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Edward Dopkin, owner of Miss Shirley's and Ravens caterer, dies at 61

By Richard Gorelick, The Baltimore Sun

12:30 AM EDT, October 21, 2013

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Edward "Eddie" Dopkin, whose business acumen and knack for building relationships fueled a long career in Baltimore's restaurant and catering industries, died on Saturday at Sinai Hospital from complications associated with a form of leukemia. The resident of Keswick was 61.

Mr. Dopkin was the founder and owner of the popular North Baltimore brunch destination Miss Shirley's, one of five restaurants that he operated in the Keswick and Evergreen neighborhoods along Cold Spring Lane. He was also a partner in the Classic Catering People, his family's successful off-premises catering concern that counted the Baltimore Ravens organization among its many clients.

On Saturday, Mr. Dopkin was remembered as a tireless advocate for Maryland's restaurant industry. He was the first head of the merchants' association at Harborplace, where he operated the Bagel Place and other marketplace stalls. An early success for Mr. Dopkin, the Bagel Place expanded in the 1980s to locations throughout Baltimore and Washington and as far away as Staten Island, N.Y.

"He was one of the best I've ever seen," said Steve de Castro, who operates several Ruth's Chris Steakhouses and served with Mr. Dopkin on the board of the Restaurant Association of Maryland. "He was a huge leader in everything he did. This industry will miss him dearly," he said.

The 1994 opening of Loco Hombre, a family-friendly Tex-Mex restaurant, on Cold Spring Lane, began a nearly 20-year residency on what had been an unpromising commercial strip. The restaurant's name, which means "crazy man," was a deliberate choice: "Everyone thought I was crazy to do this," Mr. Dopkin told The Baltimore Sun.

Within two years, with Loco Hombre outgrowing its space, Mr. Dopkin bought the venerable Alonso's pub next door, in part to give diners a convenient place to wait for tables. And in 2005, when parking for his customers became scarce, Mr. Dopkin purchased a property across the street, which had been a Hair Cuttery. Though he made the purchase mainly for the site's parking lot, he would soon convert it into a modest breakfast shop named for a longtime employee of his family's catering business.

Serving hearty, Southern-influenced fare, Miss Shirley's was an instant hit with Baltimoreans.

Within a year, Mr. Dopkin relocated Miss Shirley's across the street into what had been the Big Sky Bakery, and opened S'ghetti Eddie's in the original Miss Shirley's space. Since then, Miss Shirley's has expanded on Cold Spring Lane and added locations in Baltimore's Inner Harbor and in Annapolis. The company launched a Miss Shirley's food truck in 2011.

Miss Shirley's was the crowning achievement in a long restaurant career that began at the Beef Inn, the Pikesville restaurant opened in 1970 by his parents, Michael and AnselaDopkin, near their family's home in Baltimore County's Ranchleigh neighborhood.

Mr. Dopkin worked for his parents at both the restaurant and the catering company that emerged from it, which was known as the Catering People.

Mr. Dopkin would leave the family business — first to attend George Washington University and then to pursue independent business ventures.

In 1973, Mr. Dopkin married Amy Robinson, who was a partner in some of those ventures. They were divorced in 1985. Their son, David, became Mr. Dopkin's partner in what is now the Miss Shirley's Restaurant Group. In 1990, he returned to the family business, when his parents merged their company with Classic Catering.

Consistently ranked among the top three full-service catering firms in the greater Baltimore area, the Owings Mills-based Classic Catering People has 110 full-time employees in addition to 150 to 200 part-time and seasonal employees, according to Larry Frank, one of the three principals in the company along with Mr. Dopkin and Mr. Dopkin's sister, Harriet.

Mr. Frank, who is the Dopkins' cousin, said that the company does full-service catering for over 2,000 events each year, and has been the exclusive caterer for the Baltimore Ravens since 1998, providing meals at its Owings Mills training facility as well as in-flight travel and for special events like June's Super Bowl ring ceremony.

It was Mr. Dopkin who approached Art Modell, then the team's owner, about the catering arrangement, which continued through the team's purchase by Steve Bisciotti in 2004 and has been renewed through the 2017 season.

Mr. Dopkin, who graduated from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute in 1970, enjoyed the relationship with his hometown team — in the late 1990s, he co-hosted a cooking segment with Tony Siragusa, a fan favorite, for a locally televised pregame show. But he was all business when it came to providing service for the team, according to David Dopkin.

Earlier this year, when he assisted the Ravens' Super Bowl hospitality obligations in New Orleans, Mr. Dopkin could not be coaxed away from his responsibilities.

"He planned the parties from his hotel room," David Dopkin said. "He never left the hotel. But he was going to make sure he was going to do the best job for the team that he could."

Mr. Dopkin's capacity for hard work was noted by family, friends and his peers in the restaurant industry.

"Eddie was a brilliant problem-solver," said Harriet Dopkin, who worked with her brother at the Beef Inn. "The bigger the challenge the happier he was. He just loved being in the fire."

Mr. Frank, who worked at the Beef Inn when Mr. Dopkin was its manager, remembers how his cousin made sure the staff was meeting its obligations.

"Eddie was always a stickler. He would hide money in the most out-of-the-way places to see if we were cleaning," Mr. Frank said. "There might be a $5 bill behind the deep fryer or a $10 bill inside the floor drain."

Mr. Dopkin's indefatigability and ability to form relationships made him an asset on civic and professional boards. He served on the boards of the Restaurant Association of Maryland, the Maryland Chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and Visit Baltimore.

Ms. Dopkin described the way her brother coped with a longtime diagnosis of chronic lymphocytic leukemia, a form of cancer.

"Even though he was a great visionary and dreamer, he was always really focused on the present," Ms. Dopkin said. "It's a unique way to live. He really lived in the moment."

Funeral services will he held Monday at 3 p.m. at Sol Levinson and Brothers Funeral Home, 8900 Reisterstown Road.

In addition to his son and sister, Mr. Dopkin is survived by another sister, Anna Dopkin of Towson; his father, Michael Dopkin, and his stepmother, Ellen Jane Dopkin of Boca Raton, Fla.; and two grandchildren. His mother, Ansela Dopkin, died in 1998.

richard.gorelick@baltsun.com