Restaurant owner ready for expansion

Liquor license added at downtown venue to draw dinner trade

January 18, 1999|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

By the summer, patrons at a new and expanded Harry's Main Street in Westminster will be able to order a beer with their chili dogs or an Irish coffee after dinner.

Owner Harry Sirinakis was granted a liquor license last week by the county's Board of License Commissioners, but the license won't take effect until after a planned $540,000 expansion and renovation of his West Main Street restaurant.

"We're not a bar -- we're a family restaurant -- I'm a family man," said Sirinakis, 37 and the father of three, not counting the restaurant that he likens to a fourth child.

The premises will be renovated in an attempt to draw more dinner patrons to the place many people call "Harry's Lunch." But the third-generation owner prefers to call it growing up rather than changing.

"It's more like a son or daughter coming of age," Sirinakis said. "A lot of people worry about change. I ask people to trust me and believe in the things we do, and I won't disappoint them."

He has to remodel for other reasons, too -- to improve access for customers who are disabled and to enlarge the open kitchen. Also, if someone orders a grilled cheese sandwich, Harry's doesn't have a flat grill and has to make it on a surface that leaves grill marks on the bread. Sirinakis knows that doesn't go over with his younger customers.

"My kids won't eat things that don't look the way they're supposed to look," he said.

But one young lunch patron, Howard Spencer III, 9, likes Harry's just fine for its cheeseburgers and hot dogs.

"I like their pumpkin pie," he added. And he gives Harry's high marks for being clean.

"It's good food at a fair price," said his father, Howard Spencer II.

Norman and Edna Barnes, a retired couple from Finksburg, have been going to Harry's since they were teen-agers. Friday, he was eating a hot dog and fries, and she was enjoying a grilled chicken sandwich.

They have seen the restaurant survive earlier change. In 1976, Harry's moved from the original location across the street to its current 65 W. Main St. address.

Sirinakis' maternal grandparents, Harry and Bessie Amprazis, opened the business 52 years ago, and his parents, George and Zoe Sirinakis, continued it.

The Barnes vaguely remember a few changes at the time, but can't remember them. The hot dogs and burgers were still good, they said.

"Everything changes a little bit, but it's still the same," Norman Barnes said.

The Barnes don't drink, but say it wouldn't bother them if diners sitting around them did. They rarely come to Harry's for dinner because they usually stay home in the evenings.

Sirinakis said he often sees many of his regular lunch customers going to dinner elsewhere. Many aren't even aware he is open until 8 p.m. for dinner.

Surveys precede change

He surveyed 300 customers and found 70 percent would be more likely to go for dinner if they could order beer or wine with their meal. He quizzed them about what menu items they'd like to see -- more pastas and salads came up often.

Harry's is most famous for its chili dogs, which feature a Greek-style chili made from ground beef. They were a favorite of the Baltimore Colts, who would eat them by the dozen when they trained in the summer at Western Maryland College.

Baltimore Magazine, in its "Best of Baltimore '98," named Harry's hot dogs the best in the metropolitan area -- even without the chili.

"Mr. Sirinakis is quite an astute businessman," said Louna Primm, a senior vice president at Carroll County Bank and Trust Co., three doors down from Harry's. She often gets the grilled chicken salad to go, and sometimes the pork barbecue sandwich.

"He's revitalizing a part of downtown right on Main Street," she said. "He's just totally committed to his business."

Sirinakis received a $212,000 loan through the state's Neighborhood Business Development Program for the renovation because it is expected to enhance downtown.

Keeping customers

"This process has taken us about two years," Sirinakis said of the renovation. "The one thing I was adamant about was we didn't want to in any way, shape or form, alienate our customer base.

"We interviewed five or six architects," he said. "I had them sit here in the middle of my dining room and look around at my customer base. You see laborers and workers, you see older folks over here, I see bankers are up here paying at the cash register. I see women in the work force, I see executives.

"They've been coming here for years," Sirinakis said. "Everyone who comes in here has a different idea of what we mean to them."

He hopes to keep them all.

The restaurant will retain features like an open kitchen and a counter, but the counter will be turned around so that those who sit there look out on the dining room instead of at the wait staff station.

"The counter is part of who we are, so we're keeping the counter," he said. "It's all going to be here, but it's going to be a little more grown-up."

Pub Date: 1/18/99

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