Until it closed in 1991, the Madonna House was a popular spot for northwestern Harford County residents to enjoy a cup of coffee, a bowl of homemade soup and friendly banter.
Now it's coming back.
This week, if all goes as planned, Pete and Donna Hellman will reopen the Madonna House restaurant in a new strip of retail stores known as Madonna Center at Norrisville Road and Jarrettsville Pike.
The retail center is on a lot next to a High's store, which occupies the site of a frame house that housed the old restaurant.
Six months after the Hellmans lost their lease and moved out, the house was damaged in a fire.
"When we left here, a lot of people were really heartbroken," said Mrs. Hellman, 56. "And when we heard about the fire, we were very sad. There were some really good memories."
The Hellmans, who also own Pete's Crab House at Joppa Road and Perring Parkway in Carney, opened the first Madonna House in 1980, converting a former carryout into a restaurant. They look forward to their return to Madonna.
"We're really excited," Mrs. Hellman said. "I just can't wait. Everybody loved that old place."
Besides the opening, there is another reason for happier times for the Hellmans.
Mr. Hellman, 72, received a new kidney in September after suffering kidney failure in 1987 and undergoing years of dialysis.
Meanwhile, word of the return of Madonna House has spread. Some of the restaurant's regular customers already have visited.
"Everybody up here knows that we're back," Mrs. Hellman said. "We just love the area. The people are really friendly and nice, with a lot of heart."
Herbert Jenkins used to visit the old Madonna House a few times each week to sit at the counter and "kick up a disturbance" with Mrs. Hellman.
"We had kind of a family-type thing there," said Mr. Jenkins, 72, who lives in Jarrettsville and owns Bircham's Food Market. "When Madonna House left here, something went with it. It belonged to the neighborhood and you kind of felt a part of it."
While the restaurant wasn't fancy, Mr. Jenkins said it had a casual, friendly atmosphere that many neighborhood residents enjoyed.
"I think it offered the community something of its own," he said. "It was unique and it had a personality of its own. I hated to see them go and I was really glad to hear that they were coming back. I missed it."
Some of the Hellmans' original staff members will be back, and they'll be cooking homemade soups and serving three meals a day just as they did before.
The strip of five shops where the new Madonna House is located is the most recent commercial venture at a semirural crossroads that is increasingly busy. It has four-way stop signs and flashing red lights to control the traffic.
Some area residents have expressed concern about the growing number of businesses at the intersection and the changes they bring to Madonna.
"An awful lot of people moved out here 10, 15 or 20 years ago for the rural atmosphere," said Fred Isennock, president of the Greater Madonna Community Association. "We've accepted the businesses because that's the way it has got to be with the way the laws are set up. But it's no longer a rural landscape."
An automotive shop and tiny convenience store have stood at the intersection for years. There's also a bank and next to that a Baltimore County businessman plans to open a small supermarket -- Mike's Marketplace -- by spring.
Future neighbors of Madonna House may include a video store, gift shop and dry cleaners, according to the J. Gordon Mueller Co. rental agency.
The Madonna Center is owned by RLL Investment Partnership xTC with Charles J. Frank Inc. as engineer and contractor.