Downtown restaurant plans growth Harry's Main Street, of chili-dog fame, seeks loan from state

'Harry's is downtown'

Chains don't hurt, they help, says owner of 52-year business

March 13, 1998|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Harry "No Tofu" Sirinakis plans to renovate and enlarge his West Main Street eatery to make the most of the casual-dining restaurant boom in Westminster.

He might even add a sprig of parsley once in a while, he said.

Sirinakis, 37, is the third-generation owner of Harry's Main Street, which celebrated its 50th anniversary downtown in 1996. Harry's is known for its chili dogs, which some Baltimore Colts ate by the dozens during summer training camps at Western Maryland College.

"It's a big step for us in our business," he said. "We think we're hitting the market correctly, but it's a big, big risk. But our sales are growing in the midst of increased competition.

"We've sort of carved out our own little niche."

Sirinakis received enthusiastic support from Westminster officials in response to his letter to the city Monday about his plans to expand and to seek a low-interest loan from the state.

"We're obviously going to support his planned expansion, because Harry's is not only good for downtown, but in a quite real sense, Harry's is downtown," Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan said Tuesday. "It is such an institution, and downtown would not be the same without Harry's."

Harry's Lunch was opened by Sirinakis' grandparents in 1946 across the street at 54 W. Main St., and moved to its present location in 1976. Sirinakis took over the business in 1987 from his father.

About two years ago, he said, he acquired the neighboring property at 69 W. Main St. with an eye to expansion. The building contains an antique shop and apartments.

"It doesn't look like anyone else is interested in revitalizing West Main Street, so we're going to be the gallant warriors trying to revitalize here," Sirinakis said, laughing.

The restaurant hasn't changed much since it opened. Its billboard on Route 140 in Westminster features a steak and french fries -- and promises "No tofu. No parsley. No latte."

Sirinakis welcomes the new family-style chain restaurants that have flocked to Westminster recently -- including Ruby Tuesday, Lone Star Steak House, Olive Garden, Applebee's, Bob Evans, Friendly's -- because they bring more business to everyone.

With casual dining the fastest-growing segment of the restaurant business, several chains' marketers have said that Westminster meets their demographic profiles, with the necessary population and traffic flow, real-estate prices, hotel rooms and other factors.

"They're helping me," Sirinakis said of the chains. "I wish that one would open up right next to me. These guys advertise -- and the thing you have to do is to get people up and out of their front doors. That's the hardest thing to do: to get them out with their wallets open and ready to spend."

Sirinakis said he plans to seek a low-interest loan from the state's Neighborhood Business Development Program, like those recently awarded to Coffey Music and the new Paradiso restaurant.

"It's very exciting when you see things like this happening," said Thomas B. Beyard, the city's director of planning and public works, in presenting Sirinakis' request for support to the council Monday night.

R. Douglas Mathias, executive director of the Greater Westminster Development Corp., said, "This is a key business expansion for the West Main Street revitalization effort, following up the expansion of Barnes-Bollinger Insurance last year," he said.

Harry's is open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. and does a brisk breakfast and lunch business, Sirinakis said. It also has a line of customers on Saturday evenings and often sells out of ribs.

Sirinakis said he has no formal plans yet, but that he may alter his slogan slightly. "We want to bring the old-timers along with us, and have a wider appeal to some new people," he said. "We're not going to alienate anybody.

"No tofu, no -- but we will probably have some parsley lying around."

Pub Date: 3/13/98

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