Steve and Dan Wecker say the 221-year-old Elkridge Furnace Inn that houses their catering business and restaurant is a dream come true, though a few years ago the inn's structure was more like a nightmare.
"It was a pit," said Steve Wecker, 37, who was hoping to buy the inn and its 2 acres about 10 years ago with his brother Dan, now 36. "I brought in Dan and my wife to look at the house, which was on the market for $185,000, and they said, 'You are nuts.' "
A few years later, the State Highway Administration purchased the complex, which included two residences and former slave quarters, and other nearby land for Interstate 195. The existing structures were condemned until concerned citizens were able to halt demolition.
Ultimately, the property became available for curatorship, TC meaning the Wecker brothers could lease the property from the state if they followed Maryland and federal guidelines for historic preservation and restoration.
"We could get the inn and two houses for free," Steve Wecker said. "The state takes historically significant homes and turns them over to private individuals who never own them but who live rent-free if they do all of the repairs and upkeep out of their own pockets."
The brothers took over the property on April 15, 1988, and began the repairs. "It was a lot of grunt work done by lots of volunteers, which included family, friends and church members," Steve Wecker said. "We had two, eight-hour workdays for about 58 people who were assigned paint brushes and paint and were then pointed toward a wall. Altogether we spent about 10 months working on the inn."
Steve Wecker moved his wife and five children into one house, while Dan and his wife and three children moved into the other. Both homes are just a short walk from the inn.
When Historic Ellicott City Inc. chose Elkridge Furnace Inn as the Decorator Show House for October 1990, the brothers were elated. After final decorating touches were provided by several area interior designers, the house was ready for the public to view, and the brothers deemed the showplace ready to house their restaurant.
Today, with about 75 full- and part-time workers, the business serves lunch Tuesday through Friday and dinner Thursday and Friday evenings. Steve Wecker describes the brothers' partnership as "front" and "back."
"I'm the front of the house," he said, referring to his visible role of welcoming guests and seeing to details such as coffee preparation, the accuracy of the menu and managing employees.
Dan Wecker, who has 23 years of experience in the food service industry, including a 4 1/2 -year apprenticeship under French and Swiss chefs, said he works mostly "the back." In the upstairs kitchen, he concocts dishes for any kind of feast, including wedding receptions and anniversaries, corporate lunches, murder mystery parties and evening blues and jazz concerts.
"I create the food that fits Steve's concepts and that meshes with a menu," he said. "If you work with a client and they want a particular theme, I come up with the food to match the occasion."
The chef not only cooks and creates but also lists butchering, food purchasing, staff management and tending the inn's gardens as part of his responsibilities.
His brother attributes the steady growth -- from $65,000 worth of business the first year to $1 million this year -- to "Dan's ability to produce fabulous food and, partially, my ability to get it served with style."
Together, the two entrepreneurs work about 145 hours a week, depending on the particular affair they are catering, but they say hard work has never been a deterrent for them.
The brothers learned firsthand about long hours while working in father Charles Wecker's commercial printing business in Columbia, which he co-owned with his son Don, who is Dan's twin. All seven siblings worked in the business, including Dan, who operated the presses, and Steve, who handled sales.
"My Dad is my personal hero," Steve Wecker said. "Through example, he taught us to work harder and longer than you are supposed to, not to quit until the job is done, give people more than what they expect and to show people that they are more than special."