Toast to a 'very generous guy'

May 14, 2008|By Susan Gvozdas | Susan Gvozdas,special to the sun

When a spot opened up on the Chesapeake Bay Yacht Racing Association's calendar last August, Richard Franyo jumped on it and set up the Boatyard Regatta - part promotion for his Boatyard Bar & Grill restaurant in Eastport and part fundraiser for a local sailing charity.

Franyo boasted around town that he would raise $15,000 for CRAB, Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating, a group that provides sailing opportunities for the disabled. When the family-friendly regatta netted only $10,000 - considered a success by organizers - Franyo took out his checkbook and wrote a $5,000 check to fill the gap, said Donald Backe, executive director of CRAB.

Since his association with Franyo, one of the city's top fundraisers, the nonprofit has gained attention in the sailing community and is planning its second annual regatta for Sept. 6. The goal this year: $20,000.

"We really are flattered to be one of his babies," Backe said. "In a way, he signals our integration in the big time."

By this fall, Franyo will have raised nearly $700,000 for environmental and maritime charities in the area since 2001. He will be honored tomorrow as Maryland's 2008 Outstanding Fundraiser by the state chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals at a luncheon in Towson.

His fundraising philosophy, as Franyo put it: "Find a lifestyle event where there's nothing like it, where people are going to want to do it, and publicize the heck out of it."

One of Franyo's biggest beneficiaries is the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, where Franyo serves on the board of trustees. The organization received $130,000 from Franyo's Bands in the Sand concert last year and $40,000 from restaurant sales. The Boatyard Bar & Grill is a member of One Percent for the Planet, an international organization in which businesses pledge to donate 1 percent of their sales to environmental groups.

Although the money from the Bands in the Sand concert makes up a small portion of the $20 million budget for the foundation, the event is one of the largest event fundraisers to benefit the organization, said Pam Wilson, director of corporate and foundation relations. The foundation normally raises money through independent donors to be used for environmental education, restoration and community outreach projects.

Wilson said she is amazed at how much Franyo can raise, given the nationwide economic downturn.

"He's a very generous and humble guy," she said.

Franyo, 63, grew up in Bethesda and earned a bachelor's degree in economics from the University of Virginia. After he graduated, he served four years in the Navy, including one year in Vietnam, and was a lieutenant when he left. Franyo graduated from Harvard Business School and went to work as an investment banker in 1972 for what is now Deutsche Bank Alex. Brown in Baltimore.

He and his wife, Susan, moved to Eastport in 2001 and opened the Boatyard Bar & Grill. The following year, he retired from Alex. Brown and began to work at the restaurant full time.

Franyo said he wanted to see if he could be successful in the restaurant business. A sailing aficionado and fisherman, he bought a smoky old fisherman's bar on Severn Avenue and Fourth Street and built an airy, bright restaurant that caters both to sailors and families. The bright yellow exterior gives way to interior walls covered with racing photos and fish trophies. A television broadcasts local sailing races. Franyo permits a cameraman and a commentator to use one of his boats in exchange for the footage.

To promote his business and pet interests, Franyo looked for niche events that would cater to his target clientele. Then he aggressively targeted sponsors to cover his costs. The result is a good turnout with most of the money going to the designated charity, he said.

"We felt the events could not be just another ball," Franyo said. For example, he set up an annual fishing tourney on the opening day of rockfish season in 2002. This year, the event on April 19 drew 150 boats and 1,100 people for the after party. In six years, the event has raised $175,000 for the foundation, the Coastal Conservation Association and the Annapolis Police Department Youth Fishing Camp for at-risk kids.

"We have all those fishermen out there," Franyo said. "What they want is a party."

His fifth annual Boatyard Beach Party on Sept. 20 will benefit the Annapolis Maritime Museum. Franyo, who is a museum board member, raises about $40,000 each year by hosting a party with a Jimmy Buffett cover band.

"That's a major event for us," said Lenox "Buck" Buchanan, chairman of the museum board. The money is being used to rebuild McNasby's Oyster Co. plant as the museum's headquarters.

Buchanan described Franyo as an idea man whose creativity drives fundraising campaigns and planning.

"He is the most dynamic, generous person I've ever known," Buchanan said. "He is absolutely critical to a number of nonprofits in this community."

Even Franyo's opponents on projects have kind words to say about him. Franyo, who is president of the National Sailing Hall of Fame board, has drawn criticism from historic preservationists for his efforts to locate the museum in the William H. Burtis House, a late 19th-century landmark on Annapolis' City Dock.

Bryan Miller, a principal in Atlantec Enterprise Solutions, a software and consulting company in Annapolis, has worked with Franyo on a strategic economic development committee with the city, and regrets that his views on the Burtis House have landed him on the opposite side of Franyo.

"I'd rather be working with Dick," Miller said. "I think he is a gentleman and a team player."

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