William A. Sullivan Jr.

A restaurateur who first found success running a singles club, he operated several highly praised establishments.

November 16, 2008|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

William A. Sullivan Jr., the retired owner of popular Baltimore County restaurants, died of heart failure Tuesday at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. The Glen Arm resident was 69.

Born in Baltimore and raised on 42nd Street, he attended Blessed Sacrament Parochial School and was a 1957 Calvert Hall College High School graduate. He earned a law degree at the University of Baltimore.

As a young man, Mr. Sullivan was a real estate representative for the Baskin Robbins ice cream chain. In 1968, he opened the Forum Club, a singles meeting place atop the old Club Venus on East Joppa Road.

"It was a roaring success. The admission was $3 and all the National Premium you could drink," said E. Terrance Leland, a Phoenix resident who was his business partner.

In the mid-1970s, with Mr. Leland, he bought the Bowman Restaurant in Carney and expanded the business.

"He had a big personality and a great vision for running a restaurant," said his daughter Traci Sullivan of Baltimore. "He knew how to surround himself with good people and always had an excellent chef in the kitchen."

His daughter said that Mr. Sullivan built his menus around a good crab cake entree, other Maryland seafood and steaks.

"He had a thing with lighting," she said. "He insisted that the lights be at the proper level."

In a 1982 Evening Sun story on his operation, Mr. Sullivan said his two best-selling entrees were sour beef in the winter and crab cakes year-round. He served crab soup and New England clam chowder, which the article praised by saying, "It was difficult not to order a second cup."

Other Sun reviews of the period praised his bouillabaisse, seafood Norfolk and loaves of warm bread and walnut and banana muffins, described as "masterpieces of fresh baking." They also credited the reasonable prices for food and alcohol for keeping the place busy.

"Bill would work the front door," Mr. Leland said. "He was a very good dresser and had his shirts custom-made downtown. He came out looking like Johnny Carson. We worked hard together and were successful."

His family said Mr. Sullivan was a "born entrepreneur" and soon opened Bowman's basement as a dance floor with oldies and disco music.

"He was always so upbeat," said Jack Edwards, who as a WCBM disc jockey broadcast an Only Yesterday show from the restaurant on Saturday nights. "He would greet his patrons, and there were often lines to get in."

Mr. Sullivan later had an ownership in Patrick's in Cockeysville and founded Hampton's in the former Vellegia restaurant in Towson. Family members said he closed the restaurant after patrons had trouble finding parking.

About 20 years ago, Mr. Sullivan bought the River Watch Restaurant in Middle River, which he operated with his children, who remain active in the business.

"He took a big risk and made a go of it," his daughter said of his decision to open another restaurant.

In the 1980s, he was an investor in the old Baltimore Skipjacks, a professional ice hockey team.

He retired about five years ago.

A Mass was offered Friday.

In addition to his daughter, survivors include a son, Mark Sullivan of Glen Arm; another daughter, Meghan Sullivan of Chestertown; a brother, Paul Sullivan of Jupiter, Fla.; four sisters, Suzanne McHugh of Bethesda, Mary Claire Miller of Baltimore, Linda Brennan of Palm Beach, Fla., and Patricia Sullivan of Fullerton; and a stepdaughter, Lauren Dutton of New Jersey. His marriages to Patricia T. Roemer and Susan Norris ended in divorce.

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