Karen Jean McKinney, 65, owner of seafood restaurant in Essex

September 07, 2005|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Karen Jean McKinney, who owned and operated an Essex seafood restaurant for more than three decades, died of cancer Saturday at her eastern Baltimore County home. She was 65.

Born Karen Jean Korns in Baltimore and raised in the Wilson Point section of Baltimore County, she attended Kenwood High School. In 1958, she married Robert A. McKinney, then an engineer for the Glenn L. Martin Co.

A little more than a decade later, the couple decided to lease, then buy, Schultz's, an Old Eastern Avenue bar. They turned it into a crab house, which became known for its distinctive way of preparing shrimp.

"My parents took all their life savings and invested in the place. They took a chance," said her daughter, Christina McKinney-Whipp of Essex, who is now a manager and bookkeeper for the restaurant. "My father was the big chief and my mother tended the bar and enjoyed the company of all the customers."

The restaurant retained the name of Pop Schultz, who founded the bar. The McKinneys later added steaks and sour beef and dumplings to their restaurant's menu.

"We couldn't afford a new sign when we bought it," Mrs. McKinney told an Evening Sun restaurant reviewer in 1983. "So we kept it. Now people are used to the name."

Mrs. McKinney, who presided over the restaurant after her husband's death in 1990, also brought six of her children in to do various jobs -- servers, bookkeeper, managers, cooks and bartenders -- as soon as they were old enough to work.

"Our customers felt comfortable bringing their own children in because of the brood of McKinney children working there," said another daughter, Michele "Shelly" McKinney of Essex, who has worked at the restaurant for 34 years as a barmaid, waitress and manager.

Mrs. McKinney closed up at midnight. Family members said she often sat at the end of the bar and was called "Granny" by regulars, who had heard her addressed by the same name by her 14 grandchildren -- who often visited because their parents were working there.

"She had a big heart. Customers hung out with her. They borrowed money from her, too," Ms. McKinney-Whipp said.

The restaurant's signature dish became shrimp. Instead of steaming it, she and her staff boiled shrimp with vinegar, spices and an onion.

"There's wasn't an empty table in either of the two dining rooms and it appeared that those [customers] who weren't picking crabs were shelling spicy shrimp," the Evening Sun reviewer wrote, calling Schultz's a "plain and simple restaurant" and "haven for the crab and shrimp lover."

In her free time, Mrs. McKinney sat at the bar and solved crossword puzzles or played Yahtzee.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow at the Bruzdzinski Funeral Home, 1407 Old Eastern Ave., Essex.

In addition to her daughters and grandchildren, survivors include three sons, Robert A. McKinney Jr. of Rosedale and Stephen McKinney and Jason McKinney, both of Essex; another daughter, Stephanie Kell of Lutherville; a brother, John Roger Korns Sr. of Wilson Point; a half-brother, David Mahan of Churchville; a half-sister, Melinda Sefton of Boseman, Wyo.; and a great-grandson. A daughter, Regina McKinney, died in 1972.

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