Appetite for success

His partnership with Cal Ripken floundered, but restaurant mogul Andrew Silverman is determined to make his Baltimore establishment a winner.

March 03, 2004|By Stephen G. Henderson | Stephen G. Henderson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Andrew Silverman paced coatless in the courtyard beside his restaurant, City Crab and Seafood Company, in Lutherville's Greenspring Station.

It was barely 10 o'clock on a freezing weekday morning not too long ago, but he'd already quizzed the hostess twice on how many reservations were booked for lunch. A grand total of six, she replied, had shot up to nine.

Frosted by this news, if not by the single-digit temperatures outside, Silverman sighed deeply, sending forth a plume of visible despair.

"Snow is one thing, but this is bone-chilling," he said. "I've been in the business 25 years, and I've never seen anything like this winter. It's killing me."

A lot of things "kill" Silverman. The price of fresh tuna, for instance. Dining chairs that wobble. Or, bathrooms that haven't been tidied within the last 20 minutes. "There's no such thing as a restaurant that's too clean," he's fond of saying.

Silverman, 49, is not exactly a malcontent, but his sensibilities are more finely tuned toward spotting mistakes than in finding things to rejoice over.

But, suddenly, his thoughts were on spring, and he rhapsodized about the pleasures of alfresco dining and how festive this courtyard would look filled with tables.

As he began to hum a Sinatra tune, Silverman's shoulders swayed slightly.

Then, these sunny possibilities froze on the vine. "I think I'd better see what we're up to for lunch," he said, as he disappeared back inside and barreled once again toward the maitre d' stand.

Like many restaurateurs, Silverman is no fan of winter. When the mercury drops, people go home instead of go out. Which means tables are empty not only at City Crab (which will celebrate its first year anniversary with an open-to-the-public party on March 11), but at Silverman's 20 restaurants in New York City, among them such popular spots as Steak Frites, Sushi Samba and Chat 'N Chew.

Above his dark eyes, Silverman's eyebrows protrude in a downward thrust V as if they were about to shoot forth from his forehead. This is especially noticeable when he gets angry, which is frequently. A large man (he's 6 feet 2 inches and more than 200 pounds), he carries himself with surprising grace, though he'll admit that weight gain is a clear and present danger.

"I pick around in all my kitchens. That's my job. You can't taste 10 meals a day and ... " He paused in midsentence, having thrust out his torso in a gesture that seemed slightly defensive. He relaxes, grins. "I go to Rancho La Puerta [a health spa in Mexico] once a year," he said. "Maybe I should go twice."

Opening a restaurant has odds similar to getting married; the possibility of failure is about 50-50. Yet, throughout his career Silverman has launched more than 30 establishments in New York, Chicago, Miami and Baltimore (he teamed up with Oriole star Cal Ripken to open Towne Hall, the predecessor to the City Crab and Seafood Company), and only three of his restaurants have not been smash hits.

Golden touch

His colleagues, friends and family aren't the least surprised that he has the powers of Midas, although they offer startlingly different explanations for Silverman's golden touch.

"This is a tough, tough business, what with health inspections, constantly changing menus and fluctuating market conditions," said Bob Fitzsimmons, president of Food Authority, a Long Island-based food distributor. "We've had our share of disagreements over the years, but Andrew never carries things past the moment. One minute he's screaming, and the next it's, `So when are we getting together with the kids?' He's unique."

Beth Landgraff, who manages City Crab and is another longtime pal of Silverman's, puts things rather more bluntly. "He's crazy! Then again, I've never met a restaurant owner who wasn't."

Born and raised in Pikesville, Silverman is the middle of three sons. His mother, who remarried and is now known as Joan Glushakow, recalls that Andrew was a relatively picky eater as a child - though she also allows that food preparation was far from her favorite household chore. "But we had a wonderful maid, and Louise made fried chicken, coleslaw and crab cakes. Andrew loved Louise's crab cakes!"

Even as a young child, he was frequently taken to restaurants. "Never fast-food places," Glushakow says. "Only fine dining." After his parents divorced, and his father moved to New York, Silverman's world expanded still further in the 1960s to include some of Manhattan's grandest establishments: La Caravelle, Lutece and La Cote Basque, among others.

Growing up, he worked as a caddy at Suburban Country Club, and was a running back on the Panther's football team at Pikesville Senior High School, with plans to play the sport in college as well. Just after he graduated, however, he was hit by a truck while riding his motorcycle. This accident, which sent him into a coma, put an end to Silverman's athletic aspirations.

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