Paulette Merrills spends 14 hours a day...


Paulette Merrills spends 14 hours a day dishing out Caribbean food

When Paulette Merrills opened the Caribbean Cafe, she faced a tough challenge: getting crab-loving Baltimoreans to try curried goat.

To draw people in, she decided to keep prices low ($8 is considered expensive), quality high and offer free samples.

Eight months later, her efforts have paid off. She's attracted a devoted following to her Federal Hill carryout and plans to offer Caribbean cooking classes in the fall.

"It's always been in me to cook," explains Ms. Merrills, 32, the chef and co-owner with her musician husband, Ronald.

The former New York chef and caterer grew up in Jamaica and the United States. Today, preparing food and running a business keep her busy 14 hours a day.

On those rare days off, she relaxes with her two children in the family's home just above the cafe.

"I definitely avoid the kitchen," she says. "I go to Italian restaurants." OK, so it probably won't be the next Slap Wrap.

But an ID bracelet designed by Harold Grott is becoming the most fashionable accessory since the patterned hospital gown at Randallstown's Baltimore County General.

Young and old patients (and some employees, too) are clamoring to have Mr. Grott, a hospital volunteer, draw the face of Mickey, Snoopy, Popeye, Bart Simpson or Betty Boop on their identification tags.

It all began several years ago when he sketched Mickey Mouse on a bracelet to cheer up a frightened 6-year-old.

"They all come in scared," he says. "You get a smile on their face, that's all that matters."

The 76-year-old retired movie theater manager now spends six hours a week personalizing 250 bracelets. He takes special care with Betty Boop's eyes ("It's hard to match them") and Popeye's nose ("Sometimes I make it too long").

The success has given the once-frustrated artist enough confidence to expand his talents in his Randallstown home, where he lives with his wife, Annetta. Recently, he painted a Mickey Mouse toy chest for his two grandchildren.

"At my age," he says, sounding a bit like George Burns, "you look forward to anything."

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