Basso's Cafe family affair for Horwaths


Icy carbonated water, flavored with fruity syrups and topped with a hefty dollop of whipped cream, is creating a name for Basso's Cafe on Sykesville's Main Street.

"It's Italian soda, and it's better and tangier than a snowball," said Marilyn Horwath, part-owner of the business. "Chocolate is the most popular flavor, but we have sold out of boysenberry, too."

The cafe opened with 10 flavors and, in less than a week, had to order two more shipments from its supplier in Baltimore.

"The supplier told us nobody is selling more than we do," she said.

Four Horwaths -- two brothers and their wives -- own the newest business in the South Carroll town. The cafe, which serves a full menu of Italian and deli favorites, is the culmination of years of musing over cups of coffee.

"I always wanted a coffee shop, where I could meet a lot of people," said Ms. Horwath, a registered nurse and Marriottsville resident.

Now, the couples are serving the coffee and much more in a cafe named for a grandmother, whose wedding portrait decorates a wall.

"I was driving through town about three months ago and saw the 'For Sale' sign, and I knew I had to try," said mortgage banker Ray Horwath.

The sign was at the Past-Tymes General Store and Ice Cream Parlor, a popular gathering spot since its debut four years ago. But the couple who owned the business wanted to sell it so they could retire.

The corner business has had great sales potential for several businesses. About 25 years ago, it was the town's only gas station.

Mr. Horwath pointed to his kitchen counter and said, "The state police told me they used to park right here and fill up."

The brick walls now glisten white, with a stenciled overlay of grapevines, and surround a small kitchen. A later addition, once an attorney's office, is the dining area.

At Basso's, customers can still buy ice cream, and they also can order meals complete with gourmet coffees and desserts.

Except for a three-week gap to remodel, business at Sandosky Road and Main Street has barely missed a customer.

The Horwaths -- Ray and his wife, Debbie, and Marilyn and her husband, Tony -- signed a lease with an option to buy the 1,300-square-foot shop May 1. They renovated and repainted the walls white and wintergreen.

They added a few personal touches, including refinished wedding portraits of the shop's namesake and several other ancestors.

They kept a few remnants of the building's past, like the wicker mannequin that once signaled that the ice cream store was open. They took it from its familiar spot on the front porch, dressed it in a lacy shawl with a cameo brooch and gave it an inside corner.

The Italian sodas, their recipe for cheese and basil bread, and Basso balls -- soft dough rolls from a secret family formula -- have become the talk of the town.

Craig Taylor, president of Sykesville Business Association, was one of the first customers and is one of the steadiest. He often places an order on his car phone and picks it up on the way to his shop.

"The subs are absolutely delicious and on first-rate rolls," Mr. Taylor said. "The bakery goods are wonderful, too."

A few antiques from Mr. Taylor's shop and others along Main Street decorate the cafe.

"The merchants have provided us with antiques," Marilyn Horwath said. "We fill our space, and they advertise."

The street has no vacancies along its business corridor.

"Sykesville will never be a hardware and grocery store town," Mr. Taylor said. "We have to create specialty shops and help each other."

The Horwaths hope to draw the family trade with all the comforts of home: a box of toys for children, magazines at the coffee bar and a rocking chair on the front porch.

The restaurant can seat 24 inside at marble-topped tables and about 30 more on the outdoor deck.

"Sykesville is a nice town, and it has given us a super reception," said Ray Horwath, who is considering a move to town from his home in Ellicott City.

"And it's small enough that you know people before they come in the door," Ms. Horwath said. "It's a growing town, and we will be growing right along with it."

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