Businessman Eddie Dopkin's legacy lives on in busy stretch of West Cold Spring Lane

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The busy stretch of 400-500 blocks of West Cold Spring Lane are in transition.

At first glance, the 400 and 500 blocks of West Cold Spring Lane, one of North Baltimore's most popular commercial corridors, doesn't look much different than it did when its best-known denizen and cheerleader, restaurateur Eddie Dopkin, died in 2013.

Still thriving are Miss Shirley's Cafe, 513 W. Cold Spring Lane, which celebrated its 10th anniversary last May (there are also newer Miss Shirley's restaurants in Annapolis and the Inner Harbor), and Alonso's restaurant, 415 W. Cold Spring Lane, which has added an upstairs bar, painted its exterior and purchased a new awning. Known for its big burgers, Alonso's has been a neighborhood fixture since 1931, and is the namesake of Alonsoville, the nickname for the Keswick neighborhood near Roland Park.

Also enduring are Evergreen Cafe & Deli, 501 W. Cold Spring Lane, and, in the same block, a Thompson Remodeling store, a Subway sandwich shop, Chow Mein Charlie's, Roland Park Bagel Co., and a shoe repair shop. In the 500 block, the laundromat Brite Wash has been renovated and its washers and dryers upgraded.

But a closer inspection finds the busy stretch of Cold Spring in transition.

Last month, Stevenson couple Binod Uprety and his wife, Shrijana Khanal, opened a white-tablecloth Indian restaurant, Namaste Baltimore, at 413 W. Cold Spring Lane, in the space vacated by the Tex-Mex restaurant Loco Hombre. The couple are from Nepal, but, "Indian food is so much more famous," Khanal said with a smile.

Dopkin's son, David, 39, of Mount Washington, who is now managing member of Miss Shirley's Management Co., said he is in final negotiations with a casual, family-friendly restaurant to take over the old S'ghetti Eddie's building at 410 W. Cold Spring Lane, which his father used to own. It now sits empty except for its parking lot, which is used by Miss Shirley's.

The long-vacant former management office for Miss Shirley's, at 506 W. Cold Spring Lane, is now an upscale clothier called Southern Proper, which is owned by Guilford resident Dahlia Bennett, a former professional buyer, saleswoman and stay-at-home mom.

"I always imagined opening my own boutique someday," said Bennett, 41, whose staff of three includes her mother, Didi Elmenshawy.

Down the street, a pharmacy is planned in the old Bank of America building, 206 W. Cold Spring Lane, David Dopkin said.

But the former Video Americain store at 400 W. Cold Spring Lane remains vacant, and the Baltimore School of Rock, formerly at 515 W. Cold Spring Lane next to Miss Shirley's, has moved to Clipper Mill. The loss of both has slowed foot traffic into Evergreen Cafe & Deli, said Evergreen owner Sam Kim. No longer do video store patrons stop into Evergreen for coffee and food, and there are no parents to wander into the cafe while waiting for their children to finish classes at the rock school.

"We lost a lot of people," Kim said. "That's still hurting us."

West Cold Spring Lane also lost its public face, Eddie Dopkin, who died of leukemia at age 61. Dopkin, whose memorial service in Pikesville drew a standing-room-only crowd, once had a corner on the restaurant market at Cold Spring and Schenley Road, as owner of Alonso's, Loco Hombre, Miss Shirley's, S'ghetti Eddie's and Roland Park Bagel Co.

Dopkin, whose family also owns Owings Mills-based Classic Catering People, was a beloved businessman in North Baltimore. He did everything from beautifying the Cold Spring Lane corridor to raising money for neighborhood projects and donating to charitable causes.

A ceremonial city street sign, Eddie Dopkin Way, is posted at the corner of Cold Spring and Schenley.

The Dopkin way

The Dopkin family now owns only Miss Shirley's. But Dopkin's legacy lives on, not only in the street sign, but in a continuing commitment to the business and residential community by David Dopkin and his wife, Brandy, director of human resources for Miss Shirley's Management Co.

"My father was very philanthropic and really instilled it in us," David Dopkin said. This month, Miss Shirley's is winding up its "10 Months of Giving" campaign that began last May in conjunction with the restaurant's 10th anniversary in Roland Park.

Dopkin and his wife, both former public school teachers, sponsor or donate to fundraisers for dozens of schools, hospitals and nonprofits in the area. They also pride themselves on taking ownership of the streetscaping and beautification of the 400 and 500 blocks of West Cold Spring Lane. He faithfully puts out pumpkins at Halloween and hangs baskets of flowers on lampposts in the spring and summer.

He partnered with the nearby Roland Springs community to build a herb and vegetable garden on the side of Miss Shirley's. And, he tends laurel bushes on Cold Spring and Schenley, in keeping with his father's legacy.

"I think he would have liked that," David Dopkin said.

He even offered to power-wash the awning of Chow Mein Charlie's, though it's not his business.

"They do a wonderful job of maintaining the street," said Bennett, the Southern Proper proprietor.

David Dopkin also prides himself on attending meetings of local community associations, including the Roland Park Civic League.

Their passion is reflected in Miss Shirley's management office, now located on Kittery Lane behind the restaurant, in the renovated basement. "You should have seen it before," said Brandy Dopkin, noting that they had to redo some of the renovations after the basement flooded. Now, it's an eye-catching space with hardwood floors, one brick wall, exposed pipes, and Eddie Dopkin's old dining room table with eight chairs, where an interview was conducted last week and where meetings for Miss Shirley's managers are held on Fridays.

"So we always feel like he's with us," David Dopkin said.

A framed photo of his father hangs by the front door of the management office. Slogans and quotations are imprinted on many of the walls.

"Give me breakfast or give me lunch. Wait, give me brunch!" says one slogan. "Seconds? We want thirds!" says another. And on a wall in the back is a quote by Walt Disney: "Whatever you do, do it well."

For David and Brandy Dopkin, that used to be teaching. Both taught fifth grade for five years, David Dopkin in Baltimore County and Brandy Dopkin in Howard County. But David Dopkin grew up hanging out and helping out in the family business, and was Classic Catering People's former director of food service for the Baltimore Ravens training facility. He is still a partner in Classic Catering People.

"I joke that I've been doing it for 39 years," he said.

Now, he and his wife are immersed in Miss Shirley's, which has served 700 customers on a Sunday and was recently voted Maryland's Favorite Restaurant by the Restaurant Association of Maryland. It was even paid a visit by celebrity chef Guy Fieri, who made a recent guest cooking appearance there for his cable TV show, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, on the Food Network.

They admit they are more conservative than the adventurous Eddie Dopkin, who they said opened Loco Hombre ahead of the Tex-Mex trend and started a Miss Shirley's food truck (no longer operating) at the dawn of the food truck trend.

"My father was a visionary," David Dopkin said. "He was all over the place, trying to do the next big thing. We try to do one thing well."

"He totally thought we were stick-in-the-muds," Brandy Dopkin said, laughing.

New blood

Even in transition, merchants like what they're seeing on the corridor.

"I think all the changes are definitely for the better," said Alonso's owner Steve Summers, of Tuscany-Canterbury, who bought Alonso's and Loco Hombre from Eddie Dopkin in 2009 and has since sold Loco Hombre to the Nepalese couple, Uprety and Khalal. "I love the fact that there's an Indian restaurant, another business on the block that might bring a more diverse crowd," he said.

Khalal said she and her husband, who was in Nepal last week and unavailable for comment after the death of his father, opened Namaste Baltimore on Jan. 18.

"It's a greeting," she said of the name, "like, 'Hello, Baltimore.'"

Khalal said the Keswick community has been welcoming, business is good so far, and the nearest Indian restaurant, the Ambassador Dining Room in Tuscany-Canterbury, is far enough away that she doesn't think there will be competition.

"We like this area so much," she said. "We think we need another Indian restaurant over here."

Also excited is Bennett, the proprietor of Southern Proper, a store that exclusively sells the Southern Proper line of "preppy, Southern-inspired" men's and women's clothing, according to the Georgia-based company's website.

Bennett is director of business development for the company, which she said sells clothing wholesale to more than 400 retailers nationwide. She opened the 550-square-foot store in November 2014 as a temporary "pop-up" store, "trying to gauge how well the brand would do," she said. Last August, she signed a one-year lease, and she thinks she will renew it.

The company supplies the clothes she sells, from dress pants to shorts and from bathing suits to ties, at no cost to her, and pays her rent.

"This was my concept," she said. "I'm at no risk — other than losing my job if it's a huge failure. I'm basically running my own store at their expense."

She works close to home in Guilford and feels right at home in the Cold Spring Lane business community.

"I love it," she said. I love the feel of Cold Spring Lane."

And, she noted, "I tried the Indian restaurant for the first time the other night, and it was very good."

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