Beefing up Inner Harbor Restaurant: Morton's, a national chain of steak restaurants, will be coming to the Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel next spring. Many hope the opening will beef up the downtown business scene.

July 31, 1996|By Abbe Gluck | Abbe Gluck,SUN STAFF

Let them eat steak.

Morton's of Chicago, The Steakhouse, said yesterday that it will open at the Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel next spring, a decision that most said was good news for downtown, business people, steak-eaters and steak-servers alike.

"It's great for Baltimore, great for the harbor, great for the hotel," said Michael S. Whipple, the Sheraton's general manager.

The Morton's deal fulfills an element of the downtown hotel's strategy to attract business travelers, said Whipple, adding that the best way to do that is to offer them the brand names they already know.

Morton's spokeswoman Wendy Aiello agreed.

"It's truly frightening for a business person to take a client to a restaurant they've never been to, and when you're in the process of putting together a deal, that meal is important," she said.

The 7,500-square-foot restaurant will be on the Sheraton's first floor and seat about 200 people. Morton's will hire between 50 and 60 employees to run the restaurant, said Thomas J. Walters, the chain's president.

Most people called Morton's arrival a harbinger for the revival of downtown business.

According to Whipple, the deal offers evidence that "the city's industry is about to blossom once again."

Aiello agreed, saying, "for a city, the opening of a Morton's signals an economic upswing."

Indeed, the chain chose Baltimore because "Baltimore is in a growth mode just like Morton's," Walters said. Morton's is one of the nation's 50 fastest-growing restaurant chains, according to Restaurant Business magazine.

The Sheraton was especially attractive because the chain wanted to be in the Inner Harbor, near the convention center and benefit from the hotel traffic, Walters said.

Steve Decastro, owner of another "brand name" steakhouse, Ruth's Chris, applauded his competitor's arrival.

"Baltimore's definitely a steak-and-potato town," Decastro said, adding that "Morton's will bring more people into the downtown area," where his Market Place restaurant is located.

In other cities where Morton's has opened, Ruth's Chris' business declines at first, but "then improves as steak-eaters come to the city," Decastro said.

Less enthusiastic was C. Peter "Buzz" Beler, owner of The Prime Rib at 1101 N. Calvert St. "Now we're going to have to share in the pool of customers here, which is not extensive," he said. And if the newly expanded Baltimore Convention Center does not generate more business, "some people are going to be in trouble," Beler said.

Last month, Morton's opened a New York location on Wall Street, and last week the company said it would open restaurant in San Diego, its first in that city.

The chain, which operates 33 restaurants nationwide, projected 1996 revenues of more than $107 million. The average check for one person is $65.

The chain's parent company, Morton's Restaurant Group Inc., last week reported second-quarter increases in revenue and net income of 12 percent and 22 percent, respectively.

Pub Date: 7/31/96

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