Finksburg restaurant bids farewell

Known for quality food, 'gracious hospitality,' award-winning Rudys' 2900 closing

August 22, 2005|By Winyan Soo Hoo | Winyan Soo Hoo,Special to baltimoresun.com

After 22 years, the owners of the renowned Rudys' 2900 restaurant felt the time was right to say goodbye.

Master chef Rudy Speckamp and maitre d' Rudi Paul are closing the doors to their Finksburg restaurant on Sept. 3. Regular service ended July 31 and only previously booked banquets will be served at the 2900 Baltimore Blvd. location. An unnamed hospitality business is set to replace the restaurant.

Hundreds of thank-you notes and letters have poured in to bid the two men farewell to jobs they have held since August 1983. The appreciation comes from customers who visited the restaurant from places all around Maryland - from nearby Carrollton to distant Hanover, Pa.

"It was heartfelt and humbling to see how we touched so many lives in moments we took for granted in our business - we helped people celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, bat mitzvahs " Speckamp said. "These milestones were daily routines for our industry. We were privileged to be there."

Through the years, a commitment to consistency and quality food garnered awards and distinctions such as Baltimore's Best and Chef of the Year by Baltimore Magazine and an Award of Excellence from Distinguished Restaurants of America.

Speckamp, who began cooking in Bavaria when he was 14, met Paul, another German native, in the early 1970s in Maryland. The two quickly bonded over their love for food and their intention to co-own a restaurant that would later serve Continental fare, or what Speckamp labeled "global, contemporary food made with a classic foundation."

In the past 14 years, the restaurant has created theme dinners and offered regional specialties that changed on a monthly basis. Tributes to the Chesapeake Bay, white asparagus fare and Mediterranean-inspired dinners are a few examples.

Paul, 64, said business has slowed in the past two years, but they have maintained strong relationships with their customers.

Cheryl Wingate, an apprentice chef, said the restaurant also catered for various families, particularly during the holidays.

"Many of these families got to know us so well that they treated us like family, too, and it was very nice going to the same homes again and again," Wingate said. "That is one of the things I will miss the most now that Rudys' is closed. The connection we had as a team and our ties with our loyal customers."

Good communication is what Paul calls the "main ingredient" that guided their partnership. While Speckamp, 59, was in the back cooking, Paul remained in the front, greeting customers and supervising the wait staff.

"At least one of the 'Rudys' was always at the restaurant in the years we were in business," Paul said. "We talked to each other every day."

The demands of the restaurant business had its price. Paul and Speckamp said they want to make up for lost time with their families after Rudys' 2900 closes.

Both also plan to work a lighter schedule in the fall. Paul will become the clubhouse manager at the Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills and Speckamp will serve as a consultant for the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley, Calif., and Hyde Park, N.Y., and he also hopes to teach more in the future.

"I am not going to retire completely," Speckamp said. "I have been cooking behind the stove for more than 45 years. Now it's time to give back to the community."

Kaui Stryhn, the current executive sous-chef at the Cherokee Town and Country in Atlanta, never attended culinary school and said Speckamp taught him everything he knows about cooking.

Stryhn, who served as an apprentice for more than 10 years in his teens, remembers how Speckamp was eager to pass on his cooking expertise, no matter how busy he was.

"That was my school," Stryhn said. "Before that, I could barely hold a knife. I learned how to make soup, grill fish, meat all the ins and outs of cooking. Chef [Speckamp] was very supportive, and he corrected me when I was wrong."

Speckamp's former apprentices remain loyal friends and colleagues, and former Rudys' 2900 cooks such as Stryhn attend annual reunion dinners, Speckamp said. There were also servers who worked at the restaurant since day one.

Howard and Jessa Goldberg of Pikesville were regular Rudys' 2900 customers and marked special occasions there. Jessa Goldberg said her family was drawn to the attentive service Paul provided.

"We kept going back because of their gracious hospitality," she said. "We're sad to hear that Rudys' is closing, but we wish them all the best."

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