February 6, 2008

The View

Nothing to get hung about

Strawberry Fields welcomes its newest (and possibly final) tenant. From the ocean.

David Sattler

A psychedelic anthem of forty years ago led to a fish market: as the Grateful Dead would say, what a long, strange trip it’s been.

Owner/developer Craig Witzke, an area native, has long called the area around the intersection of Frederick Road and Newburg Avenue by a Beatle-esque name: Strawberry Fields. Sometime next month, the final piece of his development puzzle will swim into place, when the Catonsville Gourmet opens.

And what was once Muir’s Hardware will be a combination restaurant, carry-out and fish and prepared foods market. When Catonsville Gourmet opens toward the end of this month or the beginning of February, Witzke said his property will be fully leased, “ahead of schedule.”

Named by Witzke, a fourth generation Catonsvillian and former funeral director, for the wild strawberries which once grew there, Strawberry Fields is a collection of buildings and land on Frederick Road and Newburg Avenue. Witzke has spent months attending meetings, buttonholing people on the street and maintaining a blog, whatsgoingoncatonsville.blogspot.com, to see what folks wanted him to do with the property.

“I could have just sold the property to a drug store and been done with it,” Witzke said. “That would have been easier.”

Easier, perhaps, but not his vision. From the start, he wanted a mixture of stores and restaurants that would bring people, especially Catonsville residents, to the area. People requested stores and restaurants unlike any that were already here, according to the responses posted on his blog, and the existing mix, which includes a surf/skate/snow shop, a candy store, a dog groomer, a soon to open fair trade gift shop and the gourmet shop, along with offices, certainly seem to meet that goal.

“It didn’t turn out exactly as I thought it would,” he noted, “but it’s turning out great.”

For example, Witzke said he would have “never guessed” that a shop for snowboarders, skateboarders and similar folks would have been on a “most wanted list,’ but “I was approached by more than one person” and leased the space to the “one that was the best.” He couldn’t bring the Trader Joe’s, Wegman’s Whole Foods or Starbucks a number of people requested, but the Catonsville Gourmet could be the hometown equivalent in some ways.

Sean Dunworth, a St. Timothy Lane resident and one of the partners in the new venture, enthusiastically shows off plans for the old hardware store that includes a restaurant, seafood market, prepared foods deli and raw bar.

“You can try something in the restaurant, then bring it home ready made for someone else to have the next day, or pick up the ingredients and make it yourself,” Dunworth said. “You can buy raw, steamed, whatever you like.”

The seafood and some of the menu will be seasonal, he noted, with an ever-changing variety, and not all seafood.

“We’ll see what people like and want,” he said, trying different prepared dishes in the deli case to see what proves popular. If people like his seafood lasagna, for example, the deli case might offer it every Monday. Or one day a week the shop might concentrate on Asian inspired food, Mexican another night, Italian a third.

Dunworth, in fact, has spent most of his life in the food and restaurant business, beginning “as a busboy” when his mother was comptroller of the Maryland Inn. His other worked for other restaurants as well, while his father once owned a Jerry’s Subs and Pizza franchise. Dunworth formerly owned Opie’s, the ice cream and snowball stand on Edmondson Avenue, as well as Kelsey’s in the Normandy Shopping Center in Ellicott City. For the past few years he’s sold wholesale seafood, and the man says he knows his seafood: give him an oyster or something similar and with one taste he can tell you where it came from.

“Diamonds of the Sea,” he calls them.

For his part, Witzke isn’t finished. The carriage house which is slated to be a gift shop isn’t yet, and a contract or letter of intent isn’t the same as a business paying rent. And, now that he’s had a taste of development, he’d like to find another property or two and try it again.

Until then, he’s occasionally going out for lunch or dinner with Dunworth, learning about seafood and other foods he’s never tried. And there’s at least one other person, besides Dunworth, that Witzke credits with helping him realize his vision that Strawberry Fields become a vibrant, varied retail center. “(County Executive) Jim Smith has been incredibly supportive,” said Witzke. “He does a lot for the commujities.”


Anonymous said...

You learn something new everyday, I have been going to Kelsey's since 1994, and I had no idea that Dunworth was a partner in the restaurant!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for you comment. Looking at the View, I guess I can see your confussion, but, the article did not say Sean was a partner in Kelsey's. I was at the interview and Sean did not say that either. He helped to open Kelsey's.

I believe that the writer was trying to get the point across that, Sean and Rob are very qualified to run the Catonsville Gourmet and that it will be a wonderful business! Look for them to open soon! Craig

C-ville Sarah said...

My question is more related to the presence of "The View" in Catonsville. I heard that it may be leaving. Can anyone verify this? I love "The View" and would be sad to see it go.

DAS said...

I can verify that The View is no more. Patuxent Publishing, which also publishes the Catonsville Times, informed me on February 15, when the March issue was going to press, that the company was eliminating both The View from Catonsville-Arbutus and a sister publication, The View from Elkridge. Being editor of The View from Catonsville-Arbutus was more fun than I ever imagined a job could be, and I'm very sorry to see it go.
David Sattler

Anonymous said...

One again, your idea is very

good.thank you!very much.

On the Lighter Side!