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Soon to be the ‘crown jewel of Frederick Road’? Faidley’s owners buy Plymouth Wallpaper building in Catonsville

Bill Connor, left, and Vince McPhail of JHU talk with Damye Hahn of Faidley's as they try samples. Local food vendors presented their products to buyers from hotels, hospitals, colleges and other institutions at a "Made in Baltimore" fair in 2018.
Bill Connor, left, and Vince McPhail of JHU talk with Damye Hahn of Faidley's as they try samples. Local food vendors presented their products to buyers from hotels, hospitals, colleges and other institutions at a "Made in Baltimore" fair in 2018.(Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun)

Faidley’s Seafood — maker of one of Baltimore’s most iconic crabcakes — took a big step toward opening its long-anticipated Catonsville restaurant with its purchase last week of the old Plymouth Wallpaper building on Frederick Road.

The Baltimore County venture will be the family-owned market’s first attempt to expand outside Baltimore City, where it started as a fish stand at Lexington Market in 1886 and evolved into the beloved home of award-winning jumbo lump crab cakes.

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Faidley’s Seafood is eyeing opening the Catonsville restaurant in the spring of 2021.

The 22,000-square-foot building that housed Heidelbach’s grocery for decades before the wallpaper business needs significant renovation to turn it into the restaurant, brewery and event space envisioned by the new owners, said Damye Hahn, a part-owner of Faidley’s.

She called it a “renovation nightmare."

Faidley’s plans to use the ground floor for the restaurant and open up the estimated 5,800-square-foot second floor to host and cater events, Hahn said. The basement will house a brewery operated by a third party, details of which Hahn said are being worked out still.

“I always thought the building could be the crown jewel of Frederick Road in the right hands,” said Baltimore County Councilman Tom Quirk, whose district encompasses Catonsville. “It’s in the right hands now, with a fantastic business.

“There will be more and more people coming to Catonsville, no doubt about it.”

Bill Devine, co-owner of Faidley’s with his wife, Nancy Devine-Faidley, would not say how much Faidley’s Seafood paid for the property, which is valued for tax purposes by the state at about $720,000.

“Our vision for it is to take it pretty much back to its original [form] and let the building speak for itself with these beautiful brick walls and high ceilings,” said Hahn, Bill and Nancy’s daughter. “We just fell in love with it.”

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She also hopes to recreate some of Faidley’s history in Lexington Market in the Catonsville building.

John Faidley first set up shop in the historic open-air city marketplace.

“It was all fish and game,” said Devine, who married Faidley’s granddaughter Nancy.

“They sold terrapin, they sold turtle. They sold everything," including muskrat, possum and raccoon, Devine said.

Even as the world around it changed — the open-air market destroyed in a 1949 fire, a new building in 1952, new vendors and clientele — Faidley’s stuck to its roots. It’s changed seafood packers just once, and still serves up muskrat and raccoon for those who want it. The crabcakes are made using the same family recipe.

By the time Devine left his post in the U.S. Navy and joined Nancy to help run the market in 1964, Faidley’s had already come to be known as “one of the largest fish dealers in the East,” and the only fish market in Lexington Market until 1970, according to Baltimore Sun archives.

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The departure of two neighboring vendors in the 1960s made room for Faidley’s to add a raw bar and kitchen in 1967, eventually taking up the full 3,500-square-foot space it now occupies in the back of the country’s oldest running public market.

“Most of this occurred because we saw a need and we fulfilled it," Devine said. “There were only a couple of raw bars in Baltimore, and they were in big, fancy hotels, and they closed.”

Plastered along the market’s walls are hallmarks from the past: 1950s-era signs, photos of now-deceased employees, decades-old magazine and newspaper clippings declaring Faidley’s to be one of Baltimore’s Best, and maker of one of the world’s 10 best dishes, per a 1992 issue of GQ magazine.

“They call it ‘retro’ today,” said Devine, now 88. “It’s not retro. It’s a continuation.”

“Here, it hasn’t changed — just the people,” said Brian Holland, a Baltimore native who said he’s eaten three days a week at Faidley’s for 40 years. “People from all over the country come here to try the crab cake out. I meet a lot of people in here.”

“It’s a piece of history,” Hahn said.

The Plymouth Wallpaper building on Frederick Road in Catonsville.
The Plymouth Wallpaper building on Frederick Road in Catonsville.(Jon Bleiweis / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

While Hahn wants to recreate some of that in Catonsville, she wants to honor the building’s past. She said she’d like to see the brewery name a signature beer in honor of the Heidelbach family, which ran a grocery store there from 1923 to the 1960s, and began their business in 1886, the same year John Faidley began selling fish.

Faidley’s will honor Plymouth Wallpaper Company, a home improvement store that operated on Frederick Road from the early 1980s until it shuttered its doors in 2017, by designating the second floor as the Plymouth Room, Hahn said.

Now that the state has designated Catonsville state Arts and Entertainment district, Hahn said, "we’ll be able to have just about anything from weddings to business events to charity events to senior proms — you name it.”

Faidley’s also plans to relocate its distribution center from its stall at soon-to-be renovated Lexington Market to Catonsville.

The Catonsville Chamber of Commerce is "thrilled to welcome the famous Faidley’s Market to the village,” said Teal Cary, the chamber executive director, in a statement.

“We can’t wait to see the transformation of the Plymouth Wallpaper building into a thriving business," he said. "Faidley’s presence will contribute to Catonsville becoming a destination in Baltimore County.“

Once Faidley’s opens its doors on Frederick Road and is no longer constrained by a 10-foot-by-10-foot kitchen, patrons can expect to see an expanded menu alongside signature Faidley’s dishes, Hahn said.

“People have been asking for years, ‘when are you gonna have a restaurant that’s open in the evenings, someplace other than the center of the city?’” Hahn said. “I can get people from France [and] Hungary, all over the world to come over here on a daily basis and I can’t get people from Baltimore County to come here.”

For Hahn, expanding to Catonsville “feels like a natural progression" because it’s “home to us.”

Her family lived on the west side of Catonsville. Her son, who also will work out of the Catonsville location, lives in Devine’s former home, within walking distance of where the new restaurant will stand, she said.

“Now that I’m finally able to have a key, as of last Wednesday … We’re hoping to get this on the fast track,” Hahn said.

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