The old North Avenue Market in Baltimore’s burgeoning Station North Arts District has a new anchor that will return it to its roots as a purveyor of food.
A bustling hall of food vendors for decades before it burned in 1968 and settled into midtown Baltimore’s entrenched blight, the building has since briefly been home to a supermarket, a dollar store, a church, a performance space and Red Emma’s bookstore and coffeehouse, which moved away in 2018. An art studio and a store for locally made goods still lease space there.
The prominent corner space at North and Maryland avenues reopened again Thursday with a restaurant, bar, music venue and video game arcade called Secret Sauce Co. Eventually the business will take up much of the building’s first floor in the latest investment in Station North.
“We had a pop-up restaurant in the old Lost City Diner space [on Charles Street] to serve burgers, milkshakes and let people try our ketchup,” said Matthew Steinberg, owner of the restaurant and ketchup, both called Secret Sauce. “We wanted a permanent space. ... We wanted to be in the arts and entertainment district.”
Steinberg was introduced to Mike Shecter, a developer of the North Avenue Market building at 30 W. North Ave. He became a partner on the $300,000 project.
There already are plans to double Secret Sauce’s 4,600 square feet of space into empty storefronts in the building, perhaps reopen the long-neglected bowling alley on the second floor and make more improvements to the building, another $300,000 to $400,000 investment.
Jaimes Mayhew, a vice president of Center City LLC, the building owner, lived around the corner from the pop-up diner and thought it would be the right fit. He introduced Steinberg to the Central Baltimore Partnership, a nonprofit working to revitalize the corridor, and Shecter.
“We don’t run restaurants, so we needed a partner,” Mayhew said. “I loved Matty and I loved the food."
Steinberg said they have been serving lunch for the past couple of months as a kind of soft, or “slow,” opening. He said he’s already getting a lot of foot traffic, and even bike traffic from the bike lane on Maryland Avenue.
Neighbors, who have been disappointed in the past by redevelopment that didn’t come, or stick, say they are pleased with the new use for the old building. They also are hopeful that all the investments in multiple buildings is slowing turning around this part of town.
“This is great; I think it will do well,” said David Lapides, from the Charles North Community Association, who came to Thursday’s ribbon-cutting, also attended by Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young and Councilman Robert Stokes.
There has been significant investment, big and small, in new uses for the buildings, many historic or distinctive. Millions have been invested in the area by the Maryland Institute College of Art, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Baltimore.
Other retailers, restaurants, offices, galleries and performance troupes have inhabited buildings in the district in recent years to round out the arts district.
“We now have a bunch of pieces of the puzzle filled and everyone is working to get our heads together for the rest," Lapides said. "It’s only a matter of time before something happens with all of them.”