With roots in the community going back for over half a century, Dean's Restaurant was a Hampstead institution.
On Sept. 26, Dean's served a final dinner and closed its doors. While the new owners are reopening the restaurant Friday, Oct. 2, it will be rebranded as the Old Town Grill.
To many people in Hampstead, the closing of Dean's is the end of an era.
"It was a community focal point, no doubt about it," said Del. Haven Shoemaker, R-District 5, a former mayor of Hampstead. "On a Sunday evening you could go in there and see, you know, most of the folks that made up the community of Hampstead there, and that went on for many years."
And then, of course, there was the broasted chicken.
"I am really going to miss their chicken," Shoemaker said. "The chicken about sums it up."
Sharon Callahan, chairwoman of the Hampstead Planning and Zoning Commission, first got wise to Dean's in 1974. She had just moved to northern Baltimore County, Hampstead was the closest thing to a hometown around and Dean's became the center of it.
"Dean's Restaurant is where my late husband and I wandered in … one evening for dinner. It was a fall night and there was a fireplace going. We had two very young children who are parents now themselves," Callahan said. "The children could eat and run around and play, and the cook took them into the kitchen and gave them extra hush puppies. I mean, it was a family restaurant."
Saturday was a an emotional night for Callahan.
"I came back to Dean's for the last time," she said. "This really sounds hokey, but I took a picture of that table where I first met [the owners] and that fireplace; I took a picture of that because that was a big deal to me and my family's history."
Dean's was founded in 1962 by Glenn and Dorothy Dean Ross, according to the final menu the establishment had available for its customers on Saturday. The restaurant was taken over at some point by their daughter, Mary Jo Malone, who operated the establishment until it closed.
Multiple messages left for Malone and her family seeking a comment for this story were not returned by Thursday.
People in Hampstead had only fond things to say about Malone and her restaurant.
"I'm sorry to see Dean's go myself. Mary Jo and Dean's restaurant have been a big supporters of the Hampstead Train Station [museum]," said Hampstead Councilman Wayne Thomas, who is also the president of the train station committee. "The train station committee has held their annual meetings there every year since we were formed back in 1997."
Dean's hosted many of the social clubs and organizations in Hampstead, according to Thomas, including the now-defunct Hampstead Rotary Club, as well as the Lions Club and the Hampstead fire company auxiliary. It even drew people from out of the county.
"Dean's Restaurant, that place was a little unique. That was like mom's home kitchen," said Herb Raver, treasurer of the Hampstead Lions Club. "It was one of those kinds of places and we don't have enough of them around these small towns and the small towns suffer because of it."
It wasn't just that Dean's was a unique place to eat, Callahan said — it was a unique pillar of the community.
"If you needed something done … something for the community, that family always, always, always said yes," Callahan said. "Mary Jo supported local schools, she hired local people — I am sure a lot of the kids that go to North Carroll High School would bus tables there — waitresses could bring their children if they didn't have day care; I mean, this is not one of these chain restaurants, this was a family business."
The reality of the Dean's reputation is not lost on Chris Wireman, one of the new owners of the building that housed Dean's up until last weekend.
"We definitely want to keep the legacy going on," he said, adding, "because we know it was a staple the community for a long time, but with our own little twist on it."
The Old Town Grill will be open seven days a week, for instance, and will host live music every week.
There will be some things, though, that never change, according to restaurant manager Keri Pfeiffer.
"We will carry on that tradition with the broasted chicken," she said. "[It's] the same recipe for the chicken."
Most of the Old Town Grill staff are also from Dean's, according to Wireman, and D.J. Dean, who would play music for diners at Dean's, will be on hand when the new restaurant opens its doors at 4 p.m. Friday.
It's a new venture, but Pfeiffer, who is from nearby Upperco, said she hopes that over time the new restaurant can become as much a part of the Hampstead community as Dean's.
"We are really reaching out to the community, the families, to help them with sponsorships with softball or football, to continue that tradition of that family environment," she said. "I went [to Dean's] as a kid, so we feel very confident that we can meet the demand from the community and carry on the legacy."
All new relationships take time to build, especially when an old one has just ended, Callahan said, but she believes Hampstead is ready.
"We certainly have great hope for the new people," Callahan said. "We know they are going to change it, it's not going to be the same; change is always hard, but you always have to welcome new folks in the community and be supportive of them."
Hampstead's strength, and its key to success as a community, Callahan said, is the ability of the people who live there to come together to work on things together with a positive attitude.
"My hope is that the new restaurant will, in their own way, be successful and that they will build their own memories," she said. "We hope that they'll do the same, in their own way, that Mary Jo and her family did."