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Bel Air bids farewell to Open Door Cafe, Little NY Deli

The Open Door Cafe has shut its doors on Bel Air's Route 1 after eight and a half years. The owner said it was hard to compete in the current economy.
The Open Door Cafe has shut its doors on Bel Air's Route 1 after eight and a half years. The owner said it was hard to compete in the current economy. (BRYNA ZUMER | AEGIS STAFF, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

When one Bel Air business shuts its doors for good, it's often an opportunity for something else, particularly in the world of local eateries, where the comings and goings can be frequent and often without much warning.

Open Door Cafe in the Bel Air Town Center off of Route 1 and Little NY Deli on South Main Street near the courthouse both closed within the past week, the town's economic development director confirmed.

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Meanwhile, the Steelefish Grille has moved into the spot on Boulton Street next to the Bel Air Athletic Club that was vacated by Freddie's, which closed in April 2013. Steelefish opened Sept. 11 and plans a grand opening next week, manager David Fox said Wednesday.

A sign posted on Open Door Cafe's door thanks customers for "8 1/2 years of patronage" and explains its owners have decided not to renew their lease "for another 3 years... and at this location based upon the state of the economy, the over saturated Bel Air restaurant market, and the rent to sales ratio."

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The sign also urges customers to follow Open Door on Facebook.

A more ubiquitous cafe, a Starbucks with a drive-thru, is moving into a vacant bank building on the parking lot of Bel Air Plaza, directly across Route 1 from the former Open Door location.

Bob Glock, owner of The Open Door Café, said he is not sure if he will re-open a restaurant anywhere else, noting the economy has made it hard for independent businesses like his to compete in Bel Air.

"It's a lot of competition, and particularly chains," Glock said Thursday. "In a tough economy, the chains have more buying power and a little more ability to sustain. I can't afford to compete with some $10 specials and things like that," he said.

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Trish Heidenreich, Bel Air's economic development director, said she is sorry to see any business leave town.

The Little NY Deli business was sold, according to Heidenreich, who said she has heard another restaurant may be moving into the Main Street space the deli had rented. She did not know anything more about it.

Heidenreich said Bel Air's eateries seem to cycle.

"I find that these occurrences tend to cluster, where a cluster of businesses close. Often it has to do with the timing of their leases," she said.

"I think that the more retail and restaurants you have in a town, the more variety it provides to citizens, which in turn creates more services and more quality of life," she added.

Barbara Hill, of the Level area, had stopped by The Open Door Cafe on Wednesday in hopes of having dinner with an out-of-town friend.

She was disappointed to find it closed, noting she was "totally blindsided" by the restaurant's demise.

"It was my favorite place in Bel Air," Hill said, explaining she liked all the food she tried there. "It was a very classy restaurant."

Hill said the growth of chain restaurants probably had something to do with Open Door leaving.

"The little guys are having trouble," she said. "Bel Air lost a good one here."

Sarah Schmidt, of Bel Air, who has worked at a nearby business for about a year, said she got breakfast at Open Door all the time.

"We are very sad about it," Schmidt said of the closing. "We were there almost every day. It's going to be missed."

She said area employees will now need a new place to get food or coffee, but pointed out the drive-thru Starbucks will soon be opening right across the street.

The facade signs are already in place at the future Starbucks, which is in the same center as an IHOP that opened earlier this year and a recently rebuilt McDonald's. Construction crews were still working at the site this week.

Starbucks officials did not respond to a request for comment on when the new location will open.

The area around Routes 1 and 24 in Bel Air already has a Starbucks inside Target and another next to Barnes & Noble, both within a block of each other and the new Starbucks.

"We are very excited about it," Sara Six, who works at another shop nearby, said Wednesday about the new Starbucks.

Despite having to close, Glock said he had "a very positive experience with all his customers and everything at the restaurant."

"I have been very proud to serve the Bel Air community the past 8 1/2 years," he said, calling it "a wonderful community of guests."

"Our restaurant has been able to be completely different, so our customer base enjoys things that are not just the typical chain things," he added.

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