A Different Field

With his mother by his side, Ray Lewis tackles a new venture by opening a restaurant in Canton.

February 17, 2005|By Joe Burris | Joe Burris,SUN STAFF

As a teenager, Ray Lewis would occasionally enter his mother's tiny fast-food establishment in Memphis, Tenn., and vow that one day he would not only play professional football but own a restaurant larger than hers.

Sometimes, after having flipped burgers for hours, Sunseria Smith made it clear to her son that she was in no mood for what she considered ham.

"Boy, get out my face," she would scold. "You don't know what you're talking about."

But he did know. Yesterday, Smith stood inside the Ravens linebacker's first entrepreneurial venture: Ray Lewis' Full Moon Bar-B-Que, a posh, 6,200-square-foot restaurant that represents a two-year, $2 million investment of which Lewis is the majority shareholder.

But you don't have to draw a pro football player's salary to eat there: A pricier menu item - the steak platter - costs $24.99.

Located in The Can Company, an upscale shopping center on Boston Street in Canton, the restaurant officially opens Sunday. Its venue was once home to Atlantic, a seafood restaurant that closed last year.

"This is a side that I want to go into definitely after my football career is done," says Lewis, who added that he knew he was onto something when his mother sampled the cuisine at his new establishment and said it was better than hers.

"This venture for me is one of many on the business side that I want to get started," says Lewis, who lived up to his fashionable reputation by donning a gray three-piece suit.

The man who says he considers life after football "every day" appeared confident as he addressed the assembled media before retreating to a private area upstairs.

"The restaurant is one small component that I'm trying to do, but it's one heck of a stepping stone to start out this way," says Lewis.

Though the two-level, 215-seat restaurant is decorated in Ravens colors and loaded with Lewis photos and memorabilia - including his Super Bowl jersey and helmet - Lewis insists that it is not a sports bar, but a family-oriented venue with a traditional, Southern-style menu.

Upstairs has more of a steak-house setting, with wooden tables and chairs. Downstairs has a bar and booth seating with flat-screen televisions. There are even flat screens in the bathrooms.

"Once you see the vibe and everything that's going on, you see that it's not a sports bar," says Lewis.

However, patrons should not always expect to see Lewis there. He says he intends to visit the establishment when he's in town but added that his involvement with the day-to-day functions will be limited.

"That's the thing I truly trust, the people I have working here," says Lewis. His restaurant employs more than 100 people, including kitchen manager Charles Wynn, a former chef at Georgia Brown's in Washington.

"I just do what I do. I have a true double investment in this, financial as well as my reputation," says Lewis. "My thing is to make sure this establishment is what we're trying to make it, to always be here, be around, show my face and do the things the owner of a restaurant should."

The establishment is a partnership between Lewis and the owners of Birmingham-based Full Moon Bar-B-Que, a chain of quick-service restaurants, in Alabama. As with those establishments, Lewis' restaurant features food that is cooked on a hickory open-fire pit.

David Maluff, co-owner of Full Moon with his brother Joe, says that Full Moon's partnership with Ray Lewis is its first step in plans to expand nationwide with full-service restaurants.

He says that Lewis is the majority shareholder in the full-service expansion. The partnership plans to seek investments from other professional athletes, who would also have Full Moon restaurants named for them in the city in which they play.

Maluff says the partnership has spoken to NFL quarterbacks Michael Vick (Atlanta Falcons), Donovan McNabb (Philadelphia Eagles), Steve McNair (Tennessee Titans) and NBA forward Tracy McGrady (Houston Rockets).

"One of the owners from Birmingham has family here, and [the family member] shared an office next to Ray's [foundation] office," says Maluff. "That's where Ray originally tried our food for the first time. ... From that came a business deal to where we are.

"With our quality food and Ray's super-athlete status, his name of recognition, we thought we could showcase a great product together, his name and our food," says Maluff. "We were looking at a site in the Inner Harbor, but we found it to be pure tourism, but we thought we wanted the locals to be part of our restaurant and enjoy it as well as the tourists."

Lewis follows several Baltimore professional football players who have owned food establishments. The two more successful restaurants came from two Colts Hall of Fame players: quarterback Johnny Unitas owned the Golden Arm Restaurant in Baltimore County, and defensive end Gino Marchetti owned a nationwide chain of hamburger restaurants.

Smith says her son's restaurant is more than twice the size of her Memphis establishment, the Lakeview Burger Bar, which she sold immediately after Lewis turned professional.

Hers was a place with only a few seats, cheeseburgers and chicken sandwiches and arcade games.

But Lewis says he learned enough from watching his mother keep her restaurant afloat to know how challenging the food-service business can be.

"It's hard, and it's truly what you make it," says Lewis. "And I believe it's your energy. I believe everyone on our staff has a great spirit, a great heart, but you have to keep pushing and make sure the venue is everything you're looking for it to be."

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