New diner at chain eatery's old site

TABLE TALK

May 31, 2006|By SLOANE BROWN

How many stories have you read about a big chain store or restaurant moving into an area and taking over where a mom-and-pop place used to be? Well, here's one story where just the reverse has happened.

In 1968, the International House of Pancakes opened on Baltimore National Pike in Catonsville. Shirley Stein was among the waitresses there. Stein continued working there over the years, eventually becoming a manager and helping to open a couple of other IHOPs around Baltimore.

Fifteen years ago, Stein's daughter Karen Rocha joined her on the job. She, too, eventually became a manager, then general manager there.

Stein passed away last August. But her name lives on. Last month, Rocha bought the restaurant, decided not to renew the IHOP franchise and transformed the place into Shirley's Family Diner.

"We closed down April 23 and changed the roof, the signs, got new uniforms and menus, and reopened two days later," says Rocha.

The word family in the title extends beyond Rocha and her mom. Rocha says the entire staff stayed with her. So have many of the eatery's regulars, thanks to a menu that still offers many of their favorite items.

Rocha says the format is still breakfast, lunch and dinner all day. But she's added a few extra treats, like crab cakes, homemade lasagna, catfish fingers and a few pastas. She's also upgraded the T-bone steak from 12 ounces to 16. She says entrees fall in the $8.99 to $19.99 range.

Rocha says the interior was in pretty good shape, so she didn't have to make too many changes, other than replacing the carpet. And she is planning to install a fishpond out front with fresh herbs planted around it.

You'll find Shirley's Family Diner, 410-788-9270, at 5600 Baltimore National Pike. It's open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday, and 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday.

It's not hard to find. Just look for the sign with Shirley's welcoming face on it.

`A new challenge'

For many Baltimore fine-dining fans, "family" also has meant seeing Jack Elsby's smiling face when they walk in the door at the Brass Elephant. As operating partner, Elsby has been with the restaurant since it opened in 1980. But today is his last day there.

The Brass Elephant is one of several restaurants run by the Country Fare Group, which also has Remomo Cafe Italia in Arundel Mills Mall, Columbia's Kings Contrivance and the Milton Inn in Sparks.

Elsby says the group decided the Milton Inn needed someone of his caliber to head things there, because it hadn't had a general manager since last fall. So, he starts there tomorrow.

Meanwhile, he says, the former assistant manager at King's Contrivance, Dave Acquarulo, will be taking over as GM at the Elephant.

As far as his new gig in the county goes, Elsby says: "I'm excited about a new challenge. I'm an old dog who loves to learn new tricks."

Does that mean some changes are in store at the Milton Inn?

"It ain't broke," he said. "So, there's nothing to fix."

If you have information regarding a local restaurant's opening, closing or major changes, please e-mail that information to sloane@sloanebrown.com or fax it to 410-675-3451.

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