Lily's -- friendly, casual and new

Restaurant profile

Howard Live

April 03, 2003|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

A gracious Camilo Vanegas, 11, welcomed diners Saturday evening to his family's new restaurant, Lily's Southwestern Grill and Bar in Harper's Choice Village Center, giving out menus, along with baskets of corn chips and salsa.

Named for his mother, Lilia, who also works there, Lily's is the kind of casual neighborhood restaurant that older Columbia residents have seen come and go in recent years, as crowds jam into chain restaurants in east Columbia's big-box retail district.

Lily's replaces Atlantis, a short-lived seafood restaurant that used to operate in the same spot, but with a menu that Ricardo Vanegas, 42, of Clarksville said probably was too expensive for the market.

"You have houses living on Social Security two minutes from here on one side, and two minutes on the other side houses that cost $1 million," Vanegas explained. He likes the diversity of the area, he said.

His idea was to open a family place in which everyone would be comfortable -- and could afford. A children's menu ($3.95 a meal), along with reasonably priced soups, chicken, shrimp, sandwiches, ribs and burgers, bear that out. The bar is separated visually, reachable through the hallway that contains the restrooms. Cheerful, Mexican-style music plays in the background.

Vanegas said this is his first restaurant venture. His sister owns a restaurant in New Jersey.

The extended family is originally from the other Colombia, in South America, having left some years ago for the New York area to escape the violence in their native country. Vanegas said he attended Trenton State College, graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering. But that job market was tough, he said.

Now, after three years in Howard County, he and his wife are raising Camilo, who attends Lime Kiln Middle School, and his two younger siblings, Briant, 6, who attends Fulton Elementary, and Franchesca, 3.

The restaurant, which seats 134, opened March 20. Vanegas said he is still working out the kinks and plans to begin advertising soon. He tore out some walls, opening up the dining room, and painted the wooden walls mustard and burnt orange with brown trim. The salt and pepper shakers are designed to look like miniature beer bottles.

"I wanted a summery environment, to make it a little more appealing to people," he said.

The staff of eight is still adjusting, he said, noting that business was very light Sundayuntil dinner time, "when suddenly, half the place was full. Everybody showed up at the same time," he said, explaining that he earlier had sent two of the four servers home.

He is still learning too, he said. "I hope it will work out."

Lily's Grill and Bar

Where: Harper's Choice Village Center, 5485 Harper's Farm Road; 410-715-6929.

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Bar, 11:30 a.m. to midnight.

Prices: Appetizers $2.95 to $8.95; entrees, $9.95 to $17.95

Credit Cards: American Express, Visa , Master Card, Discover and Diner's Club

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