Marcella M. Dellis, 75, owner of Michael's Cafe

April 30, 2003|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Marcella M. Dellis, who fulfilled her dream of establishing a thriving Baltimore County restaurant, died of a heart attack Thursday at her Timonium home. She was 75.

Nearly 20 years ago, she saw the business potential of a York Road bar opposite the Timonium fairgrounds. She bought it, named it after her son Michael and created a menu centered around a crab cake made from her own recipe.

Much enlarged, today it is Michael's Cafe, a 300-seat restaurant with a bar decorated with sports memorabilia.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Macon Street, Marcella Rakentzes attended Patterson Park High School. As a teen-ager, she began helping her father run his business, George's Lunch, at Broadway and Eastern Avenue.

In 1946, she married Steven Dellis. The couple purchased and operated a succession of small restaurants and taverns near Johns Hopkins Hospital. He died in 1999.

After a cafe the couple owned at Wolfe and Oliver streets was destroyed in the 1968 civil unrest and riots, she became a checker at a Giant supermarket to help gather a down payment for another business.

She bought a bar in the 4000 block of North Point Road in 1970, which she named Gail's North Star. The bar featured go-go dancers and had a wide following among Bethlehem Steel workers. Family members said that although Gail's was a financial success, it was not the kind of place she aspired to keep.

"Each of her investments was a step up toward her ultimate goal of opening a restaurant in northern Baltimore County," said her niece, Elaine Georgandis of Timonium. "Her work ethic was incredible. She put in 12- and 14-hour days. She never seemed to stop but always had the time to talk to everyone, from the bread deliverer to her best customer. That was her secret."

Family members said she spent time surveying possible sites for a new business about 20 years ago. She settled on the old Fairgrounds Inn, a tavern in the 2100 block of York Road. She and her husband bought it in 1984 and, as funds permitted, they enlarged it. It became Michael's Cafe.

"She was the No. 1 success story of the York Road," said Joey Chiu, owner of the Bamboo House, a neighboring restaurant. "She worked hard and knew a lot of people."

"She did a great, tremendous job," said Steven Marzo, a customer who owns the Charles Village Pub. "Everyone always spoke highly of her. You would see her in the office. She was always there."

"She was the best," said Colleen Reynolds, a Michael's waitress. "She ran a tight ship. She had high values and was strict, but if you knew what you were doing, she left you alone."

"She did everything there. Michael's was her whole life," said Dr. John Mitcherling, a founder of An Poitin Stil, a nearby restaurant.

In addition to her popular crab cake platter, Mrs. Dellis devised other dishes, including Cajun cream of crab soup, and a crab and shrimp dip served with garlic toast.

Services were held yesterday at Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation, where she was a member.

In addition to her son, survivors include a daughter, Elaine Dellis-Wolle; a brother, Matthew Rakentzes; a sister, Grace Georgandis, all of Timonium; and three grandchildren.

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