Restaurateur gets her dessert

Retirement: After 35 years of hard work, Calvert House co-owner plans to sell the restaurant and `enjoy myself.'

June 09, 1999|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Rose M. Herrin, the blond-coiffed, sweet-talking hostess and co-owner of Baltimore's Calvert House restaurant, is about to wrap up the longest shift of her life.

At 75, the restaurateur will toss her serving tray forever when her business of 35 years goes to the auction block at 10: 30 a.m. tomorrow. A. J. Billig and Co. Auctioneers will handle the sale.

Herrin, who started her restaurant career in 1949 as a waitress and barmaid at Club 40, a supper club on Route 40 in Aberdeen, doesn't know if her Calvert House will survive the transaction. The new owner could convert the building or take the liquor license and open a business elsewhere.

FOR THE RECORD - In some editions of The Sun yesterday, the name of Baltimore's Calvert House restaurant co-owner Rose M. Herrin was misspelled. The Sun regrets the errors.

"I hope they keep it as the Calvert House restaurant and that they keep the help, but I can't guarantee it," Herrin said during a recent cigarette break. "I don't want to think about it. It makes me cry."

Customers bemoan the sale, too, because it could herald the end of the Calvert House, which has been catering to Baltimoreans -- as variations of hotel, restaurant and watering hole -- for a century.

"I'm crushed that it could close," said Elsa N. Boynton, 59, of Roland Park. "There's no other place to eat around here. This is it."

The sale "will leave a big hole in our lives," said Barry L. Narlines, 59, who eats dinner at the Calvert House with his friend Ronald S. Pototsky, 55, every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. "It's like eating at your mother's house. Nothing will ever fit the same."

The restaurant is the last of its kind in the 300 block of N. Calvert St. in downtown Baltimore, where few dining options exist. Other family-owned staples, including the Harvey House, the Bridge and the House of Welsh, have "all faded away," Herrin said.

`It's time to relax'

Although national chain restaurants such as the Cheesecake Factory and T.G.I. Friday's have stolen customers from mom-and-pop kitchens, corporate-run behemoths didn't force out Herrin, she said.

Simply put, Herrin is pooped.

"You can't work like I did today for the rest of your life," she said. "It's time to relax."

Herrin's son and co-owner Frank A. Lutzi, 52, and his wife, Barbara, 51, have side businesses. He sells a crab-cake mix concocted in the Calvert House kitchen. Barbara Lutzi sells healing magnets and alternative medicines.

They are ready for a change. "We want to go out and go after life," Barbara Lutzi said.

Herrin and her delectable dishes are the Calvert House's main attractions.

"The Calvert House is the best home-cooked food in Baltimore," said Jimmy Judd, 69, co-owner of Amos Judd and Son Inc., an antiques shop in the 800 block of N. Howard St. "Rose is like family. When I walk in, we kiss."

Judd and his mother, Catherine, 88, eat at the Calvert House every Tuesday. Their favorite Herrin dish is a tomato salad doused in a garlicky marinade. "It is to die for," Jimmy Judd said.

The Calvert House has been popular with downtown residents and workers alike. Located near Mercy Medical Center and The Sun, doctors and pressmen have frequented the restaurant. So have judges, lawyers and politicians, including state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and his longtime companion Hilda Mae Snoops.

"I'll miss my customers most of all," said Herrin, who greets everyone with a "Hi, hon!" "I enjoy talking to them and making sure they have a special meal. I take care of them. This restaurant is like my living room."

Words she lives by

Over the years, Herrin, who was born in 1923 in New York City but raised in Easton, Pa., has learned much about the restaurant industry. Her motto is, "Never date a customer, and never give anything away for free."

Herrin worked at the Calvert House as a barmaid before she bought it in 1964. She's been waiting tables and serving drinks since 1949, when she started at Club 40. At that time, she was a single mother with two small boys. They lived in a trailer behind the restaurant.

Herrin has fond memories of Club 40. "Bands used to come down from Philly to play," she recalled. "The clientele was real classy. There were white linen tablecloths. It was a neat place."

When she bought the Calvert House, it had a long bar on the first floor, a hotel lobby on the second and guest rooms on the third. Herrin renovated the third floor and built a large apartment for her family. She lived there for 33 years.

As a young man, Frank Lutzi and friends would raid the bar and restaurant, ferretting away beer and snacks. "It was the best place to hang out," Frank Lutzi said. "Mom never knew."

For Herrin, who now lives in Chase, the sale of the Calvert House marks the end of four-plus decades of 12-hour days and heavy work.

"I've mopped the floors, washed dishes and waited tables," she said. "I've got to have a few years to enjoy myself."

A trip to California to visit her sister is first on Herrin's post-retirement list.

Still, life without Calvert House friends would be unbearable for Herrin. For those special customers, breakfast will be served chez Rose every Sunday morning.

"God yes, I'll still cook for them, but only two or three at a time."

Pub Date: 6/09/99

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