Owner of landmark South Baltimore restaurant dies

Rallo's stood on Fort Avenue since 1941

  • Vincent Rallo, owner of Rallo's Restaurant in Locust Point.
Vincent Rallo, owner of Rallo's Restaurant in Locust… (Kim Hairston )
July 07, 2011|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

Vincent Mario "Vince" Rallo, a former banker who in retirement took over Rallo's Restaurant, a Locust Point landmark since 1941, died Thursday morning of lung cancer at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson.

The longtime Homeland resident was 79.

Rallo's, in the 800 block of E. Fort Ave., was established by Mr. Rallo's father, Louis Rallo, an immigrant from Sicily who settled in Baltimore in 1910.

The restaurant was known for its generous breakfasts that included scrapple, an old-fashioned menu staple, as well as bacon, sausage, corned beef hash and sizzling ham.

There were heaping portions of beef or chicken stew, lima bean and pea soup, fried crab cakes, chili con carne, Spanish omelets, braunschweiger sandwiches, and sour beef and dumplings.

"It's been an institution in South Baltimore forever," said Baltimore City Councilman William H. Cole IV. "I've eaten breakfast there every morning for 17 years. I arrive at 8 a.m., and my scrambled eggs and iced tea are waiting for me."

He recalled Mr. Rallo as being a genial host and a lively conversationalist.

"There are not many places left in Baltimore like Rallo's," he said.

Joe DiBlasi, a former city councilman, is another regular.

"We had many, many political and campaign meetings and fundraisers there over the years. I think I introduced William Donald Schaefer and Barbara Mikulski to Rallo's," he said. "I've been there thousands of times in the last 30 years, and I always looked forward to Fridays, which was flounder day."

Mr. DiBlasi said he visited Rallo's two or three times a week.

"If I didn't have time to eat, I'd just drop in to talk to Vince, and he loved telling me what to do, and I'd tell him, 'Why don't you run for City Council,' " he said, with a laugh.

Mr. DiBlasi added: "He was a generous behind-the-scenes guy. He was a great man who always did a lot for the community. He was loyal and dedicated to the South Baltimore community and will be sorely missed."

The restaurant was a throwback to another era — a diner in a rowhouse — but Mr. Rallo had been trying to sell the corner building for the past few years. He had scaled back the hours, ending dinner service.

It is a place where the waitresses know the orders of the regulars.

Pictures of old Baltimore adorn the walls, along with snapshots of Mr. Rallo posing with city politicians for whom the restaurant was a must stop, whether they were running for office or already elected. Mr. Schaefer celebrated his 75th birthday with breakfast at Rallo's.

It was a favorite for city police officers, longshoremen, City Hall workers, reporters, judges and railroad workers from the nearby CSX Riverside yards.

Teal-colored barstools were filled with workers from Domino Sugars getting off their overnight shifts, while others dined in blond-colored booths or at tables that were similarly decorated.

"It was a motley crew. You could never stereotype who was going to be there," Mr. Cole said with a laugh.

But as the neighborhood edged toward gentrification in the early 2000s, Mr. Rallo adapted, adding bagels, cream cheese and salmon to the menu, while not abandoning such standards as split pea soup, Western omelets with cheese, or plates of soft butter and bread from F&S Maranto Inc., the Pearl Street baker.

"Industry has virtually left Locust Point," Mr. Rallo said in a Baltimore Sun interview in 2000. "The longshoremen who used to frequent this restaurant have been trickling off since 1984. We've had to nurture the residents of the neighborhood."

Of the newly added items to his menu, Mr. Rallo said, "That's not exactly a longshoreman's taste."

In a 1987 Evening Sun interview, Mr. Rallo described his restaurant to a reporter as being "a dinky little place, but we love it. We're even attracting Federal Hill yuppies."

On Thursday morning, there were plenty of tears as regulars arriving at the restaurant for breakfast were shocked to learn that Mr. Rallo had died at 7:20 a.m.

Bonnie Geho, a Locust Point native who has worked as a waitress there for 25 years, hugged customers as she fought back tears.

"I met my husband here and raised my kids here," she said. "I never did a lot of eating here because I was always busy waiting on customers."

Mr. Rallo had a wide circle of friends that extended far beyond Locust Point, she said.

"No matter where I went — I could be in Westminster, for instance — and when I'd tell people that I worked at Rallo's, people would say they knew Vince," she said.

"Vince was always concerned for his customers," she said.

It was Mr. Rallo's custom to go from table to table or sit for a moment and shoot the breeze with diners as his wife of 49 years, the former Angela Giamporcaro, stood behind a glass counter filled with candy and gum to handle the cash register.

Another quaint custom was the handing of bills to diners without any prices on them. Mr. Rallo or his wife would later tote them up at the cash register as customers prepared to depart.

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