Most restaurant owners wouldn’t consider opening during a recession, but that’s exactly what Robert and Roseann Glick did when they debuted their 130-seat neighborhood café in the Village of Cross Keys December 2008.
Robert’s mother, Ruth Shaw — of the upscale women’s boutique of the same name that was in Cross Keys for decades — had lamented the lack of a casual café at the suburban shopping center and suggested that someone should open an eatery there, Roseann said.
“It couldn’t have been a worse time to launch a new business, but fortunately for us, we succeeded,” she said. The business caught on quickly and, luckily, the husband-and-wife duo picked the right concept for those lean times: a casual restaurant that serves comfort food. “I think it was to our advantage that we weren’t fine dining,” Roseann said.
Village Square Café just celebrated its 10th year in business and owes its success to sticking to its casual, community-centered business model that has made it the “Cheers” spot of North Baltimore.
The husband-and-wife team took it as their mission to open a moderately priced café that was also a community gathering spot. Most customers visit the café more than once a week, Roseann said.
“We make community a priority in the way we operate the business,” Roseann said. The café hosts acoustic, folk, indie, and other live music acts every Saturday night. While most are local musicians, traveling musicians contact Roseann about performing. Last summer, the café hosted Vogel Who? from Amsterdam. Village Square Café also hosts a music open mic night twice a month, on the 2nd and 4th Thursday evenings.
The café displays a rotating art exhibit for local artists and hosts fundraisers for nonprofits, such as Nets for Life, which provides bed nets to help combat malaria in Ghana. Some fundraisers have benefited people closer to home: One helped a staff member get the money needed for a community service trip with her college class while another supported the family of a Gilman teacher who died unexpectedly, leaving behind three soon-to-be-college-age children.
The Glicks pride themselves on the fact that the menu and décor have changed very little since the beginning. In fact, they learned from experience not to tinker with the tried and true upscale casual format. Soon after opening, the couple introduced dinner service with a new menu and hostesses and servers. But customers weren’t happy. Customers wanted to order the same food at night that they order during the day in the same casual environment.
“People wanted the original concept even in the evenings,” Roseann said. The restaurant serves salads, sandwiches, pizza and all-day breakfast. The Reuben sandwich and the turkey club with house-roast turkey breast are among the most popular items, she said.
“We’re not hip and trendy,” Roseann said. “We’re reliable, friendly and consistent.”
That doesn’t mean the restaurant owners haven’t made a few tweaks over the years to keep up with food and restaurant trends. They added a black bean burger six years ago to appeal to vegetarians. They also offer gluten-free versions of their bread and bagels.
Staffing is one of the biggest challenges in the restaurant industry, but getting it right is also the key to its success.
“During the hiring process, we always look for people who seem to really get customer service,” Roseann said. “We’re smart enough to understand that we do not have a unique menu offering. People can get omelets, sandwiches, salads, and burgers at many other restaurants. But we hope they’ll keep coming back to us because we serve it up with a personal touch and a strong emphasis on customer service. “
So what do the Glicks want from the next 10 years?
“We’re hoping for continued success in this location and for new generations of customers to discover us.”