Changes blow through Windy Valley store

Restaurant featuring meals-to-go replacing old-fashioned shop

December 30, 2003|By Stephanie Hanes | Stephanie Hanes,SUN STAFF

When it closed this past fall, Windy Valley General Store was far from the store of Michael Johnston's memory.

Six years before, the rural burger and ice cream shack that St. Paul's School for Boys students like him once frequented had been transformed into a convenience store housed in a new brick building next to Greenspring Station. The ponies that once gave rides to countless Baltimore County children were long gone, as was the corral they circled.

"They rebuilt the whole place," said Johnston, 37, of Baltimore County. "The old feeling and old stuff is all gone now. It has been all gone."

Soon, the Windy Valley name itself will vanish, disappearing like the farmland that surrounded the store when it opened nearly 60 years ago.

But Jonathan Soudry, a former Baltimore restaurateur who recently bought the business and plans to open his own place there in February, says he is not ending an era.

To the contrary, he said, he will embrace the nostalgia surrounding the general store and return some of the country ambiance to his gourmet-to-go restaurant, Poulet.

"To go there was to go from the city to the country," said Soudry, talking by phone from Boston, where he has another Poulet restaurant. "We want to bring back that flavor."

He's just doing it Greenspring Station-style.

While there will still be the same Windy Valley ice cream, and even pictures of the old ponies, Poulet will specialize in takeout rotisserie chicken and fresh-dough pizza.

It will be the "ultimate test kitchen" for Sizzlin' Sensations, his line of prepared chicken dishes sold at supermarkets, Soudry said.

In addition, there will be gourmet coffee and sandwiches, and meals for working people to take home for dinner.

"It will be food they will be proud to feed to their children," Soudry said.

Past, present, future

It's a far cry from the place Susan Dixon remembers when she started working at the Greenspring Racquet Club about 20 years ago.

"It was a great place to get a greasy bacon and egg sandwich," said the Baltimore County resident.

In some ways, it is surprising Windy Valley hasn't gone epicurean already. The shops in Greenspring Station, selling everything from luxury linens to custom stationery to designer shoes, make upscale coffee and gourmet food seem like a good match.

But Windy Valley has always been a hold out.

For years, the ice cream stand and pony corral was the only establishment at Falls and Joppa roads.

Jeffrey Helman, a Baltimore County resident who graduated from Pikesville High School in 1970, drove to Windy Valley every day after school for the homemade cherry milkshakes.

After the driving range behind the store made way for Greenspring Station in the late 1970s, dozens of developers tried to persuade the original owner, Joe McCaffrey, to sell.

But he refused and kept pouring the coffee, scooping his homemade ice cream and leading children around on the ponies.

"There are a lot of kids in Baltimore who had their first pony ride there, I can tell you," Helman said. About 15 years ago, Tom Lonegro made the first of his daily coffee stops at the general store.

Nobody else in his house drank coffee, he explained recently, so at 7 each morning, on his way to Bethlehem Steel from his Falls Road home, Lonegro would stop for a cup or two.

"There'd be all these guys who were brokers and bankers heading out of the Valley to go downtown," he recalled. "Sitting right next to them would be all these guys in coveralls and jeans heading up the Valley to do landscaping. For that little time, everybody was equal."

Times change

In 1992, McCaffrey died, and his wife sold the property to developer Morton "Buddy" Feldman and his partner and son, Stuart Feldman.

"We always wanted property at Greenspring," Stuart Feldman said.

The Feldmans were never in the retail business, he said, but his father was retiring and wanted a project. So they decided to buy Windy Valley.

"He wanted something to do," Feldman said. "My dad flew by the seat of his pants. Always."

The Feldmans stopped table service and got rid of the ponies, but kept scooping Windy Valley ice cream. Six years ago, they razed the old shack and built a new building a few hundred feet away that would house the store and other commercial space.

"It's just different than it was," said Jack Dillon, executive director of the Valleys Planning Council. "It has no resemblance to the ambiance it had before, which was a roadside diner. Now everything's nice and clean."

Still, a number of regulars kept coming.

Lonegro said he still bought his daily coffee there, but drank it in his car parked outside the store.

About three years ago, Buddy Feldman's health started failing, his son said. Windy Valley was his baby -- Stuart Feldman didn't have any interest in retail, and Buddy's wife couldn't understand why her husband wanted to spend that much time behind a register.

So when Buddy Feldman became unable to enjoy his pet business, the family started looking to sell. About three months ago, Stuart Feldman said, they struck a deal with Soudry. On Dec. 17, Buddy Feldman died. He was 81.

Last week, Stuart Feldman was selling the last of Windy Valley's pots and pans. He still owns the property but will lease the space to Soudry.

A blue banner announcing the arrival of Poulet hangs over the Windy Valley sign.

"It's time for change," Feldman said.

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