Oct. 16 marked the first day of new ownership at a community landmark in Lansdowne.
The Lansdowne Inn on Hammonds Ferry Road was purchased at auction for $326,000 by Lansdowne business owner George Panchigar on Aug. 26.
The inn's new owner, familiar to some as the owner of several small businesses in the area, greeted customers seated at the bar on Thursday evening.
Although it was still early, the dining room was relatively empty at 5 p.m. on Thursday, something Panchigar plans to change in the next few months.
He'll transform the aging building, offer new menu items and extend hours in the next 30 days, he said.
"He's been part of the community for many, many years," said Cindy Backus, 48, who sat at the bar next to friends and neighbors on Thursday evening. "We were glad that it wasn't bought buy someone who was going to turn this into a bar or carryout."
Backus, a Lansdowne Inn regular, said she's been coming to the restaurant since she was a kid. It's the only family restaurant in the community, she said.
"This used to actually be a train depot," Backus said, pointing to a framed black and white photograph on the wall. "It has a longstanding history — I hope they keep that going."
Panchigar bought the business from longtime owners Pete Panselinos and Gus Kismos, who owned the business for 18 years.
He plans to use his business savvy to restore the restaurant to its former glory.
"When I first came to this community, I did not know I was going to grow so close to the community," Panchigar said. "I'm going to use my years of experience to put into this place."
Panchigar lives in Pasadena with his wife of 26 years, Nisha, and their two sons. He owns six other businesses including Charm City Auto at 4381 Hollins Ferry Road.
Although Panchigar's other businesses keep him busy, the restaurant will be the center of his focus for the next six to eight months, he said.
"I'm a goal oriented person and it has to be done to my standards," Panchigar said.
"I think he can get it back to the way it was before," said Robin Manser, a waitress who has worked at the restaurant for 19 years. "We used to have lines out the door — we had a 15, 20 minute wait."
It hasn't been that way for 10 years, Manser said.
Panchigar is working with an architect through the Baltimore County Architect-On-Call program, which provides up to 10 free hours of design services to business owners upgrading the exterior of a building located within one of the county's 16 commercial revitalization districts.
He will incorporate a locomotive theme into the design of the exterior and interior of the building, which may include a caboose added to the facade of the red brick structure and trains that run throughout the inside of the building, he said.
So far, Panchigar has spent $15,000 on improvements including extending a wall in the women's bathroom, trimming back overgrown shubbery and adding new televisions, he said.
During the transition, Panselinos will continue to manage the kitchen, where he has cooked for the past 18 years.
"For now, I'm going to help him out and teach the cooks," said Panselinos, who said he'd miss the restaurant where he has developed relationships with the community over the years.
"It's mixed emotions," said Tim Potter, 61, an Ellicott City resident who grew up in Lansdowne. "I hate to see Pete go, but I'm happy to see George take over."
Panchigar has hired six new employees to handle extended hours at the restaurant. The three new kitchen staff are former employees of Leon's Triple L Restaurant that recently closed in Arbutus and of Snyder's Willow Grove that recently moved from its site in Linthincum, a short distance from the Lansdowne Inn..
"The goal is to get so busy in the next six months that we have to hire 15 new employees," Panchigar said.
The restaurant used to close early, but now will stay open until midnight Sunday through Wednesday and until 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
Panchigar said the restaurant's unpredictable hours may have turned customers away. With new set hours, he hopes to see his customer base grow.
While customer favorites, such as sour beef and dumplings, will remain on the menu, new items will also be added, Panchigar said.
Cooks from Leon's and Snyder's may also add popular dishes from those restaurants to Lansdowne Inn's menu, he said.
"I hope he can get it back to the place that it was," said Manser, who moved to Lansdowne 22 years ago. "And I think that he will."