Fans roll out red carpet for eatery Planet Hollywood attracts crowds at Harborplace debut


Months ago, Frank Racioppa Jr. and his son vowed to be first in the door of the new Planet Hollywood in Baltimore's Inner Harbor on its opening day.

They had tracked the construction weekly since groundbreaking, they didn't take any chances yesterday. Sporting Planet Hollywood polo shirts from Myrtle Beach, S.C., the two Laurel men arrived at 6:30 a.m., though the doors weren't supposed to open until 11 a.m.

"He wanted to be first in line, and he was," Racioppa said of his 21-year-old son, Frank Racioppa III, who is an Arnold Schwarzenegger fan. "Now he can't wait to come to the grand opening. You can bet, even if it's a nighttime affair, we'll be down here at 6 in the morning."

It was a few hours before other guests showed up yesterday, but the line wrapped around the building by 9: 30 a.m. and the crowd grew to 100 to 150.

The Baltimore Planet Hollywood, one of more than 70 worldwide, is planning its splashy celebrity bash soon, perhaps next month. Nevertheless, the Racioppas brought a new $700 digital camera -- purchased for the occasion -- in case a celebrity attended.

The restaurant chain, which started in New York in October 1991, features Hollywood memorabilia, artifacts and movie clips with food and a souvenir shop. It was founded by actors Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Demi Moore and Bruce Willis.

'Refreshing' welcome

Yesterday, managers estimated that 700 people visited the restaurant within the first three hours. They have said they expect 1,500 to 2,000 people at the Baltimore restaurant each weekend day.

Amado Hernandez, who has opened Planet Hollywoods around the world, said Baltimore has given the restaurant a great welcome.

"The excitement and enthusiasm, the way the city is receiving us, is really refreshing," he said. "In larger cities like this, you expect there might not be such excitement."

ESPN Zone, Phillips Restaurant and Wayne's Bar-B-Que were among local restaurants that sent flowers for opening day, he said.

Collecting merchandise

Long Island resident Angela Mikol made the Baltimore opening part of her three-city tour to collect theme restaurant merchandise.

"We came all the way from New York for this," said Mikol, who has dozens of pins from Planet Hollywoods worldwide and collects the shirts of the locations she's visited. "We're on our way to the Hard Rock in Philadelphia."

She would be visiting Planet Hollywood if there was one in Philadelphia, she said. Mikol and her husband visited both stores in Washington on Friday. Now she's trying to persuade him to take her to Iceland because she saw a Hard Rock pin she liked from Reykjavik.

"She'll talk me into it," said her husband, Ed, wearing a Planet Hollywood New York T-shirt.

At the merchandise shop, another collector, Steve Cowen, stocked up on souvenirs -- a hat and several T-shirts.

"Somebody got me a hat, and it started from there," said the waiter at McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurant at nearby Pier V.

Along with city promoters, Inner Harbor businesses are hopeful that the arrival of Planet Hollywood will make a good thing better.

'More life to the city'

"We're happy that they're here," said Wayne Brokke, owner of Wayne's Bar-B-Que next door. "We're going to be busier. Another one just means that more people come, and it brings more life to the city."

Brokke said business was up yesterday by 10 percent to 20 percent.

Not far away in the Power Plant, a crowd packed the nearly 1-year-old Hard Rock Cafe.

"The market is very saturated right now with theme restaurants," said Greg Harricharan, manager at Hard Rock. "But the more businesses that come, the more people will come to the Inner Harbor. You're going to have your sports fanatics, your rock 'n' roll fans, your movie buffs. It all comes down to food, service and atmosphere."

Harricharan said he will be better able to judge the effect of the new restaurants on business during the summer.

'Growing pains'

Todd Jarvis, general manager at the Chart House on Pier IV near the Power Plant, is slightly more cautious about the rapid growth. This time last year, McCormick & Schmick's, Lenny's Chop House, Dish Cafe -- all nearby on Pier V -- and Hard Rock, which is next door to the Chart House, had not opened. ESPN Zone will join Hard Rock in the Power Plant on July 12.

"Overall, it will be interesting to see if the Inner Harbor can create the critical mass to sustain all these restaurants," Jarvis said. "I hope to see the Inner Harbor two or three years from now as a mid-Atlantic destination mecca. I hope it all happens, but certainly in the short term, there are going to be some growing pains."

Pub Date: 6/07/98

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