Matt Earls is beginning to learn that some acts are hard to follow.
Earls is one of four co-owners of a new restaurant that is replacing a strip club in North Laurel.
"It's hard for a new business to do anything from ground zero, but when you get a roomful of diners and they're asking, 'Where are the girls?' -- it's hard," said Earls, 31, who also is the restaurant's bar manager.
Stage One Grill -- on the southbound side of U.S. 1 next to the Ramada Inn in southeastern Howard County -- opened June 9 without much fanfare. The 3,100-square-foot family-style restaurant, which is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, seats 125 and serves salads, sandwiches and seafood.
But business has been slow as most residents and local officials remember the restaurant as the site of Good Guys Bar and Grill.
Good Guys, which was the county's only all-nude dance club, closed in April 1995 after residents complained that their family-oriented community didn't need such an establishment.
Those complaints led to state and county restrictions that after a series of court battles drove the bar out of town.
County Councilman Dennis R. Schrader, whose district includes North Laurel, said he remembers the bar well.
"Obviously, we weren't happy with the former situation," he said. "We were glad to see it was corrected, and we are going to do what we can to make sure it doesn't reoccur."
Earls says he and the other owners didn't know about the history of the building until after they opened.
"We had no idea that we would be up against something with a reputation like that," he said. "It's mind-boggling."
And because the restaurant is replacing Good Guys, local officials fear that Stage One will evolve into a similar business, Earls said.
He said the owners have petitioned the county Liquor Board for a liquor license for several months. They were recently informed that the board would review their application Sept. 9.
Earls said some officials may be concerned by the name of the restaurant.
"The name Stage One has nothing to do with dancing," he said. "Sometime down the road, we want to pursue something like a piano bar or some folk music. Nothing wild."
For now, the owners are trying to erase the building's strip club legacy with paint and signs that advertise a family restaurant.
"We just feel like Laurel needs something like this right here," Earls said. "We feel like we're doing the right things and with the right attitude, we can overcome this."