Quick transition at Chick and Ruth's after Annapolis mainstay sold to new owner

E.B. Furgurson III
Contact Reporterpfurgurson@capgaznews.com

“There was a lot of crying. Not a dry eye in the house. We were all crying together,” Beth Levitt said after her husband Ted told his employees Chick and Ruth’s Delly had been sold.

Open since 1965, the Annapolis mainstay with the kitschy orange paint job is where everyone from Maryland governors, tourists and generations of the city’s residents gather to nibble and nosh from the menu featuring dishes named for Maryland politicians.

Nothing will change, they say.

“Except for a taller, better looking and smarter guy running the place, everything will be the same,” Ted Levitt said Tuesday.

He took over the store his father and mother, Chick and Ruth, started after selling a small bar in Baltimore. The new owner, Keith Jones, said he intends to keep the place busy, bustling and full of family. After a few misty moments at the employee meeting, Jones was warmly welcomed.

“I was blown away. Everyone, all 48 of them, started chanting, ‘Keith, Keith, Keith.’ It was like being at a football game,” Jones said.

He was on the job Tuesday dressed in his Chick and Ruth’s Delly polo shirt with “Keith” stitched on it.

The deal — details have not been revealed — includes the restaurant and the Main Street building with the Scotlaur Inn. The inn is a 10-room bed and breakfast named for two of Ted and Beth Levitt’s children, Scott and Lauren.

Levitt said he had entertained an offer two years ago to sell, but the potential buyer could not put together the financing.

Jones, who owns a handful of Five Guys eateries in the area, got into the restaurant business just four years ago after a 24-year career in the health care industry focusing on systems and management.

He heard Levitt might entertain another offer. Levitt said the two have been talking for a few months and finally sealed the deal recently.

Jones said he had always wanted a B&B or a restaurant with a tradition and history like Chick and Ruth’s. Now he has both.

Jones grew up in a farming community in California’s Central Valley, graduated from Stanford University with a degree in economics, and spent 24 years in the health care industry as a systems and process expert mostly with Kaiser Permanente.

“I got to the point where I needed to make a decision whether to continue in a traditional career or try something else,” he said.

He said he is determined to make as few changes as possible at the restaurant.

“I intend to keep things the same, preserving the traditions that Ted and his family have spent so many years trying to build,” Jones said. “People form memories here. The traditions, the family atmosphere. Creating experiences for young and old.”

Jones lives in Vienna, Virginia, but will be relocating to the Annapolis area in the coming months. He takes over just in time for one of the ultimate tests of a restaurant mettle — the Annapolis Boat Shows.

“Well, if our biggest problem is (being) busy, I’m OK with that,” Jones said. “It will get crowded,” he said of the restaurant known for its tight quarters. “It’s been said this is a full-contact location.”

The Levitts are contractually obligated to aid in the ownership transition for two weeks.

“We want Keith to succeed,” Beth Levitt said. “ And whatever we can do to help him succeed, we will do.”

Ted Levitt is looking forward to spending time with his kids and tinkering with his antique car collection, all of which he has meticulously restored himself, he said. “Maybe I’ll open a small museum.”

But he also can’t wait to come into the restaurant as a customer.

“All these years we’d say, ‘Let’s get something to eat. Where? The deli.’ So we would come in and I would end up working, doing something,” he said. “Now I will be able to come in and just eat.”

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