearby trailer park and said he's been eating lunch at the restaurant for years. He first stopped at Wayson's in 1941, when he was a Marine stationed at Quantico, Va.

Lt. Robert Kornmann, spokesman for the Anne Arundel County Fire Department, said it appears the fire started in the kitchen, but no cause has been established. The investigation continues.

The fire was reported by the attendant at the Texaco station next door at 1:31 a.m. Sunday, 30 minutes after the restaurant security guard had gone home for the night. Firefighters had ZTC difficulty getting enough water to fight the blaze in the rural area.

They were compelled to draw water from the Patuxent River, about a half-mile away.

The rainstorm that night was a mixed blessing.

The wind fanned the flames, but heavy rain probably helped keep the fire from spreading to the bingo hall and barber shop a few yards away, said restaurant manager Morgan W. Wayson Jr., who stood there Sunday morning and watched it burn.

"The storm, that's what got the thing out of control," Mr. Wayson, the original owner's grandson, said yesterday afternoon. "The wind was unbelievable."

The restaurant, bingo hall, barber shop and nearby trailer park are all owned by Wayson's Properties.

This is the legacy of Morgan B. Wayson, who built a hamburger stand at the intersection of what were then two country roads: Route 4 and Marlboro Road, in an area once known only as Drury.

Hamburgers soon were replaced by crab cakes as the restaurant's featured item and crab cakes are "what made the corner, made the business," said Ms. Welch.

Over the years, the Wayson businesses were joined by a tobacco warehouse, a bank, convenience store, produce stand, gas station and hardware store.

Ms. Welch is the only one of seven Wayson family children still involved in the business.

Four brothers and two sisters have died and her only surviving brother left the business years ago.

The Sunday morning blaze was the second time the restaurant has been destroyed by fire.

As Ms. Welch recalled, fire struck the business in the mid-1930s. Her father and mother rebuilt and kept going.

Ms. Welch said she intends to do the same. "Soon as they give us the OK."

The restaurant would have to be rebuilt from the ground up.

All that remains is a heap of cinder blocks, bricks, charred timbers, steel beams and the blackened remnants of the ventilator ducts, all of it circled by yellow police tape. It took 94 firefighters from Anne Arundel, Prince George's and Calvert counties 6 1/2 hours to bring the blaze under control.

During the afternoon, folks pulled into the parking lot and got out to stare at the rubble.

"Lord have mercy," said Dwight Easton of Shady Side, as he got his first glimpse of it.

He said he always stopped at the grocery store for coffee and lottery tickets on his way to work in Upper Marlboro.

"You'd come in here in the morning, see all your friends, go about your business," said Mr. Easton.

Next to him at the police line stood Stewart Blake, one of about 50 people who had worked in the restaurant.

He'd been employed there about five years doing salad bar preparation.

"It's a great loss to everybody," said Mr. Blake, who lives near the corner.

"The workers and everybody was like family.

"The customers, everybody, called you by name."

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