Changing like crazy Restaurants: Once it was the Pimlico restaurant, today it is Jasper's, and next month the Reisterstown Road facility turns into Loco Hombre.

July 20, 1998|By J. Leffall | J. Leffall,SUN STAFF

Tackling catering jobs for Hillary Rodham Clinton and other dignitaries has become commonplace for The Classic Catering People, which in more than 20 years in business has gained fame on the local and regional food scene.

But catering isn't the only area where the Owings Mills-based company thrives.

TCCP, which created a restaurant management company in 1994, Classic Restaurant Management LLC, recently added to its holdings with the purchase of Jasper's restaurant and bar in Pikesville from Masury Court Associates.

Jasper's is in the Commercentre on Reisterstown Road where the august Pimlico restaurant used to be, and that was one of the main reasons for the acquisition, said Chief Executive Eddie Dopkin.

Classic plans to convert Jasper's into a Southwestern-style restaurant called Loco Hombre, which will open next month. Dopkin said the purchase and renovation will cost more than $500,000.

Loco Hombre, which already has a location in Roland Park, was an idea conceived by Dopkin. The name means "crazy man."

"I went to the Southwest, talked to chefs, tasted food and wanted to bring it back East," Dopkin said. "Everybody said I was crazy for doing it, so that's where the name comes from."

Although the restaurant concept at the 10,000-square-foot Jasper's site is changing, Larry Frank, vice president of TCCP and a cousin of Dopkin, said the company is very much interested in preserving the integrity and decor of the Pimlico Room -- a banquet facility adjacent to the restaurant that will be renamed the Classic Room.

Opening a restaurant is a risky venture but Diane Neas, a restaurant consultant with Feffer & Associates Inc. in Kingsville, said opening a second Loco Hombre is a good idea.

"It's a good market in that location. It's a spot that has a traditional appeal and will be, I think, successful," Neas said. "It was very shrewd of them to branch out and start a restaurant management business. I've tried the Loco Hombre food, and it was good. And I don't even, characteristically, like that type of food."

TCCP has inherited the contracts and business for the Pimlico Room and plans to follow through with everything.

"We are also interviewing the current employees at Jasper's," he said. "Of those 70 or 80 people, we hope to retain those who want to stay."

Larry Frank added that a restaurant owner must stay involved with daily operations and not expect the restaurant to make money just on its name or location.

"We like to stay active in what's going on at our restaurants," Frank said. "We let the managers and chefs do their jobs, but we also listen to what the customers are telling us. The easy part is opening. The hard part is keeping the customers coming back."

Frank joined the company in October after leaving the Hyatt Regency in Baltimore, where he was director of catering and convention services for 14 years.

The next level

"I was once in direct competition with my own family because the Hyatt did off-premise catering. But I reached a threshold in my career and always secretly admired the entrepreneurship of my uncles and cousins," Frank said. "I knew very early I wanted to be in the food business, and I hope to help take TCCP to the next level."

Eddie Dopkin's sister, Harriet 41, and Frank, 38, both worked with Eddie and TCCP patriarch Michael Dopkin at the place where it all began -- the family restaurant, the Beef Inn, in Pikesville. The Dopkins started their business in 1971.

Twenty years later, the Dopkins entered into a partnership with Leonard and Gail Kaplan, owners of Classic Catering. The company then expanded its facility to a 25,000-square-foot office and commissary, complete with two full-service kitchens, a warehouse, a bakery and tasting room.

The Dopkins bought out the Kaplans in October 1997, but Gail Kaplan remains vice president of marketing for the company.

Eddie Dopkin said the company employs 500 between its two divisions.

With $6 million in sales last year, TCCP has established itself with Baltimore staples such as the National Aquarium, with which it just entered into an exclusive contract, and the Baltimore Ravens, which will have TCCP food on training camp tables for the second year in a row.

"We've built a reputation with people, and that's what I like about this -- meeting people and building a reputation," said Michael Dopkin, 70, who is Eddie Dopkin's father.

Dave Pittenger, executive director of the Baltimore National Aquarium, said he likes TCCP's flexibility.

"We enjoy working with them," he said. "Whether it's food for two or 2,002, they can provide service at a relatively short notice. We've had a long list of caterers, but they are exclusive because they are reliable."

Specific tastes

Bob Eller, Baltimore Ravens director of operations, has no complaints, either.

"They've done an outstanding job, not only with the service but in refining the menus to fit specific player's tastes, creating a variety of food," Eller said.

"Wide receivers eat different things than offensive linemen, and 160 people have to be pleased. When you can do that, it's a plus."

Last week, when first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Baltimore, TCCP was charged with providing the food and condiments.

"Stuff like that is typical," Harriet Dopkin said. "We have to do it at a moment's notice. We are always on the run, feeding somebody."

Pub Date: 7/20/98

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