Main Street mainstay changes to preserve half-century tradition; High hopes for Harry's, as downtown's oldest eatery sets to reopen


Westminster's oldest downtown restaurant will reopen next month as something new and something old, with third-generation owner Harry Sirinakis trying to woo new people from the highway without alienating the affections of his steady customers.

"We are getting very close to opening," said Sirinakis, but the date hasn't been fixed because he is finishing work and awaiting required inspections. "We're real excited about it."

He has expanded his building, staff, menu and hours, made the restaurant fully accessible to the disabled, added a liquor license and a Web site -- and a trendy "e" to become Harry's Main Street Grille.

But the 38-year-old Sirinakis knows it will remain "Harry's Lunch" to many, as it has been for more than 50 years -- and that's OK.

The chili dogs that made the place famous won't change, Sirinakis said.

"That's the one question we get more than any other: 'Are you still going to have the hot dogs?' And that's a resounding yes. It's what got us into business."

Harry's had to change, although Sirinakis says he prefers to call it "growing up, rather than changing."

His first decision more than two years ago was whether to stay downtown. Harry's was founded across the street from its 65 W. Main St. location by his maternal grandparents in 1946, and it's one of the few surviving restaurants that opened in the area shortly after World War II. His parents built the existing building in 1976, and he bought the business in 1987.

"We thought long and hard about reopening up downtown or going out on the highway. We gave some thought to it, but we believe in downtown," he said. "We support the revitalization of downtown, and we felt like we wanted to be a part of that. We are a neighborhood restaurant. We haven't been challenged on our claim to be the oldest family-owned and -operated restaurant in Carroll County."

Low-interest loan

The project was made possible with a low-interest loan through the state Neighborhood Redevelopment program, which helped with the $525,000 cost, he said.

The staff has doubled from 23 to more than 50, Sirinakis said, "and I actually need to triple it, but with 3 percent unemployment, it's an employees' market." He hopes that keeping Harry's closed on Sundays will be an enticement.

R. Douglas Mathias, executive director of the Greater Westminster Development Corp., which helped to secure the financing, said, "Harry's Main Street is a very important local family project, Harry being a third-generation family member who basically looked at his future and decided he wanted to stay right there and expand on West Main Street and be a key part of the local revitalization there.

"We worked with Harry for about two years with the state, and the city of Westminster also has given great support time and time again to this project."

'Creating atmosphere'

"We built this restaurant for the next 20 years," said Sirinakis. "Most of our time and a lot of our money has gone into creating atmosphere."

There will be three distinct but connected areas, he said. The new main dining room will have cloth booths, a trellis, stained wood, a 25-foot ceiling, exposed beams, chandeliers and a Florida-style tile floor. An adjoining room with carpet and a drop ceiling can be closed off with French doors for private functions.

Then there's the remaining section: "The 'Why did you change it? I liked everything just the way it was' section," Sirinakis says. Here will be the tile from the old counter, vinyl rather than cloth booths, and "that old turn-around-and-talk-to-your-neighbor feeling, like the old restaurant."

Not just flipping burgers

"We'll still be cooking in that front window -- that's a must -- but they won't just be flipping hamburgers. The menu will have new things: sauteed items for dinner, fine steaks, fresh fish, and fun pastas, and vegetarian things," says Sirinakis, who still draws the line at tofu.

The restaurant extends next door to 67 W. Main St., where the buildings were razed about a year ago. Sirinakis kept the restaurant open until July 22, when he had to close to knock out the wall -- creating four arched openings to connect the old and new sections.

"We're real happy," Mathias said, "and I'm getting hungry for Harry's -- especially those Saturday-night ribs."

Pub Date: 10/04/99

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