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Mark Pappas celebrates 55 years in business

Mark Pappas, owner of Pappas restaurants, is celebrating 55 years in the business.
Mark Pappas, owner of Pappas restaurants, is celebrating 55 years in the business. (Sabina Moran)

Mark Pappas, the founder of the iconic Pappas Restaurant, this week is celebrating his 55th anniversary in the restaurant business.

Pappas, 83, will be joined tonight at his Cockeysville restaurant by a slew of government officials, friends and family for a private celebration in which a proclamation from Gov. Larry Hogan will be read.

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Government officials scheduled to attend include Sen. Ben Cardin, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, Baltimore County councilmen Wade Kach and David Marks. Other expected guests include former U.S. House of Representatives member Helen Bentley and developer John Paterakis, Sr.

Television personality Richard Sher will emcee the event.

"I'm very happy," Pappas said today by phone. "I worked hard all these years. I'm very excited."

Pappas was born in 1932 in Velvendos, a small town in Northern Greece. In 1956, he came to Baltimore and shortened his surname from Papazisoglou to Pappas. He didn't have a penny to his name and did not know a word of English.

But by 1961, Pappas had learned the language and bought the Mount Vernon Restaurant with a partner. In 1972, he moved his family to Parkville and took over Wargo's Western Steak House & Stag Bar, and renamed it Pappas Restaurant & Sports Bar.

"He lived the American dream," said Justin Windle, Pappas' son-in-law and managing partner of the Cockeysville location. "That's what this event is about."

Pappas has been a fixture in the region's restaurant scene for more than five decades. His restaurants — in Parkville, Glen Burnie and Cockeysville — are known for their crab cakes, a dish that he perfected in the late 1970s.

Pappas' famous crab cake was inspired in part by chef Tom Annos, who worked for the now-closed Dupont Restaurant in Wilmington, Del., according to Pappas.

"I saw the crab cakes. I saw how he was doing it. I asked for the recipe. After a couple years, I started it myself," Pappas recalled.

After heavily modifying the recipe — he eliminated the crackers, and increased the amount of mayonnaise and added some other secret ingredients — Pappas created his famous Colossal lump meat crab cake.

"I do it very, very well," he said, adding that crab cakes account for 70 percent of his business.

Those crab cakes have attracted a considerable following over the years.

In April, Oprah Winfrey shared a photo on Instagram of the restaurant's crab cakes. She ordered from the company's shipping business, which has been available since 2008.

"Had my favorite Baltimore's Best crab cake delivered. You can too. Worth it!" the media mogul and former Baltimore resident wrote in her post.

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The post received more than 20,000 likes within an hour of her posting it.

At the time, Steve Pappas, Mark's 48-year-old son who now runs the Pappas' businesses, said that the family was on "cloud nine." He added that Winfrey had been ordering crab cakes from the company for more than a year, and had the dish shipped to locations "all over the world."

Pappas alternates between living in Lutherville and visiting Naples, Fla.

"He's a snowbird," Windle said. "When he's back in town, he's back at the restaurant every single day. He's an old-world Greek guy. He loves what he does. He loves the people and he loves the public. He wants them to be happy and welcomed."

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