Subway bar still a fine ride Landmark: Howard's restaurant is going strong after 51 years in the basement of an old family homestead.

October 26, 1997|By Bonita Formwalt | Bonita Formwalt,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

There is no drive-through window at Howard's Subway restaurant and bar in Linthicum. No "lite" menu or microbrews. No ferns.

Visitors to this Hammonds Ferry Road landmark might think they have descended into a memory of the family club basement -- what with the dark paneling, red vinyl seats, half-windows. All that's missing is the Ping-Pong table covered with folded laundry.

Yet this comfortable familiarity draws patrons back to Howard's year after year, notes owner Norman Sensibaugh. He should know -- his father was Howard, the same Howard whose dream of owning a restaurant and bar came true in the basement of his home.

Under the ground. Like a subway.

The success of Howard's Subway can be traced to three simple rules.

"Keep it clean, serve fresh food and treat people like you want to be treated," Norman recites.

Solid advice that apparently works. Howard's Subway is going strong after 51 years in the basement of the old family homestead.

After Howard's death in 1979, Norman and his wife, Joan, took over the restaurant. Two of their three children, son Mike and daughter Karen Scaley, work with them.

"I guess I've worked here all my life," says Mike. "I started out at 12 years old working in the kitchen, peeling potatoes and cutting coleslaw."

Mike, now 40, became the night manager while Karen manages the restaurant during the day. But Norman, 66, opens every morning. A strong work ethic defines his life.

"I do it the way my father did it, the way we're all supposed to do it," Norman says.

Customers show their appreciation for the service by returning -- often.

"We're a neighborhood restaurant. We have a reputation as a clean family place to eat, and people come back," Mike says. "I'm waiting on my father's customers' children."

Older customers usually arrive early for breakfast. They come to socialize, which means, coffee and conversation with Norman.

The lunch shift draws from the dozens of businesses in the area, including Westinghouse and Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Three specials a day, every day.

"We don't advertise. People hear about us word-of-mouth," notes Mike.

Word-of-mouth also brings graduates from the now-closed Andover High School to Howard's every Thanksgiving eve. At times, the line to enter snakes out the door onto the parking lot as alumni wait for a chance to share a beer and some gossip.

The regulars know that in return for a pleasant place to socialize they must meet a high standard of conduct.

"We don't put up with bad language or problems. Our customers are ladies and gentlemen," says Norman.

Rule violators are banned. Occasionally a snide comment will work its way back to Norman.

"Someone said, 'We go to church on Sunday, we don't have to go to Howard's every day,' " he recalls, chuckling.

Those who treasure a courteous, friendly atmosphere come to Howard's. Where not only does everyone know your name, they also know your mother.

Pub Date: 10/26/97

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