New restaurant woos locals to Inner Harbor Debut: McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurant opened yesterday at Pier V.

March 11, 1998|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

The first time Doug Schmick set eyes on Baltimore was a year and a half ago.

Immediately, the restaurateur vowed to come back.

"I was just really taken with it," said Schmick, who with partner Bill McCormick operates a chain of seafood restaurants that stretch from coast to coast.

Yesterday, the two added Baltimore to their growing list of eateries -- now 20 strong -- opening a McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurant at Pier V in Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

The pairing of their seafood -- which started with Jake's Famous Crawfish restaurant in Portland, Ore. -- and a Baltimore location seemed a perfect match, said Schmick, 50.

"The history of the seafood industry in Baltimore is phenomenal," Schmick said. "I've never been in a city where people take seafood more seriously. If you're going to be in the seafood industry, Baltimore is the city to be in."

The renovations that created McCormick & Schmick's from part of the failed Harrison's Inn project cost more than $2 million. And to those who saw the site before, the transformation is remarkable.

A swath of rich green carpet, edged with mosaic tiles, now leads past an exhibition kitchen where bread, salad and shellfish are prepared.

The bar, off to the left, is fashioned of rich woods, light and dark mahogany, with ample brass rail and windows that look out on the water.

Deeper within the restaurant are stained glass windows in yellows and reds, all built and installed by Portland, Ore., craftsmen -- a point of pride with Schmick. Local art and memorabilia adorn the walls.

Schmick would like to see the Baltimore restaurant do the $5 million in business that some of the chain's other locations have done the first year. This restaurant seats 320 inside and 300 outside, during the warmer months. That will require 150 employees, plus 50 when the patio is open.

Here, the focus will be on catering to locals rather than trying to win over tourists.

"We wanted to bring locals back to the Inner Harbor," said Saed Mohseni, vice president of operations for the restaurant chain.

"We wanted to design a menu that would be appealing to the people of Baltimore."

Lunch and dinner menus will feature 30 to 35 kinds of fresh fish and seafood flown in or fished from local waters daily. Reservations will be accepted so that locals won't have to fight tourist crowds, and prices will not be inflated during the summer months, Schmick said.

He expects that tourists will make up 60 percent of the business during the summer, 20 percent to 25 percent between November and February and about 40 percent during the remaining months.

City officials -- encouraged that the restaurant's location is stretching the usual boundaries of the Inner Harbor eastward -- hope that the McCormick & Schmick's brand name and large menu will draw even greater numbers of convention and leisure visitors.

"We're pleased to have a restaurant of that caliber come to Baltimore," said Carroll R. Armstrong, president of the Baltimore Area Convention & Visitors Association. "It's a perfect time for them. People are going to be able to walk from the Inner Harbor to Fells Point and be constantly entertained."

Always looking for ways to keep visitors here longer, Armstrong believes that McCormick and Schmick's knowledge of the business will help market the city to convention goers and others.

"I don't think by itself, it will keep people over another night," he said. "But it's a cumulative thing. The more options we have, the better the experience is going to be, the more opportunity the visitor has to customize it to their particular taste."

And, if the city is marketed well, people may start adding a day on to their itinerary from the start, Armstrong said.

M. J. "Jay" Brodie, president of Baltimore Development Corporation, agrees that having another choice can only be good: "That induces people to either stay another day or come back to try some of the places they missed."

Schmick is looking forward to the restaurant's role in the city's growth.

"We're going to be an active part of Baltimore," he said.

"We're taking a big step in pioneering the eastward expansion. We definitely feel we're going to do well here."

Pub Date: 3/11/98

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