John E. Larkin Jr.

The seafood dealer's raw oyster bar was a popular downtown meeting place beginning in the 1960s

April 09, 2009|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

John E. Larkin Jr., a seafood dealer whose raw oyster bar became a popular downtown gathering place, died of cardiac arrest Sunday at St. Agnes Hospital. The Catonsville resident was 71.

Born in Baltimore and raised in Catonsville, he attended Leonard Hall Junior Naval Academy and was a 1955 Mount St. Joseph High School graduate. Family members said that he remained close to his teachers, members of the Xaverian Brothers, throughout his life.

He entered the seafood business as a young man. Multiple generations of Larkins had worked in the Baltimore seafood industry and owned stalls at Lexington, Hollins and Belair markets.

In the 1960s Mr. Larkin moved the business to a historic Eutaw Street building south of Lexington Market, where he sold and promoted Maryland seafood. He set up a raw bar and had shuckers, beds of ice and bushels of salty Chincoteague oysters. He catered to lunchtime crowds of downtown workers who lined up for an oyster lunch.

"Jack seemed to be a pace-setter within the industry," said a friend, Bill Devine, of Faidley Seafood in Lexington Market. "After Miller Brothers [a well-known restaurant] was torn down, he had the only raw bar until I put mine in."

A 1964 Sun article said that the city's Architectural Advisory Board praised Mr. Larkin's "imaginative and tasteful renovation" of a nearly 200-year-old building adjoining the Palmer House restaurant. He was later awarded a certificate from Mayor William Donald Schaefer for his role in helping to develop the Eutaw Street area near Lexington Market.

"He was super guy and ran a fine business," said William King III, owner of Sea King and Crab Shanty in Ellicott City.

Mr. Larkin closed the raw bar about 15 years ago and focused on a wholesale seafood business on Dukeland Street. He set up relationships with other seafood dealers in North Carolina and South Carolina as well as Texas to ensure a year-round supply of hard crabs, family members said.

He and two partners, William King Jr. and Calvert Tolley, set up a crab processing plant in Palacios, Texas, in the 1970s. They delivered Gulf of Mexico crab meat to Baltimore restaurants.

"He was an outstanding businessman and good to do business with," said Audrey Moree of Bay Island Seafood in Southwest Baltimore. "He was in that business for years and years."

Mr. Larkin was also one of the early advocates for the environmental health of the Chesapeake Bay. He received an "Admiral of the Chesapeake Bay" award for calling for research into the effects of bay pollution.

"My father loved his Irish heritage and the times he spent with his family, his friends and with members of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick," said a son, Kevin Ralph Larkin of Catonsville. "The trips he made to Ireland with my mother remained special in his heart."

His pastor, the Rev. Christopher Whatley, of St. Mark's Roman Catholic Church in Catonsville, said Mr. Larkin "dealt with the illness he faced with remarkable courage intertwined with a beautiful sense of humor." Father Whatley described him as a "man of faith" who was "known for the company he kept."

A Mass was offered Wednesday in Catonsville.

Other survivors include his wife of 46 years, Corinne Mary Lusco; three other sons, Michael Shane Larkin of Red Lion, Pa., Sean Patrick Larkin of Finksburg and Ryan Casey Larkin of Middle River; a sister, Katherine DeSales Larkin Konen of Ocean Pines; and 11 grandchildren. Another son, John E. Larkin III, died in 1996.

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