The popular Belvedere Square wine bar Grand Cru is for sale, and one of the prospective buyers is John C. Unitas III, the grandson of Baltimore Colts legend Johnny Unitas.
The sale of the business is contingent on the approval of the liquor license transfer to the new owners, said Christina Carey, whose whose late husband, Nelson Carey, founded the wine bar and gathering spot in 2003. Nelson Carey died suddenly last July
"Grand Cru was the result of Nelson's passion for wanting to gather people around the table to share great wine, great food and great conversation," Carey said. "And because it was such a representation of Nelson, I have mixed feelings about the sale."
"My top priority in a buyer was finding someone who would understand what made it so exceptional," Carey said. She said she believes she has found that buyer in Unitas, who is known by the name "J.C."
Unitas, 26, worked in the Foreman-Wolf restaurants Cinghiale and Petit Louis before switching his career path to the apparel industry, where he worked first for the Baltimore-based Under Armour and then for the Philadelphia-based Urban Outfitters, where he helped launch Without Walls, the company's new fitness brand.
Unitas, a native of Baldwin in Baltimore County, said he is tying up loose ends in Philadelphia before he moves back to the Baltimore area to take over Grand Cru.
"I want to maintain the soul of Grand Cru," Unitas said. "The reverence I hold toward Nelson is immense."
Although his famous grandfather owned a well-known and successful York Road restaurant called The Golden Arm, the football great sold his share of the restaurant before J.C. Unitas was born. It was his maternal grandparents, Unitas said, that instilled in him a love of food and wine.
"My mom's side of the family is from Argentina. We'd go over to their house every weekend and eat and drink around the table," Unitas said. "That ambiance has been really near and dear to my heart."
Cary said that "even before I was verbalizing to him the things I thought made Grand Cru special, J.C. was enumerating them. He has enough passion for the business."
Carey said the current Grand Cru staff will have the opportunity to stay with the business under its new ownership.
"Having had the opportunity to run the place with the staff, being part of that family has been a tremendous opportunity and a tremendous gift," Carey said.