Side Street Café reopens, but owner wary of the future

Almost on cue, just as Side Street Cafe owner Ozzie Mehdizadeh was speaking of his loyal customers and their sympathy while his restaurant was being refurbished after a September flood, one such customer emerged into the foyer of his restaurant with a similar message.

"I felt so sorry for you," said Denise Smelser, a Perry Hall resident who works up the road from Side Street.

Mehdizadeh sheepishly accepted her sympathy, along with praise for restaurants new decor, on the occasion of her first visit back to the restaurant since it reopened in early October.

Like so many other customers, Smelser has returned to the newly reopened Side Street Cafe to find the same food, atmosphere and service that she found before Tropical Storm Lee stalled over Baltimore County and caused flooding in the restaurant.

And as much as he's trying to enjoy it, one question remains on Mehdizadeh's mind: How long will it last?

Since a pair of summer storms caused Beaverdam Run to spill over its banks and flood several businesses on York Road in Cockeysville, area land and business owners called on Councilman Todd Huff and the county to do something to alleviate the flood problem.

Huff met with landowners in the area early last week to discuss options of how to solve the issue, but one option they discussed — applying for FEMA funds that will allow the county to buy and level the properties — gives pause to Mehdizadeh.

"I wish they wouldn't do that," Mehdizadeh said. "They have to just fix the problem."

All involved would rather the county alleviate the flooding problem, which Mehdizadeh said stems a buildup of the banks of the stream, causing it to bottleneck at a nearby bridge. But Mehdizadeh simply doesn't want to deal with the emotional toll or financial expenses that come with cleaning up a flood ever again.

"All of this was a lot of work," he said. "I don't wish it on anyone, to go through this nightmare twice in two months."

He said he had to throw out $4,000 worth of food alone, as well as the freezers that held them. He estimated the cost to be as high as $20,000 — on top of a six-figure sum in repairs and other facility expenses he said he must reconcile with landlord Jim O'Shea.

Every day, he and his employees worked to clean what was salvageable, toss what was ruined, and bring the art gallery-like charm that customers loved so much back to Side Street.

Many patrons are glad for the work they've done.

Jan Kilmer of Timonium hadn't been to Side Street in a long time, but returned when she heard of the restaurant's plight and learned that it was reopened.

"We wanted to support him after all he went through," she said. "It's an excellent place for lunch and the inside is quite nice."

Should they be forced to relocate, Mehdizadeh is unsure of whether his restaurant could succeed elsewhere.

He would need to find a situation where the rent is reasonable and the space is similar to the one he has now, both in actual location and character.

"They could find me a spot in Owings Mills, but that wouldn't work," he said. "It all depends on how long the transition is going to take, and how much they're willing to help."

But one thing that he knows would remain constant is his customers.

"In the right situation, it could work," he said. "You see, people love this place. They're good customers."

While those customers trickle back in for the first time since the flood, Mehdizadeh will continue to serve them with an eye toward what is happening with the property.

"We're in a holding pattern now, waiting to hear from the county," O'Shea said. "What they asked is if everyone is interested in going forward, and of course we're interested, but it depends on the price."

While he said that he would be "very, very surprised" if the situation came together, O'Shea said Huff "has done a great job spearheading this thing. … Win, lose, or draw, he's really shown a continuing interest, and that's important to me."

O'Shea said he spoke to Mehdizadeh the day of the meeting, and his tenant's desire was more than clear.

"Mr. O'Shea," he told him. "I want to stay."

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad