ABOUT 11 a.m. the rock music starts to blare on the 18th floor of a building on Charles Street.
A handful of beautiful people, some of them fashion models, stroll in past a bank of flickering television screens, ready for the day's work, while Richard Sharoff, the man who runs the place, sits in the office in a crisp black suit looking like he came from Hollywood.
"Got to create some excitement," Sharoff says as the music pounds away. "This is Hollywood."
A year-and-a-half ago, Sharoff was more interested in making sure the Caramel Fudge Swirlpool was made just right at one of his 125 MaggieMoo's ice cream parlors.
Now, at 58, Sharoff is executive director and owner of John Robert Powers' Baltimore school. The nationwide modeling and acting agency has been around for more than 80 years.
He bought the local franchise in March with the intention of turning it around and making it the place to go for aspiring models and actors. It's an odd turn for a man who for nearly all his adult life has been involved in things far less sexy - bread, chicken and ice cream.
Before buying MaggieMoo's, he ran 13 Boston Market stores in Baltimore and Rochester, N.Y. In the mid-1980s, he was president of Vie de France Corp., a specialty bakery and restaurant chain in the Washington area.
"A business is a business," Sharoff said. "I am a businessman. It is not that complicated."
Sharoff's merchandise now is youngsters with big dreams. He flips through a photo album with glossy pictures of smiling faces, noting who's got the looks, the smarts, the edge.
"This girl is going to go someplace," Sharoff said, pointing to a picture of a smiling 17-year-old with long black hair who comes to the school on weekends from Richmond, Va.
Sharoff bought the John Robert Powers school in March for a price he wouldn't reveal. He says he quickly realized he had a "raft of unhappy clients."
He brought in new talent, including a runway model, an acting coach and a symphony musician who is the sales manager.
"Before, it was haphazard and disorganized and hyper, very hyper," said Christine Hintz of Davidsonville, whose 13-year-old is an aspiring actress.
"Everybody had this wild look in their eye all of the time. He [Sharoff] has brought a world of professionalism with him, people skills and calmness," Hintz said.
Sharoff calls himself the "antithesis of the Hollywood huckster" and says he won't promise his clients - he says he has about 300 - Hollywood dreams.
"That is like sending a kid to baseball camp and promising them that they will make it to the major leagues," he said. "All we can promise them is good training and exposure to casting directors and talent agents."
Prices vary, but John Robert Powers students pay $1,275 for a 10-week workshop or $5,900 for five years of unlimited classes.
Students, who generally range from 4 to 17 years old, also can learn basic life skills: how to tie a necktie, nutrition, table manners and speaking before a group. They also can take acting and modeling classes and build a portfolio of portraits with the in-house photographer. Several times a month, Sharoff brings in agents to meet the talent.
"He is learning the industry," said April Hanlin, head of Sharoff's school, who was Miss Teen West Virginia in 1993. "I think we are all teaching him if nothing else."
Sharoff doesn't see much difference in marketing food versus talent.
Years ago, as director of corporate planning and later general manager at Sara Lee Corp. he helped to introduce nondessert products such as bagels, croissants and muffins. As part of the job, he dealt with advertising agencies, photographers and writers.
"I would go down to Madison Avenue, and it was very stimulating," he said. "It is theatrical, and it is creative."
In 1986, he became president of Vie de France, the bread and restaurant chain. Four years later, he acquired the rights to the Boston Market franchise in the Baltimore area and later merged it with another franchise before Boston Market collapsed.
In 1996, he bought MaggieMoo's and took it from a 10-store chain of retail stores to 125 stores. But he left in August 2003 after a clash with a cousin who also was involved in the business.
"It was sort of oil and water from the beginning," he said.
Sharoff took time off and recharged by sailing his 30-foot sloop, Moovin. "I deserved a break," he said. "I always had my hands in something."
For a while, he considered buying a chain of coffee shops with a partner, but he also talked with business brokers who told him about John Robert Powers. After the clash with his cousin at MaggieMoo's, he wanted to run a business by himself, and he thought the modeling school was the right fit.
"My goal is to see how big I can build the name and reputation," Sharoff said. "Good things will come in time."
Bill Atkinson's column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. Contact him at 410-332-6961 or by e-mail at bill.atkinson@balt sun.com.