Edward L. Byer, 60, owned Cross Street cheese stall

June 27, 1999|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Edward Lewis Byer, who presided over a Cross Street Market cheese stall for a decade and was on a first-name basis with the divas of opera, died Wednesday of an undetermined cause at his South Charles Street home. He was 60.

"My favorite cheese," he said in 1983, "is whichever one I'm eating at that particular time, just as my favorite opera is the one I'm listening to."

Customers at the Cross Street Cheese Co. bought their goat cheese while savoring gossipy tidbits of the musical stage during his tenure at the popular South Baltimore market.

"He taught me everything I know about cheese," said Suzanna Thieblot, a customer from Bolton Hill. "He was one of those people who added to the ambience of life in Baltimore. He was ahead of his time in providing those who were moving to Federal Hill with delightful things they wanted."

Some of Mr. Byer's devoted followers were lucky enough to get invitations to his elaborate dinner parties known for huge roasts and platters of herbed vegetables and potatoes stuffed with cream and French cheese.

"His house was an urban oasis," said Stephen R. Bailey, a friend from Homeland. "He had a beautiful Chickering piano. An invitation there brought great dinners and great music."

A large man with wavy blond hair, Mr. Byer would think nothing of hopping on a plane to hear a singer such as Joan Sutherland. After a performance, he would dash backstage to congratulate the artist.

For decades, Mr. Byer volunteered with the Baltimore Opera Company, working backstage at the Lyric Theatre during performances.

When Baltimore's legendary soprano Rosa Ponselle died in 1981, Mr. Byer was one of her pallbearers. He also catered her 80th birthday party and devised chicken Ponselle in her honor.

After a long day at his cheese stand, Mr. Byer would often bustle around to make food for his catering business. He loved nothing better than to deliver a dozen platters to a Walters Art Gallery reception and then drive to a private home in Guilford and serve a dinner party.

"There wasn't an occasion when he would refuse to donate food to a charity or fund-raiser," said Orem Wahl, a friend from Mount Vernon. "He made the best sour beef in Baltimore."

Born in 1938, he was raised on a farm in Kingsville. Mr. Byer attended Parkville Senior High School and studied voice at the Peabody Conservatory of Music. A tenor soloist, he sang at Mount Calvary Episcopal Church, Grace and St. Peter's Episcopal Church, and the Church of the Redeemer.

He began his career as a banker, working for Hamilton Federal and Highland Federal Savings and Loan before joining Liberty Federal in 1973. He managed Liberty Federal's Perring Parkway branch before being named a vice president for savings. In 1980, he joined Fidelity Federal Savings and Loan.

In the 1980s, he decided to open a fine food and cheese stall at the Cross Street Market, several blocks from the Otterbein rowhouse he restored on Lee Street.

His business soon became synonymous with excellent cheese, country pates, condiments, olive oil, truffles, fancy crackers, exotic teas and coffee. He also located sources for high-butterfat cream and other ingredients that became part of his stall's inventory.

Mr. Byer gave up the stall about six years ago but continued to entertain and travel.

Memorial services will be at 10: 30 a.m. Wednesday at the Church of the Advent, 1301 S. Charles St., where he was a member.

He is survived by a godson, Lars Heltine of Trondheim, Norway.

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