Karzai may reopen Chesapeake Restaurant

March 03, 2010|By Laura Vozzella | laura.vozzella@baltsun.com | Baltimore Sun reporter

The old Chesapeake Restaurant on North Charles Street could become a combination seafood restaurant and upscale mini-grocer under a plan that has tentative approval from the Baltimore Development Corp.

The city's quasi-public development arm has entered into an exclusive negotiating agreement for the property with a group that includes restaurateur Qayum Karzai and investor Michael Schecter. The deal was first reported by The Daily Record.

"We're happy about it, and I think BDC is very positive about it," Karzai said Tuesday.

The deal could breathe new life into what was once one of the city's grandest restaurants. The Chesapeake introduced Baltimoreans to charcoal-broiled steaks and is sometimes credited with coming up with the idea of mixing Caesar salads tableside, in a wooden bowl. It has been closed for 20 years.

"Cut it with a fork or tear up your check and walk out," the restaurant's ads in 1930s newspapers read.

Redevelopment of the restaurant site has been tied up in litigation for years while the surrounding area gained new eating places and the hip Station North designation.

Attorney Robert A. Sapero bought the restaurant at auction and held onto it for 18 years, resisting the BDC's efforts to purchase, and then seize, the property. He agreed to sell it to the city last year.

Karzai, who owns The Helmand, B and Tapas Teatro, said it was unclear whether the new restaurant would keep the Chesapeake Restaurant name.

"I don't know about the name," he said. "There is a debate."

He said the emphasis would be on seafood and local produce, much of it grown on his family farm in Howard County.

The Daily Record reported that the market's seafood counter would be based on the one in London's fabled Harrods department store.

Karzai, the elder brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, said it won't be quite that grand. And the emphasis will be on local products - cheeses, breads and produce grown at Karzai's Fig Leaf Farm.

"The Harrods store is much more exotic," Karzai said. "This will be a very, very small version."

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