Fran O'Brien's Steak and Seafood House, one of Annapolis' most popular watering holes among the State House crowd, moved a step closer to changing hands yesterday as the city's Alcoholic Beverage Control Board unanimously approved the transfer of its liquor license to new owners.
Jerry Hardesty, owner of the Middleton Tavern at City Dock, is buying Fran O'Brien's from its founder, Sike Sharigan. Mr. Hardesty, who has owned the Middleton since 1968, will serve as a consultant to the business. His nephew, Thomas A. Hardesty Jr., 26, will serve as president of the new family venture.
With approval of the liquor license transfer, the restaurant near the foot of Main Street could officially change hands as early as next week, said Alan J. Hyatt, an attorney representing the younger Mr. Hardesty.
While he said he is planning some changes, the younger Mr. Hardesty said he has nothing major in mind.
"You don't want to alienate the customers over there right now," he said. "We don't see any drastic changes."
Mr. Hardesty, who would not discuss the purchase price, said he will put more emphasis on the dinner menu and more contemporary music to round out the traditional live entertainment the restaurant has offered.
Over the years, the restaurant, known simply as "Fran's" or "Frannie's," has been the place to find state legislators and lobbyists during the General Assembly session. On weekend nights, lines of customers waiting to get in to dance to the Top 40 bands snake out the doors and down Main Street.
Mr. Sharigan, the current owner, could not be reached for comment. A manager at the restaurant said he was in Rehoboth Beach, Del., where he owns another Fran O'Brien's and a third restaurant, Obie's-By-The Sea.
For the Hardesty family, which also owns funeral homes and real estate, ownership of Fran O'Brien's will give them "an opportunity to take a business with opportunity and expand on it," the younger Mr. Hardesty said.
"It is a tremendous opportunity," he said. "Downtown is just a gold mine for restaurants."