The owners of the newest restaurant to try their luck next in the Manor Shopping Center in Jacksonville know what it takes to run a successful business.
Patrick and Katie Russell, of Monkton, opened Kooper's Tavern in Fells Point in 1997 as well as Kooper's North on Padonia Road in Timonium in 2012. Kooper's Jacksonville will open in June. All three restaurants are named after their first dog, a much-loved yellow Labrador retriever.
"This space is twice as big as Kooper's North," said Patrick Russell, 45, as he stood recently in the former Chops Restaurant next to the Jacksonville Safeway. "We'll be able to serve 110, plus people out on our new bluestone patio with a fire pit. We gutted the entire kitchen and restaurant, and I think people will like the comfortable country look we're going for."
The menu has everything — appetizers, salad, soup, pizza, sandwiches, burgers, entrees and desserts.
"The quality of the food is so important, but I also think service has to be the number one thing for a restaurant," Russell said. "I am grateful you've come to my restaurant to eat and I want everybody on the staff to feel that way, too. We are here to make sure you are happy with your food and the whole experience."
Kooper's Jacksonville will also have an extensive beer selection that includes imported and local brews.
"Patrick has been carrying our beer for years," said Hugh Sissen, founder of Clipper City Brewing Co. that now brews Heavy Seas beers. "He is very entrepreneurial and he's a solid operator. He has a track record for hiring good people."
That hiring expertise comes from a lifetime of working in restaurants.
Russell, a 1988 graduate of Pikesville High School, was 15 when he got his first job washing dishes at Mt. Washington Tavern.
"When I was a dishwasher, I saw the bus boys and said, 'I want to be them,' he said. "When I was a busboy, I saw the waiters and said, 'I want to be them.' "
While working at Ruby Tuesday in Owings Mills and restaurants in Aspen, Colo., Russell also took on jobs as a bartender and a floor manager.
By age 22, he was back in Baltimore as bar manager at Thames Street Tavern in Fells Point. He knew he couldn't go further without cooking experience.
In stepped Baltimore chef Jerry Pellegrino, who taught Russell the basics and gave him a copy of "The Joy of Cooking." Russell eventually developed the menu for Thames Street Tavern and became its general manager.
Two years after marrying Katie Feehley and getting a puppy named Kooper, they bought the Thames Street Tavern business and building and renamed it. The popularity of Kooper's Tavern's burgers prompted the Russells to put Kooper's Chowhound Burger Wagon food truck on the streets of Baltimore in 2009.
They also bought the building next door and turned it into Slainte Irish Pub and Restaurant.
Their next move was to open Woody's Rum Bar and Island Grill, also in Fells Point, named after another of their dogs. And since that Caribbean fare was in demand, a Woody's Taco Island food truck is now making regular stops around Baltimore.
Russell does not yet have a definite opening date for Kooper's Jacksonville, but said he is aiming for early June.