'Thanks for the memories' Restaurateur: Hersh Pachino ran the Orchard Inn on Joppa Road for 18 years before turning out the lights in January, but not the remembrances. The restaurant is reopening next week under new ownership.

March 19, 1997|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

For years, the Orchard Inn in Towson was the place to celebrate prom dinners, birthdays and anniversaries -- and a magnet in a then-sleepy suburb for visiting celebrities and athletes.

Brooks and Cal ate there. So did Tom Selleck and Sammy Davis Jr., Joe DiMaggio and Martina Navratilova, George Will and Larry King. The list goes on and on.

And much of the credit went to Hersh Pachino, who ran the restaurant for nearly two decades before turning off the lights this year and leaving behind this message on the front sign: "Thanks for the memories."

"The restaurant was successful because of the guy who owned it," says former Orioles pitcher Jim Palmer, who became friends with Pachino, an avid baseball fan, almost 30 years ago. "He understood people and the restaurant business."

Now, as the darkened building is scheduled to reopen next week under the ownership of chef Michael Gettier, Pachino can reflect on his landmark restaurant.

"I miss the glamour," Pachino, 59, says wistfully. "It's like theater. It's show biz. As time passes, I miss it more."

Pachino formed friendships with many patrons, including Davis, who often stopped by the restaurant when he was performing in Baltimore. Pachino remembers one time when Davis -- who died almost seven years ago -- left the restaurant in a limousine at 6 a.m. to get to New York, where he was scheduled to be grand marshal of Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.

"He was lying on the back seat with his fur coat over him," Pachino chuckles.

Pachino respects his customers' privacy, choosing not to kiss and tell. But he mentions that Cal Ripken liked to be left alone, while Selleck encouraged diners to talk to him.

Pachino, who has an easy smile, kept a camera at the restaurant to capture visiting and local stars on film for the restaurant foyer's "wall of fame" -- with one stipulation.

"Most of the people are pleasant people -- cordial and nice," he says. "If they're not, they didn't get put up [on the wall]."

Pachino says he hadn't thought about selling the business, which closed Jan. 25 and officially changed hands Feb. 12, until he was approached by Gettier. Then, he decided it was time to move on after years of 60-hour to 70-hour workweeks.

"The importance of being there is unbelievably great," he says. "When everyone else is off, we're working. I had a nice run of it. I only wish [Gettier] does half as well as I did in 18 years."

But Pachino hardly has disappeared from the restaurant scene. After working his way up from a dishwasher at the old Pimlico Hotel in Pikesville to its general manager in the 1960s and 1970s, he's not quite ready to retire.

Trading his formal coat and tie for shirtsleeves and sweater vest, he can be found daily at Ralphie's Diner in Timonium, the family's more casual restaurant that opened in 1989, acting as a consultant and doing what he likes best -- mingling with customers.

Many Orchard Inn patrons have followed him there, including Jane and Pat Paltell of Towson, who recently were enjoying rockfish imperial and pea soup for lunch at the upscale diner.

"We're going to miss it," says Jane Paltell. "It was very friendly, more like family."

Food, of course, was a drawing card at the Orchard Inn -- from the stone crabs in season, Caesar salad, rack of lamb, and signature steaks and seafood.

"They did excellent food with reasonable prices," says Joe Radebaugh Sr., owner of Radebaugh florists in Towson, who often visited with his wife, Bobbie. "We had fun there. Hersh was so personable. He had a lot of friends."

Gettier, who closed M. Gettier restaurant in Fells Point in December, is renaming the East Joppa Road restaurant M. Gettier's Orchard Inn.

He will be the fifth owner to run the 60-year-old former tavern that once was shaded by an apple orchard. Now, the rambling, white clapboard restaurant with its sleek gray-and-mirrored interior, sits in the middle of a busy, encroaching commercial corridor.

Gettier, 39, who lives in Towson with his wife, Claudia, and two children, isn't planning any decor changes, he says. He'll serve what he calls contemporary Continental cuisine, with an emphasis on steaks and seafood.

Meanwhile, Pachino, a Baltimore native who has been married to his wife, Frieda, for 36 years, keeps the framed photos at his brick rancher in Pikesville. Where they'll end up, he's not certain.

For the time being, he's content to take a back seat at Ralphie's, which is run by his son, Michael, 33. His other two adult children -- a daughter and son -- are not in the restaurant business.

"My duty is to assist [Michael] and hopefully bring in some new ideas," he says.

But it's no surprise when the longtime restaurateur adds, "Possibly, hopefully, we'll have another Ralphie's sometime."

Pub Date: 3/19/97

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