A familiar name in Baltimore area restaurants is coming to Harford County in a few weeks.
Tony Della Rose, whose family has owned and operated three Della Rose's restaurants in the Overlea, White Marsh and Canton areas, will open Della Rose's Local Tavern in the former Half Pints restaurant at the intersection of Routes 543 and 22 in the Fountain Green neighborhood in Bel Air.
"I fell in love with Harford County," Della Rose, who moved to Forest Hill 12 years go, said. "I've always wanted to open a place in Harford County."
A lot of people he knew from the other locations live in Harford, where Della Rose says he's grown roots.
"Everywhere I go here, I run into people from East Baltimore, Overlea, people I went to school with," he said.
Della Rose is involved in his kids sports teams and as a local business owner wants to give back to the community.
"I want to help with fundraising, kids sports," he said.
Della Rose grew up in the restaurant business, working at his family's restaurants, first in Overlea and then when it moved to White Marsh. He also managed the restaurant in Canton, which closed after five years.
It's time, however, for him to leave the family business, Della Rose said.
"I love my family, but I felt like people were pulling in different directions their own vision of what they wanted Della Rose's to be," he said. "I want to open in Harford County my vision."
That vision, he said, is to be the "neighborhood tavern of Bel Air," Della Rose said.
He wants to serve really good dinners with comfortable food, seafood, Italian food and he brought with him the chef from the Canton restaurant.
He said people are the key.
"I want to build relationships with customers one customer at a time. Half Pints did a good job doing that," Della Rose said. "They built a lot of regulars and I want to keep what they've done but add to it.
Since Christmas, Della Rose and a handful of helpers have been renovating Half Pints, which closed Dec. 23. They've been working around the clock and he said he hopes to open in a couple weeks.
Della Rose's wife, Linda, is a nurse, who comes to the restaurant to work after her shifts.
Some of the assistant football coaches of Della Rose's son's team worked the whole Christmas vacation.
"They've been my whole support system," he said.
The tile and carpet were ripped up and the floor will be exposed concrete. The counter area of what was a former pizza shop will become part of the servers' station. A chef line was also added to make service easier.
A half-wall was built to fully separate the dining room from the bar area. The walls were repainted and the lower half covered with brushed corrugated metal.
The top of the bar is being redone with 120-year-old American chestnut.
Growing up Della
Della Rose is no stranger to the restaurant business.
His father, Joseph, had a corner bar with his brothers in East Baltimore in the 1940s, '50s and '60s, then in 1961, Joseph and his wife, Tony's mom, opened a place on Belair Road in Overlea, where they had a restaurant for 38 years.
Joseph Della Rose died in 1981, and his wife wasn't sure what to do with the business, Tony Della Rose said. Tony's brother, Joe, joined the business and the restaurant became "more of a place known more as a restaurant," where Tony's mom learned to cook sour beef and dumplings, at the request of customers.
Tony was busing tables when he was 12, washing dishes at 14 and learned to cook and work behind the bar.
In 1998, they "hit the ceiling" in Overlea, where parking was often a problem, and opened a new restaurant at the year-old Avenue at White Marsh.
In 2007, the family was growing and decided to open a second restaurant, at the First Mariner building in Canton. Just as it opened, however, the economy tanked, Della Rose said. They lasted there for five years, he said, and learned a lot in that time.
"I've been on both sides. At the Avenue, the floodgates opened, in Canton, some nights it was packed, some nights not. I learned a lot to go through the tough times, to create something," he said. "I made the best out of a bad situation."
After Canton closed, Della Rose went back to the Avenue to focus on that restaurant before ultimately deciding to go out on his own.